Fred Hoiberg isn’t currently on the hot seat. Rajon Rondo’s hold on the starting point guard job is.
An eventful Friday in “As the Bulls Turn” began with an ESPN.com report from respected national reporter Marc Stein stating Hoiberg, in his second season of a five-year deal, is on “the toastiest seat in the NBA.” It continued with Hoiberg benching Rondo in favor of Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant for the second half of Friday’s game with the Pacers.
And it ended, with a thud as the Bulls lost 111-101, surrendering a 14-4 run in the final 4 minutes, 7 seconds after clawing all the way back from a 14-point deficit.
General manager Gar Forman declined to comment on Hoiberg’s status. But multiple team sources said Hoiberg is safe for myriad reasons, not the least of which the Bulls are just 33 games removed from paying Hoiberg and former coach Tom Thibodeau simultaneously.
Making a move on Hoiberg now would cost the franchise $17.5 million, plus the going rate of $5 million annually on top of that for a replacement. Remember: Even as management’s relationship with Thibodeau frayed, Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf refused to sign off on firing him until the dead money dropped to two years and $9 million.
At last April’s season-ending postmortem after the first missed postseason in seven seasons, Forman and executive vice president John Paxson publicly expressed their desire to see growth from Hoiberg. And while some internal consternation remains over Hoiberg’s continued struggles with accountability, management was pleased with Hoiberg’s tougher training camp and demeanor this season.
“He has grown,” Paxson said on WSCR-670 AM on Christmas Day. “I’ve seen it more on the practice floor than anywhere.”
There’s also the sense that Hoiberg hasn’t fully been given the roster he needs to play his preferred style, a point also conceded in the ESPN.com report. Lost in the oft-derided comment from Forman that the Bulls need to get younger and more athletic is that Forman said that would be a multi-year process and the franchise hoped to remain competitive throughout it.
Hoiberg largely is seen as Forman’s hire so there’s no chance he’s advocating for Hoiberg’s dismissal. Both Hoiberg and management have said their communication is strong.
“Last year we had very high expectations and didn’t live up to those, so rumors are going to happen,” Hoiberg said. “You can’t worry about it. You just have to keep doing what you know and try to put your team in position to play consistently.
“We had that earlier in the year. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to go through this season without ups and downs with all the new faces and young pieces that we have.”
“We want to continue to win games with and for him,” Butler said. “He ain’t on no hot seat with me, though. I think we’re going to be just fine. Win games and everything is cool.”
The Bulls lost Friday’s afternoon affair because of another dreadful start and then a poor finish. Butler fouled George on a 3-point attempt with 4:07 left and George sank all three free throws to start the 14-4, game-ending run.
“You have to defend without fouling in that situation,” Hoiberg said.
Rondo, who posted one assist and three fouls without scoring in 10:50 of first-half action, watched it all. Hoiberg, who praised Rondo’s cheerleading from the bench in the second half, said he hasn’t determined who will start Saturday at point guard.
“It’s not life and death. Life is too short to be unhappy,” Rondo said. “If I start (Saturday), great. If I don’t, as long as we get the win that’s what matters.”
Rondo, who also was benched for the fourth quarter of Monday’s victory over these same Pacers, said the move didn’t surprise him because of “my intuition.” He also answered “negative” when asked if he received an explanation from Hoiberg.
“I thought Michael gave us really good energy,” Hoiberg explained to reporters. “I thought Jerian played really solid the last time we played against these guys. Just the decision that we made.”
Rondo said he needed to watch the film when asked how he thought he played in the first half, which he finished minus-20.
“I don’t think I was aggressive enough. But that’s my game. I always try to take what the defense gives me, never try to force anything, get guys involved,” Rondo said. “I’ll try to figure out my defensive intensity, if it was there or not.
“I’m a veteran. I’m going to continue to work hard, stay in the gym every day, lead these guys when I can, talk to my teammates. Be professional.”