Already, Fred Hoiberg is proving a coaching iconoclast.
Hoiberg Tuesday will coach his first NBA game, albeit exhibition, in the United Center against the Milwaukee Bucks. Yet, Hoiberg boldly is risking the Bulls chances for the preseason championship that the Bulls last won in 2013 with an 8-0 preseason.
“We’re going to hold some guys out,” Hoiberg said after practice Monday. “Pau (Gasol) won’t play. Kirk (Hinrich) has a little bit of a nagging (toe) injury. We’ll hold him out. Taj (Gibson), obviously, isn’t ready yet. It will give a lot of guys opportunities to get out there and perform. It’s great for our young guys. Bobby Portis will get a great chance to get his first game experience in an NBA arena. I know he’s pumped up about that. And it gives some guards with Derrick (Rose, recovering from orbital surgery) and Kirk out a chance to see what they can do and fight for minutes in the rotation once the regular season starts. But the biggest thing to accomplish is continue along this path, along this journey.”
Time to get truckin’? As it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it could be.
Hoiberg said the starters Tuesday will be Jimmy Butler, E’Twaun Moore, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah.
You’re–sort of–2015-16 Chicago Bulls.
But this is a new coaching regime and a different philosophy. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be better since the Bulls under former coach Tom Thibodeau had the league’s best record his first two seasons. Of course, that was before any of Rose’s knee injuries. In the subsequent three seasons, the Bulls averaged about 48 wins in the regular season and won two of five playoff series.
So the plan, for now, appears to be to build toward the season opener and employ more depth throughout the season. Still, any team has to develop a reliable rotation. Especially a team learning a new system of play with Hoiberg emphasizing more speed with fewer called plays. Thus you can’t rest too long to preserve your body and then also be in rhythm with your teammates.
“It’s a balancing act,” acknowledged Hoiberg. “The thing you have to continue to do as we move along this preseason is to play them together a little more each game. This will probably be the only game Pau sits. Kirk should, hopefully, play most of the other games depending on how this thing with his toe plays out. It should just be this first game, get him some good rest and then gradually get him going. We’ll be a little careful with minutes, but by the last three or four preseason games we’ll get a rotation down.”
The Bucks are developing a strong, young team and were a challenge for the Bulls in last spring’s first round playoff series won 4-2 by the Bulls. Milwaukee this season adds injured rookie Jabari Parker, who also is not expected to play Tuesday, and free agent Greg Monroe. So the series could become a rivalry, though not quite yet.
The Bulls then play Denver in Colorado Springs Thursday and Minnesota in Winnipeg, Canada Saturday. It sounds like Hoiberg will experiment with lineups those games with Rose staying back in Chicago to recuperate. Hoiberg planned to visit Rose Monday and Wednesday to go over training camp and elements of the new system of play. After orbital eye surgery, patients are sensitive to light and discouraged from being outside. Hoiberg said Rose likely will join the team at practice Monday Oct. 12 the day of the game with the Pelicans and then begin working out with the team later that week. Gibson is not expected to play in preseason until next week, though Gasol likely will get some game time later this week.
It’s clearly a departure from the routine under Thibodeau, who believed in winning in the preseason to develop strong habits. Thibodeau’s Bulls teams were 23-10 in the preseason in five seasons. They were 4-4 last season and after losing the last two games, Thibodeau was noticeably curt with answers after the final preseason game. Though there apparently were other issues at play.
But it’s not like winning in the preseason has little value.
In Scott Skiles’ final season, he began to lose faith in the team because of what he perceived as indifference and a lack of effort in the last few preseason games. And Phil Jackson’s Bulls teams generally had strong preseason records. The Bulls best preseason was 1992-93 when they were 9-0. They also were 8-0 in Jackson’s first season as head coach, 1989-90. The Bulls were 51-23 overall in preseason under Jackson.
And it even sounded Monday like Hoiberg was implementing the triangle offense the way he was describing the way he wants the Bulls to play this season. Hoiberg was clever enough not to call it that lest he bring down media wrath upon the team.
“We haven’t really gotten into any isolation actions, but we’ve put in a lot of our flow offense,” said Hoiberg. “If the primary break isn’t there, just flow into a secondary break. That’s really what our offense is based on (reading the defense). If an option is taken away, that triggers that next action. You’ve got to be on point with it. You’ve really got to be able to read and react and flash to the ball, get good movement out of it. Everything’s predicated on spacing, and if you space the floor well generally good things happen.”
It sounded almost like a Tex Winter lecture, and Hoiberg did acknowledge he could have been talking about the blind pig.
That is the familiar triangle action when the center comes up on the strong side and drops off a pass to a cutting guard or wing player for a layup.
Hey, we’re talking basketball!
“It’s a system where you’re going to play a lot of reads and how the defense is playing us,” said Gasol, who won two titles playing in Jackson’s system with the Lakers. “It’s going to have to come to a point where we’re going to just have to go out there and play and make decisions ourselves. The spacing is really critical in this system. That’s something we need to understand and just get used to the names and technicalities of the system. Some guys are going to pick it up a little quicker. Some guys are going to pick it up a little slower. But we’re going to keep working at it until we get it right. To me, it’s not complicated. At the end of the day it’s all basketball, and if all players are locked in and we move the ball and we’re willing to make it work, we’ll make it work. There’s no magical thing. It should be an offense that fits really well.’’
And so it begins.
“I’m excited,” said Hoiberg. “I’m excited to see how everything goes. Generally that first preseason game is pretty sloppy, and after watching a lot of these preseason games you’ve seen that. Probably not as much movement as you’d like in that first one. But, hopefully we go out there and compete and play hard. Those are the things you’re looking for. Play hard and play unselfish. It’s going to be great to get out there to get that first game under our belt and then learn from it.”