What’s Next for the Bulls After Firing Head Coach Fred Hoiberg?

“This decision was not based on our record.”

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson reiterated a point he and GM Gar Forman made at media day before the 2018-19 season began. Chicago was not going to be judged on wins and losses. After a 5-19 start, Paxson and Forman decided a change was needed and let Head Coach Fred Hoiberg go.

Hoiberg was showing signs of progress when it came to developing players, but Paxson cited a lack of energy and spirit as the cause for the change.

“What we’re lacking is an energy and spirit about our team and we need to get that back,” Paxson said. “We need to find a spirit to our group that’s been missing and missing for quite some time.”

Paxson’s words make it seem like this change was coming for a while. Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania said league sources told him Hoiberg “might not make Christmas.” In management’s eyes, the Bulls were not playing “the right way.”

“As a head coach, you have to demand excellence in your players,” Paxson said. “You have to be able to get your identity across to your team.”

The Bulls predictably struggled out of the gate with star forward Lauri Markkanen sidelined. Injuries to starting point guard Kris Dunn and forward Bobby Portis further hampered the team. According to management, the return of these players would not have made the necessary difference.

“We felt there were a lot of things that needed to be addressed and needed to be addressed immediately,” Paxson said. “It’s not as simple as saying we would’ve gotten that back with healthy players.”

Season Record in Close Games (6-point margin or less) Losses by 15+ points
2017-18 13-15 17
2018-19 (through 24 games) 3-5 9

From an energy, spirit and intensity standpoint, the Bulls have struggled through 24 games this season. The numbers look worse in comparison to last season.

Season % of games played within 6 points or less % of games with losses by 15 or more points
2017-18 34.1 33.3
2018-19 (through 24 games) 33.3 37.5

Chicago’s management determined Hoiberg wouldn’t be able to turn the team around even with a healthy roster. Even in the second year of a rebuild with a roster better fit for his up-tempo system, Hoiberg supposedly wasn’t getting through to the players. The problems he had with Jimmy Butler, who questioned Hoiberg’s intensity and ability to hold players accountable, were surfacing again in the eyes of management.

Despite management’s praises for Hoiberg regarding player development, supposedly a top priority, Paxson maintained his stance that the atmosphere around the team needed to be changed.

“[Fred] did a good job with our individual players, but it’s about more than just individual development,” Paxson said.

The Bulls will now turn to Jim Boylen, who has been an assistant coach with the team since 2015. Boylen has served as an assistant coach under Tom Izzo and Gregg Popovich during his coaching career. He also had a four-year stint with the University of Utah as a head coach.

“Jim [Boylen] is our head coach and we expect him to be our head coach going forward, and we’re going to give him every opportunity to succeed here,” Paxson said. “He has a passion and an energy to him that I think our players will respond to.” Boylen will have the opportunity to secure the job long-term, according to Paxson.

Chicago will likely improve with Markkanen returning and Dunn and Portis on the way shortly. Boylen will not only need to develop players, but he will need to change the atmosphere around the team back to what Paxson and Forman expect it to be.

“There have to be expectations that [the players] compete more consistently at a high level every single day on the practice floor and into the games and that they play the right way,” Paxson said.

It’ll be up to Boylen to deliver that identity.