For the first time since Derrick Rose was drafted by the Bulls with the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, his Chicago Bulls team will be at home watching the playoffs, and it’s not his fault. With DRose playing in just 40% of games over the last 3 seasons plagued with knee injuries, it seemed that every time the Bulls lost or didn’t perform to their potential, the focus shifted from what went wrong on the court, to why wasn’t Derrick Rose playing? Now that he is healthy and has played in 66 games this season, the most since his 2010-11 MVP year, Derrick’s days as being the scapegoat for an under-performing Bulls team are over.
Going into the season, the Bulls had(and still have) one of the best teams in the league, on paper. The depth of talented young players, mixed with the quality veterans the Bulls had to start the season, was something to be excited about, rivaled by only a handful of teams. In short, there was a lot to look forward to. Jimmy Butler and the Bulls agreed on a 5 year deal to keep the All-Star 2-guard in Chicago, it was the first offseason in a long while that nobody on the team was rehabbing an injury, and players Niko Mirotic, Doug McDermott, and Tony Snell were coming off strong Summer League showings, hoping to emerge as consistent contributors for the franchise. The only question mark surrounding this team was would first time NBA Head Coach, Fred Hoiberg, get this team to score the basketball more consistently?
Despite a 255-139 overall record, two Central Division championships, and having never finished lower than 5th in the Eastern Conference in his 5 years as Head Coach, not to mention winning 50 games last season, rumors that Tom Thibodeau was in the hot seat with the Front Office ran rampant for more than half the year. First, Thibs was said to be running the team into the ground and coaching too hard. Jimmy Butler led the team and most the NBA in minutes played last season, and with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol nursing nagging injuries all year, whether or not Thibs needed to go was definitely debatable. Then, the problem became the Bulls’ difficulty scoring the ball. Too many times would the Bulls offense completely disappear for 4+ minutes at a time, turning what may have been a blowout into a nail biter. And the final nail in the coffin came when the Bulls appeared to give up in a pivotal Game 6, losing 94-73, to the Cavs at home to officially end their season. The Bulls fired Thibodeau shortly after and hired Fred Hoiberg.
Whether or not that was a good decision is still uncertain.
Fred Hoiberg came to the Bulls with an impressive college resume; an ideal candidate. In his 5 years coaching at Iowa State, he made the Cyclones relevant again, coaching them to a Sweet Sixteen berth during one of their 4 NCAA tournament appearances, two BIG 12 Tournament titles and a 115-56 overall record. He also is the fastest coach in school history to 100 wins. The cherry on top being his fast paced offensive coaching style, and his teams’ ability to score the ball, which was something the Bulls desperately needed help with. He seemed like a perfect fit; he even used to play for the Bulls, and has front office experience, to go along with his success as a coach.
Then reality sunk in.
Hoiberg had never coached an NBA team before. He had no idea what it would be like to have proven stars like Derrick Rose & Pau Gasol, and an up and coming star in Jimmy Butler, who’s probably the most valuable of the three, all on the roster. He was used to coaching the guys bigger schools passed on, and morphing them into competitors. Now, he would have to try to find a way for 3 All-Stars to mesh. That lack of experience showed this season as the Bulls finished the year 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, leaving Bulls’ fans everywhere wondering where does their team go from here. And now instead of rumors about firing the Head Coach, though some fans would say that that should be the very first order of business for the Bulls this offseason, the media speculates at possible trades involving Jimmy and/or Rose because “there’s just no way the two can play together.”
Fred Hoiberg’s first year didn’t go as expected given the team he inherited, I think everybody would agree with that. Most were hoping Hoiberg would be the coach to get the Bulls over the proverbial hump, similar to what Steve Kerr was able to do with the Golden State Warriors after replacing Mark Jackson 2 years ago. And though that wasn’t the case this year, there was some good to take away from this season. Aside from the shoulder injury to Joakim Noah that ended his season early, this Bulls team was, for the most part, healthy, and that’s something that hasn’t been the case for a while. They were also able to bump up their points per game scoring average some, which is kind of what they wanted to do, right? And let’s not forget to mention that the Bulls’ bench had another great year, seeing quality production from youngsters, Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday, and Doug McDermott, which is very promising for the future. It’s safe to assume that at the very least Fred Hoiberg will be the Bulls’ coach for one more season, and he’ll have to show and prove if he wants to keep that position. Only time will tell whether or not the Bulls Front Office decide shake up the roster to better fit the coach’s system, but if they don’t, Hoiberg will have quite a bit of work to do this summer figuring out how to create a more conducive offense for his starting backcourt, and how to not sacrifice defense for offense. The Bulls gave up 5 more points per game to opponents this season than they did in 2015, mostly due to injuries and adjusting to their new coach, according to the players. But regardless of who’s calling the plays, it’s the players who have to go out and compete every night, and it’s the players who ultimately need to be doing most of the figuring out.