02 June 2015

The pressure will be high on Fred Hoiberg & the Bulls

(Chicago Tribune)
Does this situation sound familiar? A successful head coach of the Chicago Bulls is pushed out thanks to a fractious relationship with the front office and is replaced by the organization's chosen replacement, the head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones.

Some could make that comparison between 2015 and 1998 but it's not a perfect nor fair comparison. Tom Thibodeau, albeit pretty successful, is no Phil Jackson and Fred Hoiberg is no Tim Floyd. But whoever he is, the new coach of the Bulls has to know that the scrutiny on him will be pretty high from the onset.

Now, of course, this is not Hoiberg's fault. He had no role in the souring of the relations between Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office, namely general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson. It is also not his fault that the Bulls parted with Thibodeau in such a classless manner with their sights immediately set on bringing him in to replace him.

Thibodeau had his flaws: coaching every game like it was a Game 7, pushing his players too hard in the process, all the while failing to run an offense fit for 2015, as opposed to 1995. The case could be made that it was time for the team to part ways with Thibodeau.

But nobody can deny the quality of coach that Thibs is, without question the most successful coach the team has had since Phil Jackson was run out of town by Jerry Krause. He won 65% of his games in Chicago, even as he had Derrick Rose for less than half of his five seasons and even as his front office cheaped out on key role players thanks, in part, to owner Jerry Reinsdorf forgetting that he doesn't own a small-market franchise. 

So now the Bulls have their man in Hoiberg and now he has to not only keep the team performing at the level they have been under Thibodeau but to take them further. But while he steps into this situation with exactly zero NBA coaching experience, he seems to have the ability to take this team higher. 

One of the key reasons why college coaches can struggle at the next level is because they are used to having complete control over a program and are not used to having to coach the caliber of talent they employ in the NBA. Coaches can get away with overcoaching at the college level due to that fact but they can't pull that off at the next level. Where Hoiberg has impressed is that he built a sort of NBA program in Ames as he garnered the reputation of being a players coach, one that was willing to bring in a number of transfers, even ones with questionable backgrounds. 

Hoiberg will certainly bring a different style to the United Center than Thibodeau did. He's more laid-back, he speaks openly of embracing minutes limits, he will employ a more uptempo, wide open offensive scheme and one that will look similar to the analytics-driven style seen in Houston (lots of threes and shots from the paint with minimal medium-range jumpers). He should be able to make better use of players like Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell and last year's first round draft selection, Doug McDermott. 

But this isn't a rebuilding job, meaning that Hoiberg has got to get a veteran roster to buy in right away. The earliest of reports seem promising but that is going to have to translate to the basketball court with some wins. I have a good deal of respect for and faith in Hoiberg's coaching abilities but I do not envy the situation that he enters in Chicago. 

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