Joel Quenneville and Fred Hoiberg live in Hinsdale, both work 40-some nights a year at the United Center, and, gee, have we run out of things they have in common already?
One of them clearly owns the title of best coach in Chicago. The other is Quenneville.
We kid, of course. Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks, puts the “Q” in “Q-rating.” He could never win another game, and there’d still be a parade for him on his way out of town. And then there’s the Bulls’ Hoiberg, who doesn’t coach “hard” enough, Jimmy Butler famously said, and who was, one year ago at this time, according to ESPN, on the hottest seat in the NBA.
But when the coaches bumped into each other Tuesday night at a restaurant near their homes, they had shiny new winning streaks to compare. The Hawks had won five in a row heading into the game Thursday night in Dallas. The Bulls had won six straight — on their way to seven, the longest such streak in three seasons under Hoiberg — with a game in Cleveland looming.
After a seven-game winning streak, which came to an end against the Cavaliers, Hoiberg is looking a whole lot more like the right coach for the Bulls’ rebuild.
It was a far better time for a chance meeting than when the Hawks were losing five straight and the Bulls 10 straight, which was the case only a couple of weeks ago.
“You’ve got to commend him on the situation that he was in and where he’s at today,” Quenneville said. “Hey, it’s got to make him feel a lot better. The team’s responding in a good fashion, so I’m happy for him, knowing that they were in a real bad spot there, then all of a sudden they’re on a major roll. I’m sure he’s excited. He seemed very happy with it. Fred’s a really good guy, and I’m happy to see him have some success.”
Hoiberg joked before Wednesday’s victory over the Magic that he no longer receives advice from Quenneville, but now gives it. “Joked” is, mind you, a relative term when it comes to Hoiberg. There’s dry humor, there’s bone-dry humor and then there’s the kind that once in a while escapes Hoiberg’s expressionless face and can be detected only by someone hanging on his every word and mannerism.
There was barely detectable movement at a corner of Hoiberg’s mouth this week as he described how much he’s enjoying this Bulls revival.
“It beats losing,” he said.
The Bulls did that 20 times in their first 23 games. They did that far more often than many thought they should when Butler, Dwyane Wade and other veterans were around.
Just a guess: That veteran group wouldn’t have loved it if Hoiberg had stared bullets at them in a huddle and told them their body language “sucked.” But that’s what the guy who doesn’t coach hard enough did Monday as the Bulls trailed in the fourth quarter against the 76ers. He looked at a bunch of young, promising players and told them exactly what he saw.
Three ball, Lauri Markkanen. Blocked shot, Niko Mirotic. Three ball, Kris Dunn. Steal and three-point play, Mirotic. Indeed, the Bulls stormed out of that timeout and didn’t look back.
“It fired us up,” Mirotic said.
It’s Hoiberg’s team now. Whatever it was before this season no longer matters. The fact Hoiberg is closely linked to unpopular general manager Gar Forman doesn’t matter. The possibility that these Bulls are going to win too many games to get one of the first picks in the next draft shouldn’t matter.
The answer to a team’s problems isn’t always at the top of the next draft. If Bulls fans are rooting for losses — heck, if the front office is, too — someone should remind them that the Warriors haven’t had a top-five pick since 2002.
The answers to the Bulls’ problems include Markkanen, Dunn, maybe Mirotic and definitely Hoiberg. Witness the team’s 312 three-pointers made, the most through 30 games in franchise history. No one’s writing home about a 10-21 record, but Hoiberg and the current roster suit each other, and this team is far more watchable than the logjam that passed for an offense in previous seasons.
Speaking of home, Hoiberg is the same kid who stayed in his hometown of Ames to go to Iowa State when he could’ve written his ticket to somewhere bigger and reputedly better. He’s the same coach who later inherited a Cyclones program coming off four consecutive losing seasons — and with only four scholarship players — and overhauled it into a back-to-back Big 12 tournament champion and an NCAA tourney regular.
“A big part of the process,” Hoiberg said, “is you have to learn how to win.”
That was true when Hoiberg said it back in Ames, and it’s true here, too. A seven-game winning streak is a drop in the bucket relative to all the Bulls need to accomplish, but you know what? Hoiberg is starting to look a whole lot like the right coach to help fill the sucker up.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.