Wins still matter for Fred Hoiberg.
Yes, the fourth-year coach is holding a weak hand these days, but tanking under the disguise of “player development’’ is not a game he’s ready to start playing for a second consecutive season.
If the organization wants to eventually venture down that road Hoiberg might not have a choice. Until then, however, wins still carry weight in Hoiberg’s world, evident by the 124-116 win over the Suns on Wednesday night.
“Sure, they always are [important], and if you do go out there and get a couple wins … they lift everyone’s spirits because our guys are going out there and working hard in practices, and to be able to get over the hump is big for these guys and their development,’’ Hoiberg said. “For young players to see that when they continue to work, good things can happen. We’re going to continue to go out there, still try and put ourselves in a position, still develop our young players to hopefully get some wins.’’
Easier said than done so far this season, but help is getting closer to returning.
Now knowing that they will be without key reserve Denzel Valentine for the remainder of the season with reconstructive left ankle surgery scheduled next week was a blow, but a turn-the-page moment softened it just a day later.
Lauri Markkanen (right elbow) once again participated in the non-contact portion of the Wednesday shoot-around, and the hope is the second-year stretch four could start taking contact as early as next week.
There was also movement on the Kris Dunn (left knee) front, as he also was a surprise participant in non-contact drills.
The point guard has played in just one game for the Bulls this season, while Markkanen is yet to play at all.
If those two can get back sooner than later – Bobby Portis (right knee) is still a ways off – Hoiberg is hoping for a boost similar to last season when Nikola Mirotic returned and the Bulls played a solid stretch of basketball in December and into January.
“It’s pretty similar to last year where we had suspensions, we had injuries,’’ Hoiberg said. “Our job was to keep our guys going, keep the spirits high, and once we did get back with a healthy roster we took off a little bit. Had a good six weeks of basketball before some things happened again with the roster.’’
Until then, however, Hoiberg remains hopeful that he can nudge this short-handed crew into staying focused and playing the game the right way.
When they do there have been good results such as the win in Atlanta and holding on to beat Cleveland.
When they don’t, Golden State, Milwaukee and Toronto happen.
“It’s as simple as watching film, showing how we play the right way when we move the ball we generally get a good look,’’ Hoiberg said. “If you play the right way you’re generally going to give yourself good opportunities. It’s when we we’ve gotten selfish or the ball stops moving, that we’re not able to sustain what we were doing.’’
Maybe the hardest trap Hoiberg is trying to keep his players from falling into.
Whether it’s because he’s coaching for an opportunity to at least finish out his five-year contract or he generally believes this roster can do some damage when fully healthy, Hoiberg sees the positives of what this roster can become.
After a slow first half against Phoenix, that was on full display with the Bulls (5-13) coming out in the third quarter and grabbing the lead back thanks to an 11-0 run. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 29 points, while Jabari Parker fell two assists shy of his first NBA triple-double.
“They’ve come to work,’’ Hoiberg said of his players still being engaged in what he’s preaching. “Every day they come into practice with a good attitude and a good spirit.’’