Bulls Cite Missing Spirit In Ousting Fred Hoiberg

"We need to identify the right way to play," John Paxson says.

Cody Westerlund
December 03, 2018 - 3:05 pm

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- While a handful of front office members had often been scouting in recent weeks amid another rebuilding season for the Bulls, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had maintained his usual presence around a struggling team.

As the young Bulls sank deeper into a hole, losing 10 of their past 11 and falling to 5-19 overall, Paxson took note of the postgame atmosphere. He didn’t like what he saw, explaining that losing didn’t appear to be affecting the players in the way he felt it should.

“When you look in the locker room after a game and you don’t see guys maybe hurting as much as they did before about losing, those are all things that when you sit in my position, in (Gar Forman's) position, you have to pay attention to,” Paxson said. “And that’s what we were looking at.”

That in large part explained why the Reinsdorf family, Paxson and Forman made the decision to fire Hoiberg on Monday morning and promote associated head coach Jim Boylen to the head job. Hoiberg exited 24 game into the fourth season of his five-year, $25-million contract, with a 115-155 record, one playoff appearance and endless drama to show for it. For all the acclaim he received for his coaching acumen in being hired in June 2015, Hoiberg never firmly instituted a culture in the eyes of his bosses.

That was a fact Paxson never shied away from pointing out, whether it was in reflecting on Hoiberg’s work at the end of his first two seasons in Chicago or outlining his firing Monday in a media session at the Advocate Center.

“This decision was not based on our record, plain and simple,” Paxson said.

“What we’re lacking is kind of an energy and a spirit about our team, and we need to get that back.”

That Lauri Markkanen missed the first 23 games with an elbow injury and Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis have been sidelined for all but a combined five games with MCL injuries mattered not to Paxson, who believed that success with a full complement of players amid the team’s current state only would’ve served to “mask” the trouble, not fix it.

“If you don’t think competitive spirit is important for an organization or basketball team, then you’re wrong,” Paxson said. “And we were lacking that. And I told the players that earlier today. We need a voice and someone who can at least try.

“You can have a team that plays hard every night no matter who you put out there. That’s energy and passion right there. I don’t care who you’re throwing out there. You have to get your guys to buy in and be connected. Fred was here for three-plus years.”

Paxson also appeared disturbed by the Bulls’ lack of offensive continuity. Hoiberg was hailed as an offensive innovator and missing mind to mold a championship-ready roster when he was hired, but the Bulls scuffled offensively in his tenure, in part because of personnel that didn't fit his preferred space-and-pace system. They ranked 23rd, 20th, 28th and 30th in offensive efficiency over the past four seasons, respectively.

“We’ve had discussions with Fred and his staff for all the time he’s been here, and we talked about a way of playing,” Paxson said. “And yes, the injuries have played a part in us not being able to do that. You have to be able to get your identity across to your team, and we just felt that we’re not playing the style with the force that we want our group to play with and that we can be.

“You may not win games, but you can get any of your players to play that way. That’s why we decided to do it now with three of our more talented players coming back. We need to identify the right way to play, and we need that spirit with our group.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.