CHICAGO – Anyone who has watched the Bulls could have seen this happening at some point over the next year.
But on Monday? Hardly.
Yes, the Bulls’ 5-19 record is ugly, and the lopsided losses have been aplenty, but John Paxson saw something that concerned him in the attitude and body language that concerned.
It wasn’t the same as it was in December of last season when the Bulls rallied for seven-straight wins with the return of Nikola Mirotic after a 3-20 start.
Paxson didn’t see an opportunity this year for that to happen this year when the looked more into their intangibles. Hence when Fred Hoiberg came into the Advocate Center on Monday, he got his walking papers.
And no, the record wasn’t the reason.
“We felt the last several weeks that something’s different. What we’re lacking is kind of an energy and a spirit about our team,” said Paxson of the team under Hoiberg, which the executive vice president pointed to a reason for the coach’s dismissal 24 games into the season. “We need to get that back.”
Paxson said it was with the team last year during an even worse beginning of the season, when the team started the season 17 games under-.500 with the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight that put them both out of the lineup.
Hoiberg had it even worse this year, with Portis along with Lauri Markkenen, Kris Dunn, and Denzel Valentine knocked out for most of the start of the season. One might have believed that the upcoming return for all of them except Valentine could trigger a rally for the group that currently has a four-game losing streak.
Yet again, Paxson pointed to the intangible.
“It’s not a simple to say we would have gotten that with the healthy players – with Lauri coming back, Kris Dunn coming back, Bobby (Portis) coming back,” said Paxson. “It wasn’t going to be that simple. It was more than that. We need to find a spirit to our group that’s been missing and missing for quite some time.”
Because of that, Hoiberg departs with just one playoff appearance in his three seasons and 24 games of his Bulls’ tenure. He finished 115-155 with two playoff wins coming in the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Celtics.
With the enthusiasm in the group dying in the eyes of Paxson, it’s now up to Jim Boylen to wake the team up the last four months of the season. It will be his first NBA coaching job, and Paxson insisted that he’ll have the full support of the franchise to keep the job for a long time.
So what is it that’s convinced the executive vice president that Boylen’s the one to make that happen?
“He has a passion and energy to him that I think our players will respond to,” said Paxson of Boylan. “It’s different when you’re an assistant than when you are a head coach. I think he’ll be able to take his personality and get these guys to buy into what he’s doing.
“I also think he’s a teacher of the game, and when you have a young basketball team, you need a coach and staff that can drill down to the fundamentals – we talk about it all the time – and teach the group the right way to play.”
The attitude they have while they do so will matter, too.