The path to the NBA postseason couldn’t possibly be any simpler for the Chicago Bulls.
After a Monday evening that saw the Pacers, Heat, and Bulls all win; the three-way battle for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference will come down to the final day of the NBA regular season. The Pacers and the Heat have pesky final draws, respectively playing the Hawks and Wizards at home for their 82nd games.
The Bulls, however, find themselves matched up with a Nets team that has already clinched the worst record in the NBA this season and plans on resting five players including Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin:
#Nets report for tomorrow's game: Booker (rest), Lin (rest), Lopez (rest), Acy (ankle), Harris (shoulder) & Kilpatrick (hamstring) are OUT.— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) April 11, 2017
Though currently tied with the Heat and a game behind the Pacers when it comes to wins, the Bulls own tiebreakers over both teams, meaning that they could conceivably vault into the 7th seed should they win on Wednesday and the Pacers lose. Regardless of what happens with the other teams, if the Bulls win, they are in. Pretty straightforward.
And yet, as has so often been the case with this Bulls team over the last two seasons, nothing is ever as simple as it should be.
Merely two games ago, the Bulls lost to the same team that stands between them and the postseason after blowing a nine point lead with four minutes remaining in the contest. It was a meltdown fueled by a plethora of questionable coaching decisions down the stretch; from failure to pause the Nets’ late rally with a timeout, to poorly constructed inbound plays, to channeling the entirety of the offense over the last two minutes into Jimmy Butler isolation sets. Nothing at the end of the game made sense, and the Bulls were only in the game to begin with thanks to a fortunate 37-point third quarter following a first half that saw the team fall behind the worst squad in the NBA by 15 points at one time. It was the latest loss the Bulls have had in a season full of drubbings from sub-.500 squads... their 18th to be precise.
With such a terrible loss still so fresh in the minds of the Bulls, the motivation for a revenge victory should already have manifested throughout the roster, even without the aforementioned playoff implications. A win on Wednesday would also prevent the Bulls from finishing with their first losing record in nine years. In that sense, the Bulls not only have the easiest remaining route into the postseason, but also every reason to want to win this game from a pride perspective.
Which is why, if the Bulls lose to the nine-man Nets and the Heat defeat the Wizards, Fred Hoiberg needs to be sacked. Promptly.
That Hoiberg is not a good professional basketball coach should come as no surprise to any rational person that has given the Bulls even a sliver of their most general basketball interest over the last two seasons. It was not but two weeks ago that ESPN slotted him as the very worst coach in the National Basketball Association. What a truly impressive level of incompetence Hoiberg has achieved that he now finds himself beneath Kenny Atkinson and Earl Watson with respect to perceived coaching prowess. But the saddest part of it all is that it doesn’t really take a thorough examination of Hoiberg’s body of work over the last two seasons to come to such a conclusion.
It is truly hilarious that someone so heavily pegged as an offensive guru upon their hiring has come up so short in that department from almost every conceivable angle. Hoiberg has been bad at drawing up offensive sets in-game since last season and, as previously noted, his inability to do so was on full display at the end of the Bulls’ most recent loss this past weekend. His habit of letting situations spiral out of control in the 4th quarter, whether by over-coaching or under-coaching, has manifested itself in an innumerable amount of the Bulls’ defeats since last season. His attempted modernization of the Bulls’ offense since the start of his tenure has been a massive disappointment from as far back as his first week on the job. Today, the Bulls find themselves 20th overall in offensive efficiency and pace, in the bottom half of the NBA in both freethrow attempts and attempts inside of 10 feet, and next to last in 3-PT attempts. Even as he boasts about practices so good they would make Marc Trestman jealous, Hoiberg can’t get his team to run his ideal scheme properly, nor can he draw up plays to execute said scheme during critical moments of a given game.
Furthermore, for a guy also pegged as a “players’ coach,” he sure doesn’t seem to garner as much respect from his players as one would expect from someone with that title. Jimmy Butler has been begging him to coach with more gusto since the early stages of last season, and color See Red Nation shocked, that hasn’t changed one bit a season later. Good luck getting a guy that’s had two heart surgeries before the age of 45 and is medically forbidden from wearing a tie to work to demonstrate any aggressive moxie when addressing multi-millionaire athletes.
It’s gotten to the point that there is widespread justified speculation that Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo just flat-out ignore Hoiberg’s instructions during the games. It’s also hard to imagine that the young, impressionable players on the Bulls retain much respect for their head coach considering their three leaders so openly oppose him. This is especially plausible given members of the supporting cast have no idea on a nightly basis whether or not Hoiberg is going to even grant them an opportunity. Such a sporatic approach to crafting rotations additionally calls into question Hoiberg’s ability to foster talent and develop his players. Honestly, can anyone name a single Bull since the start of the 2015-16 season that has markedly improved up to now? Has Bobby Portis shown hope towards rectifying any of the holes in his game? Does anyone really trust Hoiberg to get the most out of the 23-year-olds Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser going forward?
The point I’m attempting to make here is that the rationales behind keeping Hoiberg are almost non-existent at this point from every perspective except for the front office. Their reasoning behind retaining Hoiberg likely falls within avoiding having to admit they made the wrong call when attempting to unnecessarily replace Tom Thibodeau as well as having to pay the $15 million remaining on his contract after this season. That first half of their case may already be irrelevant when considering the rest of the association is likely already aware that Hoiberg has no clue when it comes to commanding a professional basketball roster. Therefore, keeping Hoiberg in the event that the Bulls miss the playoffs would have to be viewed as a predominantly financially-motivated decision. There is simply no other justification, and even that one is weak at best when considering management fired Thibs despite still owing him $9 million.
I have to imagine missing the playoffs because of a home loss to the worst team in the NBA would be grounds for dismissal at every other franchise around the league. Of course, the Bulls could still advance to the postseason simply if the Heat lose, and it’s highly unlikely Hoiberg gets canned for losing his first playoff series to one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. For that reason, I’m sure we can all agree that we’ll be feverishly rooting for a Miami victory on Wednesday. Had you told me I’d be doing so five years ago, I probably would have slapped you across the face.
If you reside in the camp that wants the Bulls to miss the playoffs for draft-position purposes, a canning of Fred Hoiberg would be a nice by-product should management receive a moment of clarity and make the correct basketball decision. Funny thing is, you may get your wish, because in his short time as an NBA head coach, Hoiberg has already shown a penchant for failing to make adjustments against teams that just beat him. Two separate sets of games during 2016 saw Hoiberg drop consecutive contests to the same opponent in back-to-back days (the Knicks last season, and then the Bucks this season). That only adds to the unfathomable uncertainty that circles over the Bulls as they prepare to take on the Nets for the second time in five days with the life of their season on the line.
Should Fred Hoiberg miss the playoffs when all he had to do was coach his team to a victory over the worst team in the NBA that he just played within the last week, he is completely out of excuses for continuing his tenure in Chicago. He must be vacuum-sealed in a plastic container and fired out of Benny the Bulls’ artillery t-shirt gun either into Lake Michigan or back to Ames, Iowa where he belongs.