TORONTO – Since he arrived in Chicago in 2015, Fred Hoiberg has always stressed the need for his team to be fast and competitive on the floor.
It hasn’t really happened that much in his first two years, with the Bulls a bit hesitant to go in a full rebuild. So they continued to keep a group of veterans on the squad in hopes of being decent and, perhaps, catch lightning in a bottle.
That didn’t work out, so on came the rebuild this summer with the departure of Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rodon, and Dwayne Wade. An influx of young players joined the remaining players from last year’s squad with the hopes a young, fast team could be fielded at last for the coach whose main calling card was an up-tempo style.
Maybe he got too much of what he’d hoped for.
“When never thought what happened when the line was crossed, we obviously didn’t anticipate that would happen,” said Hoiberg in referring to some old drama that creeped back into the new Bulls’ lives in the days leading up to their season opener with Toronto on Thursday.
Bobby Portis, unhappy with some rough play from Nikola Mirotic, punched the forward in the face resulting in multiple facial fractures. Once healed from a concussion, he’ll be out at least 4-to-6 weeks with surgery perhaps on the horizon. Meanwhile Portis is gone for eight games, discipline for taking the aggressiveness a little too far.
It casts a bit of a shadow on the start of this new rebuilding era for the Bulls, a piece a forgettable era that creeps back into this fresh start for Hoiberg. Just that morning, Hoiberg was praising his team for their ability to embrace a change in personnel and goals for the 2017-2018 season, noting how they bought into quick style that they were preaching.
Along with preparing for the Raptors, the Bulls now find themselves in damage control, just like they were the first two drama-filled years of the Hoiberg era.
“These guys have been competing at the highest level with each other at the highest level,” said Hoiberg. “The important thing at the end of the day is how much these guys have walked off the floor together and, again, we need to get that back heading in and I’m confident we will.”
Still, it’s gonna take some time. First of all the Bulls lose two of the few familiar faces on their roster that features and influx of younger players as the team starts their “from scratch” rebuild without Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo, and Dwyane Wade. An incident like that takes a toll not only on the on-court depth of the team, but the psyche of a group that’s still getting to know each other.
“It’s certainly a little deflating,” admitted center Robin Lopez, another one of the returners from last season. “But everything you guys have heard, people expressing how great this culture has been so far, beginning in the summer and onto the fall, the vast majority of that is legitimately true. It’s not only going to be upon those two players to mend that confidence, to mend that trust between the two of them but it’s definitely going to be on their teammates, upon us.
“Part of that good ‘Mojo’ that we have right now is going to be huge in unifying the two.”
There is the task, of course, of actually playing basketball. It’s a rough opening stretch for the Bulls, who open with Raptors, Spurs, Cavaliers, Hawks, and the Thunder – all teams with significant playoff aspirations. It figures to be an uphill climb for the ground that was only complicated more when a newfound aggressiveness crossed the line.