Fifth in a series
A year ago, the Bulls season ended -- in the playoffs, by the way -- with fans at the United Center chanting "Fire Hoiberg."
As the Bulls changed direction and muddled through a less successful rebuilding season, criticism of head coach Fred Hoiberg quieted down. Now three years into the job, it appears Hoiberg is in this for the long haul. Or at least long by NBA coaching standards.
Whether it was right or wrong to fire Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls management team of John Paxson and Gar Forman invested in Hoiberg without a clear-cut backup plan. In his second year, Hoiberg got a pretty good return on the flawed "Three Alphas" roster with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.
Last season, the Bulls finally took on the style Hoiberg envisioned when hired in 2015 -- a fast-paced, higher-scoring team that moved the ball and utilized the 3-point shot. The promise of that style was on display when the Bulls went through a 14-7 stretch in December and January. Then they self-sabotaged after the all-star break to ensure a poor record and higher draft pick.
But when the season ended, fans had nothing to chant about Hoiberg. There were no rankings calling him the league's worst coach. The NBA world seemed to accept Hoiberg as perhaps a rising talent in the profession.
"Fred will be back. Yes. Absolutely," Paxson said when the season ended. "And I think Fred just kind of got his feet underneath him more this year.
"I thought Fred and our staff did a tremendous job of keeping our group together. When you lose, it's not an easy thing. Coaches, players -- coaches more than anybody, they live and die every game. And you want to put a team out there that you enjoy coaching. I know Fred enjoyed coaching this group."
Hoiberg was asked several times if he felt relief that the rebuilding season was about to end. Each time, he insisted he enjoyed coaching this team and was proud of the effort they brought every day.
That pretty much sums up Hoiberg's coaching style. He doesn't criticize players publicly. He claims to light into them at halftime once in a while, but Hoiberg angry is not Vince Lombardi angry, to say the least. He's a calm, cerebral presence on the sideline.
Now, the question is whether that style can be successful. When calm and collected Hoiberg coached Butler, who tends to ride an emotional roller coaster, there were some well-documented clashes.
As an NBA coach, it's not always a matter of what you know -- it's whether you can convey your ideas to the players and get them to execute the plan on the court. Hoiberg seemed to struggle with that at first, but he did better with a younger, more attentive group this season.
The coaching staff hasn't changed much since Hoiberg arrived. He seems to get along well with top assistant Jim Boylen, while Pete Myers and Randy Brown have been mainstays in the organization. The only real change on the staff was flipping Charlie Henry with Nate Loenser from the NBA bench to Windy City Bulls head coach.
Hoiberg and his staff did a nice job with player development, and newcomer Shawn Respert, who keeps a low-key presence, probably deserves a fair share of the credit.
Asking Paxson about Hoiberg's job security was unnecessary. There was never any doubt and with the Bulls expecting to move into the improvement phase of the rebuild, there is no end in sight to Hoiberg's tenure.