In recent years, the Chicago Bulls have been known for toughness, intensity, aggression, energy, organisation and hard-nosed defence. That was under Tom Thibodeau. But now under Fred Hoiberg the Bulls are known for something else: losing and being dysfunctional.
Not only did the Bulls miss out on the playoffs for the first time in eight years this season. But a once air-tight group also became fractured as the season progressed. Numerous players spoke out during Hoiberg's first campaign in charge. But all that really did was highlight the growing disconnect between the head coach and his players.
When it comes down to it, Thibodeau and Hoiberg are two very different personalities with differing styles of play. The new Minnesota Timberwolves head coach is a very intense and demanding character whereas Hoiberg is calmer and more understated. On the court, the former NCAA coach prefers to play a quicker-tempo game,looking to put up points, rather than keep them down like his predecessor.
The transition from one to the other has been troublesome. No doubt. It's been a bumpy road. And whilst many blame the new coach for the team's poor performances post-Thibodeau, there is something to be said for Hoiberg not having the type of players he needs in order to do things his way.
CLASH OF STYLES
Every coach has their philosophy and beliefs. To an extent, given the right circumstances, many of those philosophies can work to some degree or another. But is Chicago, at this point in time, the right circumstances for Hoiberg to implement his ideas and beliefs? The 43-year-old's first season in charge would suggest not. The players themselves seem to back that up.
Jimmy Butler was the first player to speak out. Others had their say as the season went on, too, with Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson questioning the desire and drive of their teammates. For as Thibodeau may have had issues with the front office during his term with the Bulls, the bond and trust between him and his players appeared to be, from the outside at least, rock solid.
Not so with the new guy. Butler suggested Hoiberg needs to be tougher on this particular group of players. That they need a stern approach in order to get the best out of them. That was what they were used to under Thibs, after all.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION
If that's not his style, however, then that's not going to happen. For every player that says he thrives under an authority figure that cracks the whip, there is another who thrives in a calmer, more cerebral environment. Some need a tougher approach. Some need an arm around the shoulder. It's natural.
Despite the current Bulls players having been at their best under Thibodeau, though, and clearly needing that style of coaching. That doesn't make that style any better than another - or else the Bulls might have actually won something during Thibodeau's tenure. Even just a conference title, if nothing else.
But Thibodeau and his Bulls drew a blank and now Hoiberg is the one getting his opportunity in the Windy City. But if you want to change the direction of the team - as Hoiberg's appointment would indicate - then you need to be all in. Hoiberg, like any head coach, needs players that fit his management and coaching style.
Very few teams have epitomised their head coach more than the Bulls did under Thibodeau. Every adjective that describes Thibodeau described his Bulls team equally as well. They were Thibodeau to a tee. Whereas Hoiberg is the polar opposite, almost. No wonder it's a bad fit.
The only way forward in Chicago is a virtual clean slate. The Thibodeau guys have to go. Even Butler, potentially. If the 26-year-old needs tough love to play at his best, then he'll need a situation like that to return to his best once again. That's unlikely to be a Hoiberg regime any time soon.
Gasol has a player option for next season and already looks set to move on. Joakim Noah will be a free agent and also looks unlikely to be returning. Derrick Rose has one more season on his contract. As does Gibson. The Bulls may as well rip up the team sheet and just give Hoiberg a blank canvas. Show confidence in him. Let him build the team in his name, in his style.
There's nothing to lose, really, at this point. The Bulls hired Hoiberg because they believed in his methods and his way of doing things. So let him do it his way. It's obvious that Hoiberg cannot coach Thibodeau's team. Now let him coach his own.