The Chicago Bulls and their front office are often criticized for being too conservative; frugal with their total player payments, an unwillingness to make significant trades, and zero interest to go after malcontents or 'bad citizens', these are just some of the critical comments associated with General Manager Gar Forman and his predecessor, John Paxson.
Adamant in building through the draft, holding onto team friendly contracts and making plays at free agents every four years as if they were competing in their own Olympics, we know what the mission statement is for this organization.
Though, fair and objective assessments can be made about the lack of creative flare in roster construction, the current model has largely worked. Putting together winning teams in 10 of the last 11 NBA regular seasons, the franchise has experienced a moderate level of sustained success. That, in itself, is an achievement.
With many competitors - particularly in the Eastern conference - consistently forcing the issue and constantly making disastrous decisions that end up costing the team and its fans years of heartache, the Bulls have maintained a winning culture due to the steady and unadventurous style of their leadership.
Interestingly enough, could one argue that this model is changing, or at least being challenged?
Fresh off his internal victory against Tom Thibodeau, Gar Forman, the typically reticent figurehead of the organization, now has full control. He made his bold play, and now he is banking on the state of Iowa to help create and fulfill his vision.
I'm not from the United States. I've never been to Iowa. Such is the hold that a singular state can have over an NBA franchise, I will assume their beer is great and that their Iron Maiden records play and sound much better than what the rest of us commoners are used to.
Forman, a former member of staff at Iowa State University from 1994-98 under the infamous Tim Floyd, would rely heavily on his history and existing connections within the Cyclones program in order to forge the direction of the franchise going forward.
In two successive off-seasons, Forman would make moves that would be perceived as very ‘Bulls-like’. He would draft a high character, hard working player who many hope can become a potential franchise building block, as well as hiring a head coach with zero NBA experience within that role. In a sense, those are typical Chicago moves that have been part of the playbook for years. So, why now would these moves be perceived as risky?
The danger now becomes prevalent because no more excuses can be afforded to Gar and his management team. Before, defenses could be argued that Thibodeau was to blame. His stubborn attitude, poor rotations, archaic allocation of minutes and grating personality wore down the players. The basis for those positions could somewhat be justified. Not anymore. He is gone now.
Enter Fred Hoiberg.
The basketball world knows about Hoiberg. Touted as an NBA caliber coach for several seasons and chased by many NBA teams, including current world champions, the Golden State Warriors, Hoiberg is universally praised for his achievements as coach of ISU. Taking over the reins from Greg McDermott (yes, Doug's dad), he would turn the fortunes of the program around, quickly instilling advanced offensive schemes and leading his young players to the NCAA tournament on four occasions.
It has been reported that Thibodeau wasn’t Forman’s selection as coach. Instead, owner Jerry Reinsdorf overruled his colleagues and made the call that would ultimately see the former Boston assistant join the team as head coach.
No disputes can be made about who made the decision to hire Hoiberg. This time around, Gar got his man.
Moving on from the hugely successful and revered Thibodeau was always going to be a difficult PR situation to maneuver through. The Bulls couldn't have played it any worse. Keen to emphasize the dismissal and prove to the NBA world that it was Thibodeau's fault all along, the decision to do so was conceived with little tact and zero logic. Ironically, the handling of this situation may have placed an unnecessary spot light and high level of pressure on the rookie Hoiberg. Had management indirectly made life more difficult to the coaching heir?
Completing the modern-day-Iowa-influenced love triangle is Doug McDermott. Though not a Cyclone himself, he did attend high school in Ames, Iowa. Playing four years under the guise of his father, Greg, at Creighton University, the 2014 first round draft pick, who was selected 11th overall by the Denver Nuggets, would later be acquired by the Bulls on a draft day deal that included moving several pieces, namely picks #16 and #19. Hailed as a ready-made option, the small forward, with his incredible shooting, scoring and decision making abilities brought with him expectations of filling a need - instant offense. It didn't happen.
With rotational minutes scarce and suffering a knee injury that would see him miss 26 games, McDermott would only log 321 minutes in his debut season. Because of this, no one can possibly justify what McDermott will become as a professional hooper in the NBA. A meaningful sample size simply doesn't exist to make an objective call either way, which in itself creates a level of uncertainty.
The challenge now exists for Fred Hoiberg to get the most out of the sophomore wing, and all indications suggest that McDermott will be given many opportunities to prove himself. With an existing bond and a relationship forged several years earlier, Hoiberg may be exactly what Doug requires to kick start his professional career. In terms of skill sets and coaching style, as Doug himself noted to K.C. Johnson, the fit could be a match made in basketball heaven:
I have a good sense of his style. I think I'll fit in great. He has a great offensive mind. His team shot a lot of 3s. They ran a lot of pick-and-rolls and I assume Derrick (Rose) will be in a lot more pick-and-rolls.
The Chicago Bulls are embarking on a new era of basketball, one that will undeniably be dominated with Iowa State references and undertones. It remains to be seen if Doug McDermott will be a success. It is also unknown how Fred Hoiberg will transition from the college game to the professional ranks.
What we do know is that Gar Forman has boldly invested in these relationships. His tenure will largely rely on the success of these additions, and ironically, that may be the biggest risk anyone in the franchise has taken in some time.