Judge Fred Hoiberg when Bulls are healthy, not after bad loss to Warriors
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In the spirit of the election season, many people have chosen to vote early on coach Fred Hoiberg. They want him fired. It’s understandable.
He’s in his fourth season, finished above .500 once, made the playoffs once and hasn’t done much that stands out. It’s easy to portray him as the root of all vanilla.
But if fans cast their vote based on the Bulls’ terrible loss to the Warriors on Monday night, they’re misguided. They’re letting emotion take over, possibly because Klay Thompson just hit another three-pointer over Justin Holiday.
With Hoiberg’s contract expiring in 2020, this is supposed to be a referendum season for him. But how is team vice president John Paxson supposed to evaluate Hoiberg fairly this season? Lauri Markkanen (elbow), Kris Dunn (knee), Bobby Portis (knee) and Denzel Valentine (ankle) will miss a good amount of games.
Because of it, Hoiberg is using lineups that are so below baseline NBA levels, he might think he’s still coaching at Iowa State. He offered up Zach LaVine, Cameron Payne, Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and Holiday against Golden State. The Warriors licked their lips.
Jabari Parker comes off the bench for the Bulls. He is proving himself to be a prima donna and a pain in the butt, a role Jimmy Butler played (though with more talent and a willingness to play defense).
The whole thing is miserable, and we’re not even 10 games into the season.
And Hoiberg is supposed to be judged on this?
Ah, now the critics are saying he should be judged on his players’ lack of effort on defense, especially in the brutal loss to Golden State. Judging Hoiberg on Parker’s lack of effort is like judging a fish on his footwork. Same with the rest of the Bulls.
This season is about how three players — Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine — improve and jell together. Everything else is nonsense. You can’t make what’s happening now a referendum on Hoiberg. He needs to be assessed on how a healthy Markkanen and a healthy Dunn mesh with LaVine. That’s supposed to be the future. I’m not sure how you decide if he’s the coach for them when they’re not on the floor.
A day after the Bulls gave up 92 points in the first half to Golden State and allowed Thompson to set an NBA record for most three-pointers in a game (14), there was heavy criticism of the team’s defensive effort. Effort, of course, reflects poorly on the coach. But I repeat: Did you see the lineup the Bulls had on the floor?
The Warriors might have the best offense in the history of the league. They were playing a video game at the United Center the other night. Bulls defenders, lacking the physical ability of their opponent, were playing checkers. Golden State gets open looks against everybody. The Bulls happen to be worse than everybody. What happened was not a matter of heart. It was a matter of the rest of the body.
What I heard the most after the game was that the Bulls should have knocked Thompson down to show that they were not going to stand by and be embarrassed. Please read this slowly: The Warriors move the ball so quickly that the unathletic Bulls couldn’t get within two feet of Golden State shooters.
Defense isn’t just effort. It’s ability. The Bulls don’t have the latter.
If you want to judge Hoiberg on how he fared the previous three seasons, that’s more than fair. His first two seasons were blah, and last season was a teardown. Butler didn’t do him any favors by publicly saying he needed to coach harder. Now that Butler has revealed himself to be an oddball, a few degrees off-center, that criticism doesn’t carry as much weight anymore.
Hoiberg has had to deal with a lot — the Butler-Derrick Rose whose-team-is-it squabble, the Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight and the decision to rebuild. Now he’s dealing with a terrible roster. If you fire him for that, how do you not fire Paxson and general manager Gar Forman for giving him those challenges? Yes, please! doesn’t really answer the question.
The Bulls’ hierarchy has said that it won’t evaluate Hoiberg on wins and losses this season. But if it judges him on the defensive effort of players who can’t play defense, that’s not fair.
Fairness isn’t always part of the equation when teams make the decision to fire coaches. If it were, the Cavaliers wouldn’t have canned Ty Lue the other day. He won an NBA title with LeBron James and went to two other Finals.
I don’t have strong feelings either way about Hoiberg, and maybe that’s the most incriminating thing of all. Everything is bland about the Bulls. We want something better than bland. But let’s make sure we’re judging Hoiberg on the right criteria, not on one night of bad basketball.