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Professional

NBA: Bulls coach feels team was playing as well as anyone in April

Hoiberg still confident in himself

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg (right) said he feels he’s doing a good job of helping develop the team’s younger players.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg (right) said he feels he’s doing a good job of helping develop the team’s younger players.

Until Tuesday, Fred Hoiberg hadn’t publicly responded to management’s claim from its season-ending news conference that Hoiberg needs to be a better leader, more fodder for those who mistake his geniality for softness.

As someone who has sat on both the executive and coaching sides and seeks organizational harmony, Hoiberg handled his business privately first.

“I’ll be honest: I wasn’t thrilled,” Hoiberg told the Tribune in his first comments about the incident. “And [executive vice president] John [Paxson] and I had a long talk about it the next day, and I told him that. It was a great conversation. We’ve moved on from it and turned it into a positive with a great meeting. The important thing is we’re all on the same page.”

Hoiberg is aware of the perception from some circles that he has underwhelmed in his first two seasons. He doesn’t waste time or energy focusing on critics, but the fact he had analytics at the ready when asked about his ability to develop players seemed telling.

“We were playing as well as anybody in the Eastern Conference at the end of last season,” Hoiberg said in an interview after the news conference. “Obviously, [rebuilding] is a completely different challenge. But I haven’t lost any confidence in my ability to lead and do this job. I look at the way we ended last year and kept things together and played our best basketball at the most important time of the season.

“Cristiano Felicio couldn’t crack our summer league rotation 2 years ago. We invited him back to camp after he finished the summer league well. And I think we helped shape him into a very good NBA player. He had the third best net rating after the [Thunder] trade was made. You look at Jerian Grant, who shot 22 percent as a rookie in New York, and he shot almost 38 percent [on 3-pointers] last year while starting almost a third of our games. Our young players have gotten better. They have developed.

“Denzel [Valentine], without really a training camp, had a big impact, especially when [Dwyane] Wade got hurt. You look at Bobby [Portis’] numbers. They have gotten better. Paul Zipser became one of our most important players. We have five young players who, in my opinion, our staff did a really good job with, so I’m very confident in our player development department.”

Speaking on the dais, Hoiberg pointed to how only five teams last season used five players who were in their first and second year as rotation players. The other four – the Suns, 76ers, Knicks and Heat – didn’t make the playoffs.

“Our goal last year was to develop our younger players and try to get into the postseason, which we did accomplish,” he said. “Obviously, there were some frustrations as well with inconsistent play.”

Several times during the news conference, Paxson singled out the commitment and buy-in from the young players to the offseason program.

“Fred and his staff have done a tremendous job already this summer,” Paxson said. “They just keep demanding that these guys play the right way, work hard every day.”

With a full rebuild underway, focus will shift to the ability of Hoiberg and his staff to help develop the young core.

“I’ll miss the opportunity to coach Jimmy on a daily basis. He was a guy who worked his tail off each time he stepped in the gym. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around,” Hoiberg said. “I’ll miss what we had at the end of last year. But I’m really excited about this new direction and the progress we made with our young core last year.”

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