Fourteen hours later, Fred Hoiberg was still hot about the Bulls’ pathetic performance in Monday’s loss to the Celtics.
“Everything was awful,” a terse Hoiberg said on Tuesday.
Here’s why: Effort has been the consistent benchmark to judge a season in which losses were expected. Now, with veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday removed as starters so that management and the coaching staff can evaluate young players and different lineups, another criterion has been added.
“What we’re really searching for is who is going to emerge as the leader of this group, especially with Robin and Justin not playing a lot right now,” Hoiberg said. “We had nobody do it [Monday] night. You need somebody to step up. You can use the excuse that our two best [leadership] guys as far as Robin and Justin are not in the lineup, and we’ve gotten off to horrendous starts without those guys in there. But somebody has got to take the ownership and be the leader and pull guys together when things aren’t going well.
“We’re really sharp and really good when things are going well. But when adversity hits, how are you going to handle that? We completely shut down [Monday] night and got embarrassed.”
It’s an inherent contradiction, of course. Management traded Nikola Mirotic and sat Lopez and Holiday as starters mostly to evaluate young players in different roles. But if it meant more losses and ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, then all the better.
Hoiberg has steered clear of tanking talk all season, and did so again when asked about being charged with such a thankless task.
“I don’t care who’s on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “It can’t affect your effort. I thought our second unit at least kept playing. Denzel [Valentine], specifically, without him we score 50 points [Monday] night. He was the one guy who kept playing and was talking in the huddles.
Everybody else had a deer-in-the-headlights look. Denzel was trying to keep us going, and it carried over to his play on the floor where he was at least trying to make plays.
“I’ll say this about our team: For the most part this year, they’ve given great effort on a nightly basis. They’ve played hard. We’ve had really good stretches of basketball. But this last stretch, especially the way we’ve started, it’s been terrible. I don’t care who’s on the floor. The constant of going out and playing hard has to be there. You have to compete and give yourself a chance.”
Often, a restless night’s sleep and film review can calm coaches. Not so Tuesday. That’s what a 26-5 first-quarter deficit with the lineup of Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and David Nwaba will do.
“It was painful to watch that game,” Hoiberg said. “It was every bit as bad as I thought it was in watching it the first time. And again, we’re out here [in practice] and running our scripts and flying around and getting to our spots and moving the ball and making unselfish plays, and then when things aren’t going well [in games], we become five individuals on the floor. And that can’t happen.”
Dunn got the message.
“The coaching staff is looking at me to be more of a leader,” Dunn said. “It’s tough, especially where I was and then coming off the injury and trying to find my way. I’m big on showing your game and then trying to be a vocal leader. But they want me to try to be both.
“Especially my first year as a Bull. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But I’ve got to be the leader of the group, because I play the point guard position. It’s my job to get everybody in the right position. These next 19 games, I’m definitely going to pick it up.”