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Throwback Thursday: Fred Hoiberg as a Bull

The Bulls are finished with their “extensive” coaching search, and to the shock of nobody, they introduced Fred Hoiberg to the media on Tuesday afternoon. Hoiberg signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million to take over for the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau. Hoiberg has all kinds of ties to the Bulls organization, so this hire could be seen from a mile away. He played his college ball at Iowa State (which is where he was coaching before coming to Chicago), and Bulls general manager Gar Forman was an assistant coach at Iowa State while Hoiberg was there.

Tim Floyd, the man the Bulls hired to coach the team following the end of the Jordan era, was also a former Iowa State coach. That’s a big part of why Hoiberg ended up wearing a Bulls uniform in the first place, when he signed with Chicago in the summer of 1999 following four seasons sitting on the Indiana Pacers’ bench.

In Hoiberg’s first season with the Bulls, he played on what was actually the most talented of all the “post-Michael Jordan” but “pre-Ben Gordon” teams. The 1999-2000 Bulls featured Elton Brand, Ron Artest (later Metta World Peace), Hersey Hawkins, Toni Kukoc (for part of it), B.J. Armstrong and several other role players. That team was never going to contend, obviously, but they had a chance at aiming for a playoff spot. The problem was injuries.

Kukoc was injured almost immediately, missing two months of action and then ultimately getting traded in February to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls were 8-15 with Kukoc and just 9-50 without him in the lineup. Hawkins missed over 20 games, Armstrong missed over 30 games and Hoiberg missed 51 games himself. Hoiberg had his best season to date when he was in the lineup, averaging 27.7 minutes and 9.0 points, both career highs.

Hoiberg’s career year came the next year in 2000-2001. The Bulls brought in free agents Ron Mercer and Brad Miller after swinging and missing at better players. Hoiberg was essentially the fourth-best player on that team, as he set new career bests with 30.4 minutes per game and 9.1 points per game. He played in 74 games, including 37 starts, and hit a career-high 103 three-pointers on 41.2 percent shooting from long distance.

That season helped build his reputation as a sharpshooter, as well as a solid all-around player. His best game of the season, and possibly of his career, came on March 3rd, 2001, as Hoiberg put up 28 points and 13 assists in 52 minutes in a double-overtime loss in Milwaukee. He battled Sam Cassell shot-for-shot in that game, keeping the lowly Bulls in a close one against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference at that time:

After that season, Hoiberg’s Bulls career hit the brakes. He started poorly in 2001-2002, shooting just 33 percent in his first 12 games of the season. He played in 79 games, including eight starts, but when Floyd was fired 25 games into the season and replaced with assistant Bill Cartwright, Hoiberg saw his minutes go into a drastic decline. He scored in double figures only seven times that season, and over his final 24 games he played just 14.4 minutes per game and averaged just 3.8 points.

Hoiberg stuck around with the Bulls for one more season, playing the role of a veteran leader on a team filled with kids. He played in 65 games in 2002-2003, but played sparse minutes. His shooting touch was off; gone was the Hoiberg that was on fire from downtown just two seasons before. He hit just 5-of-21 on three-pointers, and his scoring average was his lowest since his rookie year, minus the 12 games he played in the 1999 lockout season.

The Bulls had their best season in the Hoiberg era in terms of wins that year, going 30-52. Much of that season was spent developing the young kids, such as Jay Williams, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and Trenton Hassell. It didn’t leave a lot of time for veterans such as Hoiberg, Corie Blount and Rick Brunson.

But it’s still a shame that Hoiberg disappeared under the reign of Cartwright, because he still had some usefulness on the basketball court. Hoiberg was never destined to be a star, or even a starter on a good team. He was a fundamentally sound player with a solid shooting touch, and he often made the smart play or the right pass.

He was allowed to leave as a free agent after that season and signed a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hoiberg saw his minutes jump back up to 22.8 per game, and he re-established himself as a three-point shooter off the bench. That season was also the Timberwolves’ best as a franchise, including a run to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers. Hoiberg played a key part in that.

Hoiberg played one more season with the Wolves before being forced to retire due to a heart condition. His greatest success was enjoyed in that run with Kevin Garnett and Co., as it was the only time Hoiberg got to play a vital role on a good team. Had the heart condition not cut his career short, I would think he could’ve played a few more seasons in the league for contenders looking for a guy to make three-pointers.

It’s hard to put your finger on the Fred Hoiberg era of Chicago Bulls Basketball. It runs synonymous with some of the worst seasons in franchise history, so it’s hard not to describe it as forgettable. Hopefully for Bulls fans, his second stint with the team is marked by significantly more success.

And maybe longer than four years, too.

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