The Jimmy Butler Critique: Hoiberg’s Leadership is “C” Level

In the last ten games, the Chicago Bulls are 5-5. They lost on the road to the Pacers, Celtics and Knicks. The Celtics and Knicks were double digit losses. In this mediocrity swing the Bulls are currently stuck in, they lost at home to the Suns, Hornets and Pistons. The Pistons loss was a four overtime thriller, or heartbreak, depending on who you listen to.

Last night’s Knick loss caused Jimmy Butler to vent his frustrations. As he sees it, players are getting away with missed assignments, inattention to detail and rogue play because Hoiberg is too nice of a guy to call players out and make them accountable. His remarks were specific yet pulled back at naming Tom Thibodeau directly in any comparison though that is the elephant in the room.

Thibodeau was successful at getting players to buy into his system, even when the results weren’t always pretty and when it was psychologically wearing to play for him. But this is the thing about hard-ass coaches. When given talent, they deliver results.

Always fearless, never one to say what he doesn’t mean even if it is on the record, Butler weighed in:

“I believe in the guys in this locker room. But I also believe that we probably have to be coached harder at times. I know Fred’s a laid back guy and I really respect him for that. When guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you got to get on guys, myself included. You got to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re out there playing basketball. It’s not about being coached a certain way for five years. It’s making everybody do their job. We weren’t doing (against the Knicks) what we’re supposed to be doing, what we wrote up on that board before the game, and nobody spoke up about it. I did probably not enough times but I think that he has to hold everyone accountable. From the No. 1 player all the way down to however many guys we got. You win your matchup, you do your job, we win the game.”

If you closed your eyes, the Butler critique sounded eerily like a Tom Thibodeau post-game speech after a tough loss. It’s clear that Butler’s style and Thibodeau’s style were in sync; both are hard-nosed, uncompromising, friends not needed, no excuses personalities.

It makes sense too that the team Hoiberg inherited was a team constructed for Thibodeau-a group of gritty defensive guys who can gut out wins and put the ball in the hole when pushed hard. Except Hoiberg, a gentler, kinder coach, doesn’t push. And he doesn’t have the offensively skilled players to run and space the floor and shoot the way he has dreamed it all up. So the Bulls are stuck between a rock and a hard place, wanting the new Maserati but expecting the familiar Volvo to deliver a different kind of speed.

“It’s different when a player is telling another player, and a coach is telling a player. I know it’s really not in him like that but at times that is what we need.” (Jimmy Butler)

A few years ago, Carmelo Anthony had similar gripes, though not as specifically detailed, about Mike D’Antoni. Anthony’s frustration was that D’Antoni, who doesn’t believe in player discipline but in player freedom, allowed insurgent behavior to infect the locker room.

The twin pillars of structure and discipline are the foundational principles of all leaders. Without it you are just treading water. Contextually, fear plays a role. You can’t allow the probability that players won’t like you impact expectations and accountability. Players aren’t supposed to love their coach, initially, they are supposed to follow them, they are supposed to believe in them. Do the Bulls believe in Hoiberg?

“It’s always frustrating whenever you lose. If we would have won, we wouldn’t be saying this, but since we lost the way we did, I think that has something to do with it.” (Jimmy Butler)

The Bulls lost to the Knicks at MSG by 16 points. They gave up 50% shooting to a team that shoots 43% on the year and is ranked 22nd in points scored. The Knicks had 8 more offensive rebounds, a testament to their greater toughness. The Bulls had more turnovers and more fouls. Joakim Noah played 28 minutes and took 16 shots. Jimmy Butler played 33 minutes and took 11 shots. What happened to this great offensive system of Hoiberg’s, this D’antoni like freedom?

This is what happened. It’s lost on Thibodeau type players who are defenders first. The Bulls rank 20th in points scored. They are 28th in field goal percentge. They are 10th in assists. But, they are second in defensive rating. They are first in field goal defense. They are fifth in 3-point defense. Sounds like a Thibodeau team to me without Tom Thibodeau making sure players stay in line.

photo via llananba