Who figured when Thomas Paine famously wrote, “There are the times that try men’s souls,” he may have been looking toward Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls’ 2015-16 season.
“It’s tough, tough,” Hoiberg was saying at practice before the Bulls were to play in Miami Thursday. “I’ve always been a guy that…as a long shot to make it in this league, I made it. If not for heart disease, I would have played…I might still be playing, having more fun. Went into a tough job (at Iowa State) and succeeded at a high level to get us a point where were competing for a championship; didn’t happen. I take it very personal.
“I’m the first guy I look at every night in the mirror,” Hoiberg continued. ”I try to figure out what I can do better; it’s been tough. But got to continue to try to prepare these guys to go out and play and it starts with competing. You try to challenge them every single day that you can and get them ready to play; that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And so continues this Bulls march toward what seems like an inevitable regulation season elimination from the playoffs, a first for Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and a surprise to just about everyone when Hoiberg was hired to guide this Bulls team. But injuries, replacements and displacement, a lot of tough luck like a four overtime loss and uninspired and inconsistent play has left the Bulls on the verge of playoff elimination.
Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore remained out for Thursday’s game. Now Nikola Mirotic moves back into the starting lineup as it didn’t look good for either returning soon.
“It’s kind of unreal when you think about it,” Rose said about possibly missing the playoffs for the first time in his pro career. “Probably won’t hit me until the season is over. Right now we still have a chance, still got a shot. I think about it, but I can’t in depth with it because we’re still playing.
“He’s (Hoiberg) been very positive,” Rose said. “Not showing any frustration coming into the locker room talking to the players; that’s one thing I can take from him. It seems like he’s always at peace with himself. Of course, we know he’s frustrated, but he holds it in, trying to be a leader.
“I think (we can get back as a team),” Rose said. “You look at injuries, you look at the system, learning a new system, looking at younger guys; everybody is learning. It’s a process, but it takes time.”
That time is running out. So the Bulls are well into that take them one by one mantra with each game a chance to get to another game. It didn’t help that the Cavaliers Wednesday rested LeBron James and the Indiana Pacers, whom the Bulls have the best chance of catching, defeated Cleveland. The Bulls host Cleveland Saturday.
“They’re not worried about us,” Hoiberg said about the Cavs. “We put ourselves in this position now, unfortunately; it’s what teams do at this time of year. They’ll evaluate to keep their rhythm. It’s always been part of the league, how it’s always been and how it will always be at this time of year getting ready for the playoffs.
“The thing we talked about was going out and competing and getting ourselves ready to do all we can to win out, put ourselves in a position to where we at least have a chance,” Hoiberg said. “Guys were spirited in the workout and hopefully that carries over to the game.
“I want to see us go out and fight, swing, throw the opening punch,” said Hoiberg. “Just to get after it from the beginning of the game. We did not do that the other night (in Memphis), obviously, and dug ourselves a huge hole; that’s what we have to do. All we can control is going out and competing and giving ourselves an opportunity.
“We’ve fought through a lot of things this year with guys going in and out of the lineup like we’ve had,” said Hoiberg. “But here we are, four to go and we’re in a very difficult position. It’s frustrating because you had (the fight) for those three (road) games we absolutely had to have. We got them and then it’s another (in Memphis) you absolutely had to have and we didn’t do it; that’s the frustrating part about this last week. We put ourselves in a position with our backs against the wall to continue on and play and then it wasn’t there; now we have to find a way to get it back to at least stay in the hunt.
“You have to keep fighting, keep the faith, keep putting game plans together to give yourselves the best chance to win,” said Hoiberg. “That’s the position we are in and we are going to keep fighting. I unfortunately watched the (Memphis) game and stared at the ceiling for an hour. Might have slept for an hour, got up and started working on Miami. It’s a team we’ve obviously had some struggles with and it’s been fourth quarters. They hit a shot to put them up three going into the fourth and they put it on us in the fourth; got to come out swinging. ”
To paraphrase Paine in a season of pain, Give them a win or it’s going to be the death of a season.