Fred Hoiberg swears that his relationship with John Paxson is good

LAS VEGAS — It’s still a fun exercise to ponder this what if.

What if Fred Hoiberg had been contacted about that Ohio State opening back in early June? Would Hoiberg have bolted back to college where he had plenty of success in his Iowa State days?

After all, when your bosses come out and publicly question your leadership ability like John Paxson did at the end of the season, it doesn’t exactly foster feelings of loyalty.

But Hoiberg was adamant Sunday that his relationship with the vice president of basketball operations is still in a good place.

“John and I, the important thing is we had a long conversation about that the following day,’’ Hoiberg said. “We met for a long time and talked about a lot of things. But the most important thing about that was we walked out of that room on the same page. That’s what it’s all about when something like that happens. We’re very good right now.’’

Asked if the relationship is healthier than it was, the third-year coach said, “I don’t know if I’d say healthier. We’ve always had a good relationship. We talked about a lot of things that day.’’

Did it get intense, considering Paxson is known for his volatility?

“It was a healthy conversation,’’ Hoiberg said. “I’ll leave it at that.’’

But even with the latest front-office drama behind him, Hoiberg still knows that this is not only an important season for the Bulls — especially with the rebuild underway — but also himself.

Hoiberg inherited a playoff team from former coach Tom Thibodeau, and definitely underachieved in Year One considering the talent on that roster.

Last season, the Bulls found the back door to the playoffs ajar and snuck their way in, only to be eliminated by top-seeded Boston after jumping to a 2-0 series lead.

It was in that final Game 6 loss at the United Center that Hoiberg heard the “Fire Hoiberg’’ chants from fans. Another reason that his loyalty could have been tested if the Buckeyes had called.

But Hoiberg has endured and is looking at coaching a team that could finish in 20-win territory now that the rebuild has been launched.

“The biggest thing is, you’re not going into a season saying expectations are low,’’ Hoiberg said. “We want to go into the season getting these guys to play with great effort every time we take the floor. It starts right now. From day one with this minicamp, we want to get our guys playing at a high level, especially the ones that will be on the roster next year.’’

The unknown is who will be on the roster. Specifically, while the team talks rebuild, it still has 35-year-old Dwyane Wade set to take valuable minutes and collect $23.8 million.

The only way around that is if the Bulls buy Wade out and let him become a free agent, and Hoiberg didn’t sound like that was an option.

“As of right now, no, I don’t see that,’’ Hoiberg said. “Dwyane is going to have an important role on this team with [being] a mentor. He’s going to obviously play for us and hopefully play well, and take the role of leadership, which is a very important one.’’

Follow me on Twitter@suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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