Fred Hoiberg will be coaching for his job once the Bulls’ roster is healthy
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Nothing is set in stone about this being Fred Hoiberg’s last season coaching the Bulls. The Sun-Times confirmed that over the weekend.
What can’t be denied, however, are the growing whispers that the next month will be crucial to Hoiberg’s chances of even finishing the rest of the season.
The season debut Saturday of big man Lauri Markkanen was a critical first step in that evaluation process. Markkanen missed the first 23 regular-season games while recovering from a sprained right elbow suffered during the first week of training camp.
Once Hoiberg gets the remaining injured pieces — point guard Kris Dunn (left knee) and big man Bobby Portis (right knee) — back, the Bulls will need to see results. Victories and losses will carry weight, but not as much as showing some serious strides in terms of development.
And one source said even that might not be enough.
There was a report last season that Hoiberg had a stipulation in his contract that would void the final year of his deal next season if he didn’t reach certain qualifiers, but the Sun-Times already reported that isn’t the case.
Hoiberg’s five-year, $25 million contract is guaranteed, which means the Bulls will be paying him through next season, whether they keep him or not. That shouldn’t be a concern for chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who fired Tom Thibodeau while owing him $9 million.
The question is, will the Bulls’ front office be judging Hoiberg’s tenure fairly? Can it even be judged fairly?
Hoiberg’s critics will say he inherited what the organization deemed ‘‘a championship-caliber team’’ and failed to make the playoffs in his first season.
The counterpoint to that argument is that he inherited an insane asylum, with players involved in a civil war and having a complete distrust of general manager Gar Forman.
Hoiberg’s critics will say he had a 2-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs against the Celtics in his second season and couldn’t finish off the upset.
The counterpoint to that argument is that he took a roster of players who didn’t fit his offensive system to the postseason and was in command of the series against the Celtics until point guard Rajon Rondo was injured in Game 2 and missed the rest of the series.
Hoiberg’s critics will look at the Bulls’ 27-55 record last season.
The counterpoint to that argument is that it was the first season of the rebuild and that all the young pieces but Cristiano Felicio showed positive development.
Then there’s this season, in which Hoiberg’s critics will point out the Bulls’ 5-19 record, their defensive lulls and a handful of embarrassing losses.
The counterpoint to that argument is that the Bulls have had a rash of key injuries, the defense never has been his responsibility and he was saddled with another player (Jabari Parker) who doesn’t fit his system.
Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson will have their input, as will chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf. But Jerry Reinsdorf still seems to carry the hammer, and he never apologizes for using it.
One telling moment from the Bulls’ loss Saturday to the Rockets came after the game, when Hoiberg was asked about how rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. and Markkanen will co-exist on the court.
‘‘I think Lauri can play really well with Wendell,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘I think the future of this franchise is those two guys on your front line.’’
It’s a future Hoiberg might not get to see fully develop.