The Chicago Bulls fired head coach Fred Hoiberg Monday after a rocky 5-19 start to the 2018-19 season. Lead assistant Jim Boylen has been named as Hoiberg’s replacement.
Were you REALLY surprised? Given the organization’s track record, you were probably shocked it didn’t happen closer to Christmas.
Hoiberg’s tenure can best be described as “meh.” He finished with a 115-155 record and one playoff appearance in under four seasons. Billed as an offensive wizard and master communicator, Hoiberg was anything but since arriving in May 2015.
The Bulls finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency every year with Hoiberg at the helm. In fact, they rank dead last through 24 games this season. As for those stellar communication skills, Hoiberg elicited more eye rolls than motivation.
There have been many examples of players flat out ignoring or disrespecting Hoiberg, whether it was Jimmy Butler calling him out publicly or Zach LaVine waving off his instructions from the bench. From the get-go, Hoiberg had trouble connecting with established NBA players and lacked the personality to command a room.
While he certainly didn’t help his cause, the deck was stacked against Hoiberg from the start. The real crux of the Bulls’ issues lie at the feet of Vice President John Paxon and General Manager Gar Forman.
It always comes back to those two, doesn’t it?
After all, they were the ones who sold Hoiberg as the guy who could take a veteran roster and contend for a title. He was going to the friendly offensive mind who could get the most out of Butler, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol. Remember? Fred was the anti-Tom Thibodeau.
Unfortunately, the roster was much more unstable than originally anticipated. Once Thibodeau was gone and replaced by a polar opposite coach, Bulls’ fans saw the warts of the unit GarPax built.
After two seasons of utter mediocrity, the front office finally had the courage to hit the reset button in the summer of 2017. The rebuild started two years after Hoiberg was hired, and you knew the day would come when he would be the scapegoat.
The GarPax regime has been in control since 2003 and embarked on three separate rebuilds. In fact, they’re about to bring in their fifth head coach in that time span.
Chew on that factoid for a minute or two.
Despite making the playoffs 11 times in 15 years, they’ve never won a championship. Their crowning achievement is having the league’s best regular season record twice and making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.
There also is a laundry list of missteps over the last 15 years. We could spend over 5,000 words combing through everything from botched draft choices to poorly executed free agency plans, but you’ll probably feel nauseous while reliving the painful memories.
Somehow, they’ve been allowed to hire four different coaches and hit the reset button over and over. If GarPax were a cat, they would’ve used up their nine lives years ago.
Boylen could end up being head coach No. 5 for the Bulls’ current brain trust. Local reports indicated that he’ll be the interim head coach but have a strong chance to retain the role after the season. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Boylen will be the permanent head coach effective immediately.
Boylen has been a highly regarded assistant in college and the NBA for nearly 30 years, winning a championship as Gregg Popovich’s right-hand man in 2014. He’s been on the Bulls’ staff since Hoiberg was hired, coming in as the defensive-minded yin to Hoiberg’s offensive-minded yang.
Defense hasn’t exactly been the Bulls calling card the last four seasons, so it’s easy to feel skeptical about his chances either. However, Boylen has interviewed for several head coaching vacancies around the league, and it’s possible his personality and philosophies will take shape when coaching from the big chair.
If he’s able to get through to LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr., then it will help build his case. Those four are the team’s young core, and they’re the only pieces that matter on the roster.
Even if Boylen turns out to be a solid head coach the rest of the season, it still doesn’t excuse GarPax.
Yes, they’ve had some wins of late during their latest rebuild. However, most franchises wouldn’t stick with a front office this long, especially one who has rifled through so many head coaches and hasn’t won a title.
Yet despite all the mediocrity and bad PR, the Reinsdorfs seem content with keeping GarPax in charge of basketball operations. Jerry Reinsdorf isn’t one to fire people in his circle of trust. His son, Michael, hasn’t really shown the urgency to make any changes to the power structure.
If making money is the goal, there really isn’t motivation to make sufficient changes to build a winner. The Bulls continue to rank near the top of the league in attendance and merchandise sales.
As long as they build a slightly competitive team, the fans keep showing up and corporate sponsorship stays strong. And if the team squeaks into the playoffs for a first-round exit, they get extra cash too.
However, the elder Reinsdorf experienced the benefits winning first hand. You would think that he would understand that you can have it both ways. The Bulls of 1990s were a global brand that won titles while reaping plenty of money.
Reinsdorf always has taken the stance of fiscal responsibility, stating that he’ll only pay the luxury tax for a contending squad. But in order to become a contender, you also have to spend money in other areas of an organization.
Top teams in the league are at the cutting edge of everything from player development to sports medicine. The top front offices embrace new analytics, and they continuously bring fresh voices into their scouting departments to stay ahead of the curve.
Yet, the Bulls don’t seem fully committed to new-age philosophies. The college, pro and International scouting staffs have had some of the same faces for years, and organization hasn’t embraced the idea of bringing in new perspectives from the outside.
Why is this team so hell bent on sticking to its old ways? Are Paxson and Forman the ones preventing new-age thinking, or is the owner unwilling to spend the money?
No one really knows the answer. What we do know is that both Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf continue to stand pat while other teams evolve, including ones in much smaller markets.
As usual, things appear as if they’ll remain status quo. Shams Charania from The Athletic told 670 The Score that Forman’s job is secure. And Paxson? He seemingly has a job for life.
Neither is being held accountable for the position the Bulls find themselves in after 15 years. Instead, another coach takes the fall.