By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bulls management confirmed Wednesday that coach Fred Hoiberg will return to begin the third season of his five-year contract. A fair portion of the rest of the season-ending press conference with executives John Paxson and Gar Forman was spent directly and indirectly pointing out Hoiberg’s shortcomings.
Assessing a 41-41 campaign that ended with a first-round playoff exit, Paxson offered a blunt critique of Hoiberg, who’s 83-81 in his two seasons in Chicago.
“Fred’s challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader,” Paxson said. “I think he showed progress in that area. The team did rally around him at times. But again, that’s part of the process.”
The most jarring criticism of Hoiberg by management Wednesday came in what was left unsaid. Asked directly why Hoiberg is the right long-term fit for this team, Paxson didn’t cite a specific attribute or strength. He mentioned “growth” — but only in the context of veteran guard Dwyane Wade mentioning that he had seen it in Hoiberg.
“I mentioned to you last year that I view young coaches in this league as like young players,” Paxson said. “They have to develop and grow, too. I’m not going to get into the specifics about things we’ve seen. We have a lot of discussions throughout the year about issues we have, things with him, but that’s for us internally to have and to talk about. I do believe that.”
While management did acknowledge it didn’t provide a roster well-suited for Hoiberg’s system, its biggest criticism of him was his inability to create stability, namely with consistent playing rotations. Three point guards — Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant — went from a starting role one game to not playing by coaches decision the next at various points of the season, and it was anyone’s guess from night to night who might be on the second unit.
Shortly after the February trade deadline, the Bulls were using 11-man rotations at times.
“Our young guys need a consistent role,” Paxson said. “That is the goal going forward. That’s how we’ll work with Fred together to make sure that happens. I am convinced that we will not see those types of inconsistencies in lineups. You have to give your coach some freedom. We don’t coach the team. We hired him for his creative offensive mind. We understand the way he wants to play. We have to give him leeway. That’s what you do with a coach. This offseason, all of us understand the importance of finding out about these young guys.”
The Bulls’ resurgence then came only when Rondo was reinserted as the starter in mid-March and Hoiberg trimmed the rotation to about nine.
“There wasn’t a lot of consistency with the rotations and guys were in and out, sometimes playing, sometimes not,” Forman said. “Like (John) said, organizationally we’ve got to commit.”
From Hoiberg’s perspective, these directives must feel like a no-win situation, a double standard of sorts.
Wednesday’s critique came a year after Paxson stressed the importance of Hoiberg holding players more accountable. One means of Hoiberg doing that came in his liberal adjustments to the playing rotations this season. When players struggled, they were apt to find themselves riding the bench for longer stretches. It’s that inconsistent rotation that Hoiberg’s now been chided for utilizing.
To say nothing of this fact: Hoiberg’s rotation predicament was largely created by the acquisitions of the front office in the first place and their desire to develop young talent while also making a playoff push.
There was no response for Hoiberg to make Wednesday, as he left town shortly after the Bulls’ season-ending loss last Friday. There will only be more questions to ponder and doubts that surface this offseason.
Management maintained that “we support him,” even if their previous actions and words suggested otherwise.
“Our responsibility is to always look to areas of improvement,” Paxson said. “Player development, these are things at the top of our list.
“We’re looking at it from the viewpoint that Fred’s people and people around Fred can develop young players, and that’s on us to do going forward.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.