The decision to fire head coach Fred Hoiberg is one that can be easily justified.
Either a good tactician saddled with an inability to command an NBA locker room, or simply just a bad coach with an inflated resume and proper connections, a case can be mounted for why Hoiberg’s tenure in Chicago had to end. Fingers pointed at an inability to develop the team and its players, let bad habits be formed, and dysfunction on both sides of the ball that led to only five wins in 24 games this season.
Still, the winding roads of incompetence eventually lead back to the same place they’ve always been. This entire mess falls at the feet of those orchestrating this rebuild.
Hoiberg as the coach of the Chicago Bulls was only possible because of years of drama and turmoil that forever strained a working relationship with their most most successful coach since the Dynasty. Unceremoniously pushing Tom Thibodeau out the door paved the way for a “far-reaching coaching search”, conveniently leading to the favored collegiate program of the last 20 years, Gar Forman (and Tim Floyd’s) Iowa State University, with John Paxson approving the process and execution of the hire.
Now, after consecutive roster iterations and disappointing seasons that ultimately forced a full-scale roster overhaul, several months into year two of the rebuild is apparently the right time for Hoiberg to march out the same door Thibodeau once stepped through.
And the same man making those decisions, John Paxson, once again couldn’t pass on heaping blame onto his former coach in a media release circulated yesterday:
Decisions like this one are never easy to make, however I felt this was the right choice for our organization at this time. After a thorough evaluation, I elected to make this move with the overall development of our team in mind. As a team, I believe it is imperative that we make unfaltering strides in the right direction and build the right habits to help put our players in the best position to evolve not only now, but into the future. I want to thank Fred for his dedication and efforts, as well as for his enduring commitment to our team.
The irony is all of this, of course, is Hoiberg’s failure is entirely on Paxson and his management cohorts.
Paxson can speak of building the right habits all he wants, but such a thought is hardly possible for an imperfect roster filled with players with known deficiencies and an inability to perform on both ends.
Jabari Parker, a player with two significant knee injuries and a long history of bad habits and unfavourable defensive highlights, wasn’t signed to a two-year, $40 million deal by Hoiberg.
Hoiberg wasn’t the one who had the gall to routinely give self-praise over not signing any ‘bad, long-term contracts’ only to then to sign Cristiano Felicio to a four-year, $32 million deal on day one of his free agency.
Handing over the reigns of the offense to Zach LaVine, someone who has long been criticised for his inability to execute an offense or play with the required level of poise needed to be a lead creator, is expected by Paxson to change after a quarter-season into something more structured and functional?
And if the captains of the offense are meant to come from the point guard position, Hoiberg wasn’t the one who made the decision to deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and second round pick for Cameron Payne. Forgive me if I choose not to believe in any coach having the persuasive skills necessary to convince Antonio Blakeney that passing the ball is a wise decision.
As Zach Lowe detailed in his recent column, it wasn’t just in this rebuild but throughout Hoiberg’s tenure where he has been hamstrung by a spate of erroneous decisions by his employers. Brought to Chicago to modernize the offense and emphasize pace and outside shooting, the front office choose to sign Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, and select Denzel Valentine at the back end of the lottery. The Three Alphas era became the catalyst in management giving up on their own ability to go for contention, and instead traded Jimmy Butler.
And this is where we find ourselves today, already picking up the pieces in the initial stages of a rebuild, with yet another coach ousted as this management group operates without repercussion.
Quick to play the accountability card for others, at some point management has to own this mess. Or not, because why should they? They have the full endorsement from president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, as he explained before the season to K.C Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Nobody is untouchable. Every year at the end of the season when John Paxson is talking about the year in review, he says nobody is untouchable except Michael Jordan. If there came a time we felt we weren’t headed in the right direction or we didn’t feel confidence in John and Gar, then obviously we’d look at it from that perspective. I’m not there. My dad’s not there. We’ve never been there. We really believe they’re doing a great job.
Besides maybe more coaching searches and the never-ending quest for a starting-caliber point guard, there’s no reason to suggest things will change anytime soon. Paxson isn’t going anywhere, and if it’s up to him, neither will general manager Gar Forman.
Pax on Gar: "I feel passionately about his role with us. We’ve made some great decisions in terms of young personnel the last couple years. And as we have the opportunity to make more decisions, he’ll be front and center. We’ll work in tandem and we hope to do the right thing."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 3, 2018
What truly matters now is how the rebuild transpires from here, and the how the young core can come together to form a competitive team. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. could be a strong foundation, but they alone aren’t enough. The Bulls need more talent, and Paxson will be responsible for finding it. Based on his previous set of decisions before and during the rebuild itself — all of which he has initiated or signed off on — there’s limited reason to have faith.
For better or worse, this is the Bulls. It’s always going to be the Bulls. For every good move there are five more poor ones. The decision to relieve Hoiberg of his duties may prove to be justifiable, but it’s a move on the periphery.