Fred Hoiberg blindsided by firing as Bulls move forward with new coach
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The Bulls’ roster was just starting to get healthy, and coach Fred Hoiberg’s plans from the summer finally were close to being implemented.
A source told the Sun-Times during the weekend that Hoiberg knew his time as coach might be cut short this season, but he figured he had a month or two to get it right.
It turned out he had far less than that.
Hoiberg was a bit blindsided when the Bulls informed him Monday that he had been fired. Associate head coach Jim Boylen was promoted to take his place.
‘‘We need to find a spirit to our group that’s been missing and missing for quite some time,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. ‘‘The [management], we have a high standard for how we want the game to be played. And we’ve had discussions with Fred and his staff for all the time he’s been here, and we talked about a way of playing.
‘‘Yes, the injuries have played a part in us not being able to do that. [But] you have to be able to get your identity across to your team, and we just felt that we’re not playing the style with the force that we want our group to play with.’’
The Bulls hired Hoiberg on June 2, 2015, to replace Tom Thibodeau, who was fired after his relationship with the front office turned toxic.
In the fall of 2014, the Sun-Times reported there were growing rumors that general manager Gar Forman was courting Hoiberg and that Thibodeau’s last season as the Bulls’ coach was more about sabotage by the front office than anything else.
Hoiberg supposedly was given a ‘‘championship-caliber’’ roster, but he soon found out that he wasn’t coaching at Iowa State anymore. His first season — 2015-16 — was filled with dysfunction, which led to Derrick Rose being traded and Joakim Noah leaving in free agency.
One of the points the front office stressed when Hoiberg was hired was that he would have roster input, but that promise seemed to fade when the team signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in the summer of 2016. Neither fit the style of offense Hoiberg ran, but he still got the Bulls to the playoffs and guided them to a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Celtics before Rondo was injured in Game 2 and missed the rest of the series.
That’s when the front office launched a rebuild by trading Jimmy Butler on draft night 2017.
After the Bulls started playing well last December and into January, things changed when Nikola Mirotic was traded to the Pelicans. From there, the Bulls were all but ordered to lose games and finished 27-55, enabling them to land big man Wendell Carter Jr. with the No. 7 overall pick.
Hoiberg was thrilled with the offensive sets he had planned for Carter and big man Lauri Markkanen, but that all went down the drain when Markkanen suffered a sprained right elbow in the first week of training camp and didn’t make his season debut until Saturday. Along the way, Hoiberg also lost starters Kris Dunn (left knee) and Bobby Portis (right knee) to injuries, as well as key reserve Denzel Valentine (left ankle) for the season.
After a 5-19 start, the front office decided to go in a different direction. Paxson and Forman opted to fire Hoiberg, pay him the rest of his five-year, $25 million deal and turn the team over to Boylen.
‘‘He has a passion and an energy to him that I think our players will respond to,’’ Paxson said of Boylen. ‘‘It’s different when you’re an assistant than when you’re a head coach. I think he’ll be able to take his personality and get these guys to buy into what he’s doing.’’