Believe it or not, the Bulls want to run it back with Fred Hoiberg and Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo points Fred Hoiberg in the right direction. (AP)

The Bulls won seven of their final nine regular-season games to finish .500 and sneak into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed, before stealing their first two games against the top-seeded Boston Celtics on the strength of Rajon Rondo’s timely resurgence. And all anyone who followed this team all year could think was, Well, hopefully this doesn’t give them reason to run it back in 2017-18.

Yet, that appears to be precisely the plan in Chicago, as Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman — in a bit of a power struggle themselves — revealed to reporters on Wednesday they plan to bring back coach Fred Hoiberg, Rondo and the rest of the gang.





This was a poorly constructed team from the start, mostly because anybody with knowledge of how the modern NBA is played could see the problems with paying $37 million for ball-dominant guards Rondo and a Dwyane Wade on a team that already featured Jimmy Butler from a million miles away. Hoiberg made his bones coaching a fast-paced and free-flowing college offense, and the Bulls handed him a roster full of guys they readily admit don’t fit the system. And they want to bring them all back.

Wade was non-committal last week about picking up his player option for 2017-18, and the Bulls brass was equally in the dark about an impending decision that could leave them with $23.8 million in additional cap space if the past-his-prime 35-year-old does them the favor of opting out of his deal.

Other than that, Paxson and Forman were all for picking up the $13.4 million option they have on Rondo and matching anything up to a “monster offer sheet” in Nikola Mirotic’s restricted free agency. They lamented the thought of blowing up a roster that made the playoffs and seemingly endorsed the idea of sticking with a team bound to tread water, as they’ve done for the better part of two decades.


If all of this seems at odds with Chicago’s front office also admitting the Bulls lacked consistent leadership, never developed an identity and failed to define roles for young players under Hoiberg, that’s because Wednesday’s hour-long media session was rife with contradictions from the brass.

Paxson and Forman defended their trades of Tony Snell for Michael Carter-Williams in October and Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne in February, describing both young shooting deficient point guards as downhill players in the mold of Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas, before conceding:


Now is where we point out that Snell made almost as many 3-pointers for the Milwaukee Bucks this season (144) as Carter-Williams and Payne have made in seven combined seasons in the NBA (184).

They lauded Butler’s professionalism and Rondo’s leadership after a season in which both were benched for conduct detrimental to the team, even citing Rondo’s nuclear Instagram post as evidence.


Paxson repeatedly mentioned shooting and athleticism as top priorities in the summer, suggested Chicago’s cap flexibility is an advantage in achieving that goal, and then made the aforementioned statement: “To make significant change right now will be difficult.” The new plan, same as the old plan.

The Bulls VP called Butler “far and away our best player,” a statement of fact, before implying he doesn’t fit Hoiberg’s system and referencing trade possibilities if the right package were presented:


The Bulls brass said they were cool with fielding a fringe playoff team, and then used their draft position over the past handful of years as an excuse for their failures to address roster concerns.

They started the news conference by endorsing Hoiberg as their coach of the future, before spending the rest of the hour detailing his failings, calling his entire staff’s job security into question and stammering for several minutes in response to a query about what exactly he brings to the table:





Listen, I’m not sure Hoiberg is going to be a good NBA coach, and many of his strategic decisions during Chicago’s first-round series against Boston suggest otherwise, but if you’re backing him for another year and telling your fans, “His challenge this offseason is to be a better leader,” it is downright professional malpractice to give these answers to questions you have to know are coming.

All of which begs the question: Why are Paxson and Forman still the ones answering these questions?

If I were the Bulls, my top priority for the summer would be to build around Butler — arguably the second-best player in the Eastern Conference right now — and move away from everything they did last summer to surround him with ball-dominant players who cannot shoot. I certainly wouldn’t be prioritizing Hoiberg over Butler, and there’s no way in hell I would run back a roster that spent the entire season in disarray, just because I might be enamored with what I saw for two playoff games.

Instead, all that’s left for Bulls fans after that news conference is the hope that the team’s decision-makers didn’t really grasp what they were saying on Wednesday, which isn’t such a bad bet.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!