By Bryan Crawford #26
Media day was the first sign that something was wrong.
You would think that a new head coach who was supposed to be an offensive genius, and the optimism of the upcoming season to see how he would help Derrick Rose return to his all-world form and how he was planning to help Jimmy Butler take the next step towards superstardom would’ve brought reporters to the Advocate Center in droves last October. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, the team’s 2015 media day was as empty as I’d seen in all of my years covering it.
Three months later, it’s easy to see why there was no interest in the 2015-16 Chicago Bulls squad. The team is mediocre, there’s no chemistry in the locker room, and Fred Hoiberg seems completely out of his element as an NBA head coach. I predicted the Bulls would win no more than 45 games this season, but from the looks of things, that may have been overestimated by, at minimum, five games.
This is problematic.
In their present state, the Chicago Bulls are a shell of the ultra-competitive team we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the years. They’ve lost 12 of their last 17 games and now their best player Butler will be sidelined up to a month with a left knee sprain that could possibly be tied to the very thing that got previous head coach Tom Thibodeau fired: heavy minutes.
If the team doesn’t make the playoffs this year or bow out in the first round if they do get to the postseason, neither would come as a surprise considering the inconsistent and lackluster effort that’s been on display this season.
But the problems don’t seem to be relegated to the court.
If the rumors that have been circulating around Chicago are true, it would seem that Gar Forman’s GM seat is scorching hot right now and he and VP of basketball operations John Paxson haven’t exactly been seeing eye-to-eye. Things have reportedly gotten so bad that Forman is said to have made preemptive damage control phone calls around the League saying that the team’s shortcomings this year aren’t his fault.
Unfortunately, Forman doesn’t exactly have a lot of supporting evidence to back up his claim. The Bulls are currently in a freefall (5-12 over their last 17 games) that is largely driven on the decisions he’s made over the last 18 months.
However, as bad as all of this sounds, there are a couple of very simple ways to turn this situation into a win-win for the organization, and the fans who have been loyally supporting the Bulls over the years and dreaming of another championship celebration in Grant Park.
- Promote from within: If this really is Gar Forman’s last run with the Bulls and a GM change is to be made, instead of conducting an outside search, the team could simply move Fred Hoiberg from the sidelines to the front office. If we’re being honest, Hoiberg’s coaching skills have left a lot to be desired, rookie or not. The success he had at Iowa State in a weak Big 12 conference wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Neither was the Cyclone’s first round exit in the NCAA Tournament last year as No. 3 seed to the No. 14 seeded UAB Blazers. Additionally, from a résumé standpoint, Hoiberg isn’t on par with current NCAA-to-NBA guys like Brad Stevens or Billy Donovan who have either been to the Final 4 or won an NCAA Championship, while also having a strong track record for player development and sending guys to the NBA. Fred Hoiberg’s college resume is much more similar to Quin Snyder, the current head coach of the Utah Jazz. Since he already has previous GM experience with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and to avoid firing him and then having to pay yet another coach to go away, it would be much easier for the Bulls to just promote him as a replacement for Forman—if he is to be let go—and then…
- Hire one of the hot coaching prospects on the market: This summer, there will be no shortage of good coaches looking for a new job. Luke Walton is a name that immediately comes to mind. Given what he was able to do with the Golden State Warriors on an interim basis in place of Steve Kerr, Walton would be the perfect person to implement some of the Warriors’ offensive and defensive philosophies, maximize the talent already on the roster and any new blood that will be brought in later. The East is improving, but still weak overall, and definitely up for grabs. Of course, Walton will have no shortage of potential suitors, but you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take anyway. It would make sense if the Bulls were to promote Hoiberg to management to make a run at him—or someone else—and see what happens. We’re still talking about one of the most iconic franchises in all of professional sports and it’s a job that very few would turn down under the right circumstances.
But what exactly are those right circumstances?
Well, it’s no secret that the Bulls are long overdue for a top-down culture change. At present, they seem to not understand that today’s athletes are more connected to each other than ever. It’s no secret why the organization has never been able to hit a home run in free agency.
The shadow of the man whose statue sits outside the arena, and the well documented story of his departure, still looms large over the franchise. In short, the Bulls have a terrible reputation for the way they’ve treated players both in the past and now, the present. This isn’t just public perception either. It’s a feeling that permeates throughout the NBA player fraternity, too.
That’s not good.
It would be smart for the team to not only bring in a competent coach, but to also give this person some say in personnel matters as well, something the organization has never been open to doing in the past. But desperate times call for equal measures.
The issues with the Bulls may seem troublesome on the surface, but they are easily correctable with a little ingenuity and open mindedness. It would also require a serious commitment to institute meaningful change, from the top down, to make it all work. “Hold firm” and “stand pat” seem to have been the mottos for the franchise since 2011, but that hasn’t worked and now, it’s a new day.
The people shelling out hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to watch the team play every night, not only want to see a good product, but they also want to know that the Bulls are aggressively going after another title, by any means necessary. Fans had that feeling five years ago, but that vibe has long since passed.
Now people are wondering if the team is really trying to compete for a seventh Larry O’Brien trophy, or if the focus is to have a team that is only good enough to sell tickets and keep butts in the seats.
If the goal is the latter, then staying the course makes sense. But if the Chicago Bulls are in fact serious about hanging another banner from the rafters of the UC, then they should give the aforementioned suggestions some serious consideration. After all, what do they have to lose?