BOSTON — Fred Hoiberg once again chose to take the high road.
Then again, maybe it’s the only road the Bulls coach knows.
Not that it was time for a told-you-so moment from Hoiberg on Monday, but he definitely could have thumped his chest a bit more than he did.
Through his first two seasons, he has been the target of considerable criticism — rightfully so in some ways — but the amount and the viciousness of it has surprised many, including guard Jimmy Butler.
“It isn’t fair, but this game isn’t fair, life isn’t fair,’’ Butler said. “Yeah, he’s gotten a lot better. He’s getting to know these guys extremely well. He’s studying the game and knowing where to get guys the ball, where they’re comfortable.
“It’s been a learning curve, but we’re here now and we’re still getting better, so he’s doing a tremendous job.’’
That’s not an opinion shared by many, especially considering an ESPN round table voted Hoiberg the worst coach in the NBA three weeks ago.
Hoiberg finished just ahead of the Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek (29th) and the Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry (28th), whose teams did not make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Hoiberg beat a Celtics team coached by Brad Stevens, who was ranked third on the list.
“I honestly don’t think about it,’’ Hoiberg said. “I don’t have time to think about it. I don’t care. My job is to get this team prepared to go out and play, put a game plan together that will hopefully give us a chance. That’s all I’m focused on.’’
Hoiberg should only be concerned about what his players think about him, and the good news is, they have warmed up to him over the last few months.
Hoiberg unfortunately entered the job with one strike already on him — he was perceived to be general manager Gar Forman’s hand-picked guy, one who was far more concerned about pleasing his boss than his players.
That thought was shared not only by Bulls fans, but also by last year’s core players, who had some serious trust issues.
Add in Butler’s “needs to coach harder’’ comment, last year’s absence from the playoffs and communication problems with Joakim Noah and Rajon Rondo, and it seemed like the coach’s five-year deal was a few years too long.
So what has changed?
The attention to detail and communication have improved, but according to several players, Hoiberg’s defiance of Forman’s instruction to play Cameron Payne down the stretch has really helped bring the coach and his players together.
Payne was the centerpiece of the trade with Oklahoma City, and there was a perception in the locker room that Forman wanted to put development in front of a push for the playoffs. Hoiberg and his staff were instrumental in going in a different direction.
Now the Bulls are up 1-0 against the top-seeded team and feeling really good about the best-of-seven series.
“I mean criticism is part of it, for coaches, for players,’’
Dwyane Wade said. “[Hoiberg] and the assistant coaches did a good job through our ups, through our downs, of trying to lead this team to get to our ultimate goal, and that was the playoffs, so I give them a lot of credit.’’
At least someone was.
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