The Chicago Bulls were the 2nd favorites to win the Eastern Conference championship pre-season, behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, while Cleveland look as though they will hang on to the No. 1 seed in the East, Chicago are in a fight for their lives just to qualify for the playoffs.
The Bulls lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night in a game that was played at the United Center. While the spread was just two points against a pretty strong team, the loss still stings as it puts Chicago on the bad side of .500 basketball. Now losers of four straight, Chicago are 36-37 on the year, and they need some things to go right fast in order to make the post-season.
For starters, Chicago will have to do a lot with the schedule that they have remaining – and there’s not much of it. With nine games left, the Bulls need to post a strong winning percentage and then hope that either Indiana or Detroit drop enough stretch games to see the Bulls sneak in as a possible eight seed. However, it’s all starting to look a little unlikely, and there could be problems for this franchise in years to come.
After all, Fred Hoiberg, Chicago’s head coach, is just at the beginning of what is a fairly lengthy contract still (he’s in year one of five in a $25M deal). This is an NCAA guy that never figured out how to get a team into the Elite Eight. Why he was expected to take Chicago to the playoffs in his first coaching season is a bit of a mystery, but Twitter is currently a-buzz with Chicago fans calling for his firing.
Tom Thibodeau, the guy that Hoiberg replaced, is starting to look pretty good right now. Chicago was disappointed last season with a second-round loss to Cleveland, but such a fate appears to be too much to hope for this season now. Furthermore, the size of Hoiberg’s contract could make firing him a move very expensive to make, and that means there’s some powerful glue tying Hoiberg and Chicago together.
I guess the lesson here is that a guy with a .673 winning percentage in NCAA basketball (i.e.,. Hoiberg) is a worse risk than a guy with a .647 winning percentage in the NBA (i.e.,. Thibodeau). Hoiberg’s results relative to Thibodeau’s could be a bargaining chip for the latter, and so I wonder if we won’t be seeing him back in the Association soon with a solid gig.
Chicago’s next game is on Tuesday, a road game against the Pacers. That’s one of the teams that the Bulls could still hope to catch in the playoff race. With opportunities dwindling, Chicago will have to approach the contest as a must-win game (7 pm ET).
However, there could be a media frenzy approaching as Hoiberg had the 2nd favorite in the conference pre-season and stands to finish in 9th or 10th place now. What should not be lost in all this is not just Hoiberg but whoever saw potential in a college basketball coach that never did anything all that amazing (i.e.,. like what Brad Stevens did at Butler) in five years at Iowa State.