Mixed signals

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Anthony L. Cuaycong


Fred Hoiberg was doomed to fail from the start. It certainly didn’t help that he latched on to the Bulls’ head coaching position under the weight of great expectations. The previous occupant of the hot seat was no less than the highly regarded Tom Thibodeau, and president of hoops operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Heard, who handpicked him for the job, expected him to do better. They plucked him from Iowa State, impressed with the success of his pace-and-space system and figured he could make it work for the red and white.

Needless to say, Hoiberg was gung-go and confident that he would live up to billing. There was just one problem, however. He didn’t have the right personnel at his disposal. Instead of players placing a premium on movement in pursuit of the best-possible shot at the most opportune time, he took charge of a cacophony of veritable black holes who preferred to dribble the air out of the ball and compete on their own terms. He asked for the right people, got anything but from Paxson and Heard, and was thus forced to compromise.

Hoiberg changed his outlook. He didn’t want to, but he was forced to. Outwardly, he continued to preach the very principles that endeared him to his employers in the first place. Unfortunately, practical considerations coupled with mixed signals painted him in a corner. He managed to last three full seasons and change with the Bulls, with his roller-coaster ride reflecting as much his failings as those whose orders he had to follow. At times, he was asked to preside over tank jobs in an apparent rebuild. At others, he got the impression that a playoff berth took precedence.

So, yes, Hoiberg underperformed, and to the point where a different voice needed to be heard. That said, the timing is suspect at best. He could have been given the pink slip before the start of the season, when a fresh perspective would have received the benefit of training camp. Instead, he got it after a predictable swoon borne of injuries to vital cogs had the Bulls scraping the bottom of the barrel. In his place is erstwhile assistant Jim Boylen, who, at the very least, can count on a healthy foundation-for-the-future Lauri Markkanen from here on.

In any case, the Bulls don’t look headed anywhere else but the lottery. In firing Hoiberg, Paxson, and Forman gave the impression that they’re out to win. Indeed. Everyone should be. The question is when, and if they know what’s good for the cause, it should be then and there and not here and now. Given the utter dominance of the usual suspects, the middle is precisely where they don’t want to find themselves in. And yet the middle is where they seem to be casting moist eyes on. Too bad.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.