Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg knows what’s at stake for him this season. He doesn’t have to discuss being on the hot seat every day during training camp to gauge how warm it is.
Hoiberg already did that in July, telling the Sun-Times: ‘‘It’s too hard to operate when you have that mindset of what could potentially happen. You have to live in the moment, and you have to coach in the moment. There is a tremendous amount of pressure that comes with this job for all 30 of us in this position. You just try and go out and handle it as what’s best for the future of the franchise. . . . I understand the pressure and the expectations to get this turned around quickly.’’
Hoiberg, who is entering the all-important fourth year of his five-year contract, also has been told what his bosses’ expectations are, and they start with the development of the Bulls’ young players.
If Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Wendell Carter Jr. make big-enough strides, Hoiberg might be rewarded with a contract extension. If any of them regress, there will be some hard discussions taking place in the Bulls’ front office come April.
Maybe that’s why vice president John Paxson refused to put a number on a win total when asked about expectations Monday.
‘‘I think if our young guys grow through their hard work this summer, we will be a better basketball team,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘We understand that. We’re still such a young team, and I told the guys in [a team meeting] that we may be young, but we’re not as inexperienced as when you look on paper.
‘‘We got guys — and a lot of young guys — consistent minutes over a consistent period of time, so we understand that there’s always pressure. Our goal is to be the best basketball team we can be, and that’s through this group coming together. We have talent, and how it comes together, how we play, will determine what kind of win total we end up with. But we’re not going to focus on that.’’
Especially with so much work to get done before the victories and losses start counting.
Hoiberg has a lot of the same pieces returning for the first time in his tenure, but youth is a tricky thing. He has to integrate newcomer Jabari Parker into the offense while making sure Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn can find some chemistry that was lacking last season.
Then there are the defensive hurdles. Hoiberg is moving to a switching-style defense to try to take advantage of a roster he sees as versatile.
The early feeling from the players is that Hoiberg is the right guy for the job.
‘‘I think he’s handled things in a great way,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’ve had four coaches in four years. I think Fred is the first coach I’ve had [in] back-to-back seasons. So it’s just me getting used to having him around and the way he is.
‘‘He’s had tough situations. Just like a lot of coaches, a lot of teams, you get hit with adversity. We’re able to use his offense, we’re able
to trust him and we love him as a person.’’