Fred Hoiberg added a nice touch to practice Sunday, playing Christmas carols as the Bulls warmed up for their brief workout.
Historically, Bulls coaches haven’t always fared well on Christmas Eve.
Hoiberg played for the Bulls when Jerry Krause forced Tim Floyd to resign under pressure Christmas Eve morning in 2001 and recalled the “nice phone conversation” he shared with Floyd later that night. Sunday also marked the 10-year anniversary of John Paxson firing Scott Skiles on the same holiday, a public-relations snafu that forever will live in franchise lore.
Hearing the strains of Nat King Cole sing “The Christmas Song” as a three-man weave moved up and down the Advocate Center court sounded and looked much better.
And while nobody is making any long-term predictions about whether Hoiberg will finish his five-year contract, it has been clear since before training camp that he and his staff have connected with this roster. Paxson has said as much.
“Just as players develop confidence, Fred and his staff have shown a confidence this season,” Paxson said recently.
Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler separately created headlines earlier this season when they opined that Bulls management essentially chose Hoiberg over them. Never mind that Hoiberg repeatedly voiced how much he enjoyed coaching both players.
But it has been evident to anyone around the franchise this season that Hoiberg’s voice and vision are resonating. From preseason workouts in September to Sunday, the man whom Butler once infamously asked to coach harder is as comfortable and confident in his position as ever.
“I’ve really enjoyed coaching this group,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve come in every day and worked through the good times and bad. Fighting through a 10-game losing streak and having guys continue to be attentive in film sessions and committed shows a lot about the guys we have.
“When we went through that (losing) streak, it was miserable, but we had close games and really were competing. I knew if they kept going out with that same focus and mentality, eventually we’d get over the hump.
“I’m really happy for the players that we had the success we did after the losing streak because of the work ethic and focus they’ve had. The enjoyable thing for me is to be around a group of guys who want to get better. That’s been fun.”
Hoiberg emphasized that he enjoyed coaching the last two groups, pointing to how the Bulls overcame adversity to finish last season playing their best basketball. If not for Rajon Rondo’s fractured right thumb, perhaps the eighth-seeded Bulls would have been able to build on their 2-0 playoff series lead against the top-seeded Celtics.
That collapse led management to trade Butler, waive Rondo and buy out Wade, fast-tracking a full rebuild.
Hoiberg and his staff didn’t fully know what to expect, other than the likelihood of much losing. But it has been clear since group workouts began before training camp in September, when coaches are limited by league rules for on-court work, that the buy-in would be present.
“I give Robin Lopez, Justin (Holiday) and Quincy (Pondexter) a lot of credit,” Hoiberg said, citing three veterans. “For those guys to organize everything and the communication everybody had, it showed we’re going to have a group that would work every day.”
That won’t include Christmas Day as Hoiberg scheduled a day off before the Bulls try to snap a two-game skid Tuesday in Milwaukee. As Hoiberg finished his third Christmas Eve as coach, look for the buy-in to continue.
And to all a good night indeed.