Jimmy Butler, Fred Hoiberg Reportedly the Center of Bulls' Chemistry Problems

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2016

Chicago Bulls' head coach Fred Hoiberg, right, talks with Jimmy Butler, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Bulls won 115-111 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and it turns out head coach Fred Hoiberg and star shooting guard Jimmy Butler have emerged as the focus of the team's season-long woes. 

Citing league sources, The Vertical's Chris Mannix reported Wednesday that "chemistry issues continue to plague the Bulls’ locker room" and explained "grumblings range from Hoiberg’s inability to hold players accountable—a complaint registered publicly by Butler last December and one that lingers in the locker room today, a source said—to Butler’s shoddy shot selection to the disconnect within the team offensively."

News of unrest in Chicago comes on the heels of ESPN's Chris Broussard (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports' Pro Basketball Talk) reporting, "A lot of them [Bulls players] don’t believe in Fred Hoiberg right now. It’s just as simple as that."  

The Bulls have encountered struggles such as Joakim Noah's season-ending shoulder injury, Butler's left knee strain and Derrick Rose's continued descent from the NBA's realm of superstardom, and those issues have all combined to make Hoiberg's first campaign in the Windy City a slog. 

But beyond the injuries, the Bulls haven't been able to make good on Hoiberg's promises. During his introductory press conference, the team's new boss explained his offense would flow freely and push the pace when possible. 

And while Chicago ranks 12th in possessions generated per 48 minutes (98.62), its offensive rating of 101.4 ranks 27th overall, ahead of only the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, per NBA.com. 

Chicago's Efficiency Rankings (2014-15 and 2015-16)
SeasonOffensive Rating (Rank)Defensive Rating (Rank)Net Rating (Rank)
2014-15104.7 (10)101.5 (11)+3.3 (9)
2015-16101.4 (27)103.4 (T-13)-2.0 (19)
Source: NBA.com/Stats

For a team that was supposed to undergo a radical stylistic renaissance after taking a plodding approach under former head coach Tom Thibodeau, those aren't particularly promising numbers.

The reported criticism of Butler is also significant, considering the Bulls signed him to a five-year max deal worth roughly $92.3 million last summer to make him the new franchise player. 

The 26-year-old's shooting splits (45.0/31.3/82.4) are all down from last season (46.2/37.8/83.4), but he was performing like a true All-Star prior to suffering a scary knee injury February 5 against the Denver Nuggets that may require surgery, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley

Jimmy Butler's Pre-and-Post All-Star Break Splits
Season SegmentGamesPPGRPGAPGFG%3P%
Source: Basketball-Reference.com

And with Rose's jump shot being a liability—he's shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three—Butler has been required to play the role of alpha dog and try to shoot the Bulls to wins, even if it's come at the expense of offensive fluidity. 

"I don’t think anybody’s quit," Butler said after Chicago lost to the Orlando Magic, 111-89, last Saturday, per USA Today's Michael Singer. "We've just hit adversity at the wrong time, and we've got to fix it."

The Bulls bounced back from a four-game losing streak thanks to Butler's last-second game-winner in the team's 98-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night, but they'll need to survive a daunting upcoming stretch if they hope to slip into the playoffs. 

After traveling to Texas for a meeting with the Houston Rockets on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET on TNT), the Bulls will host the Detroit Pistons before hitting the road for consecutive clashes with the Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat

But even if the Bulls are able to clinch a spot in the postseason for the eighth straight year, they'll likely be looking at a first-round exit for the fifth time since 2009. 

Stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats unless noted otherwise.


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