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Bulls' Fred Hoiberg Knows Spotlight Is On Him In 2nd Season

By Cody Westerlund--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The man who first offered an indictment of the Bulls' 2015-'16 season and in doing so caused then-rookie coach Fred Hoiberg unwanted distraction with nine simple words -- "we probably have to be coached a lot harder" -- arrived Monday at the Advocate Center with an attitude more suited toward attaining the "professionalism" and "team-first attitude" that executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson emphasized are organizational goals.

"I told Fred, 'As much as you can, use me as an example,'" two-time All-Star wing Jimmy Butler said. "'I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.'"

The Bulls opened the new season with media day Monday, and there were fresh faces galore. Eight new players will dot the 15-man roster when the Bulls open practice with a scheduled double session Tuesday, headlined by 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and and reigning NBA assist leader Rajon Rondo. The team's overhaul came this past offseason after the Bulls faltered to a 42-40 mark and didn't reach the playoffs in Hoiberg's debut season.

As 2015-'16 wound down, the criticism primarily centered on the decisions of Chicago's front office and a core of players that had seen its window close. Now entering his second year, Hoiberg understands the spotlight largely shifts to him, as he carries the burden of responsibility of helping the "three alphas" of Butler, Wade and Rondo coalesce instead of combust.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Hoiberg said. "This is a high-pressure job, and I understand that. And again, nobody looked at this thing harder in the offseason than I did and was harder on themselves than I was."

In the hour after the Bulls' 2015-'16 campaign closed last April with indignation, Paxson took the dais and acknowledged Hoiberg must determine "what he wants to be as a head coach and how he wants his teams to play." That's what Hoiberg spent much of the summer doing after the Bulls' trade of Derrick Rose to the Knicks and their surprising free agency splash. Paxson and Hoiberg had a number of sitdowns this offseason to determine the best approach, and while again stressing the need for improvement, Paxson was more optimistic Monday -- as you'd expect at a media day, of course.

"We expect to see growth from him," Paxson said. "I think he's dialed in. He's focused. The conversations all of us have had together have been really productive in terms of how he wants to play and how he'll go about instituting both offensively and defensively some differences that we didn't see last year.

"Everybody learns from their mistakes for one. It was his first year last year. I think he studied himself and us and the way we were up and down in so many areas of the game last year that he's trying to correct it. That's just like anybody going into the offseason. He didn't just not work. He studied and got better at what he needed to get better at."

Because of Butler's infamous and direct words last December after a loss at New York -- when Chicago's season hadn't yet even spiraled into oblivion -- much of the criticism levied at Hoiberg in his first season was that he wasn't tough enough on his team. That somewhat missed the point. The problem was the players didn't embrace his philosophy once the season took a turn for the worse and Hoiberg didn't make the proper adjustments to reach them. All involved understand that can be accomplished in several ways, no matter the coach's personality.

Philosophically speaking, Hoiberg wants more consistency this year, a goal he admitted he must set a tone for. Practically speaking, Hoiberg emphasized these Bulls team must communicate better defensively to avoid the post-Jan. 1 slide on that end last season. Offensively, the Bulls' backcourt needs to build trust.

"We'll put them in a lot of different areas on the floor where we feel they fit," Hoiberg said. "You know we've got to have good ball movement with this group. We've got to be able to throw ahead to our wings and attack and use the strength of our backcourt to make plays for this team. I'm really excited about the multiple playmakers that we'll have. This league right now is all about breaking down the defense, getting into the paint and making the right plays."

That the Bulls front office didn't equip Hoiberg with the type of personnel for his preferred space-and-pace system was outwardly of no worry to the team Monday, even though it certainly should be. Hoiberg, Butler and Rondo each brushed off worries about the historical sub-par 3-point shooting of Wade, Butler and Rondo with such conviction that it left you both shaking your head and chuckling.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe D-Wade has scored a lot of points when it came to putting that ball in that basket," Butler said. "I've done decently the last couple years. Rondo can do that. And if Rondo can't, he damn sure can get find a way to get the ball to somebody who can. I don't think putting the ball in the basket is going to be an issue for us."

Added Rondo: "If you followed me in my career, that's what I do best -- is making guys' jobs a lot easier. That's what I do. It's not a concern if I will be able to do that."

Perhaps that won't be a concern, but there will be many that accompany the Bulls this season. It starts with whether Hoiberg's message reaches a new-look team, and he realizes all eyes are on him as he sets down that path.

"I know that I have a job to do, to try and put these guys into position to go out and win basketball games, and that's my soul focus, to go out and do that," Hoiberg said. "But yeah, the pressures in this job are very high."

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. He's also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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