Misdirected anger

Chicago fans should be fed up with the attitude of their players, not the coaching of Hoiberg

AP Photo Chicago head coach Fred Hoiberg meets with his team this past week in Detroit.

Fred Hoiberg doesn’t deserve the cold-shoulder treatment.

Let me preface this by saying I am not completely convinced Hoiberg’s home should be on the NBA sidelines. I never have been. And I didn’t like his move to Chicago from the start for a multitude of reasons.

This isn’t about Hoiberg, though. He’ll someday — likely soon — wind up being the scapegoat for a confusing roster structure and, subsequently, the underachieving product the Bulls have become on the court. The NBA is a bottom-line business, and the buck almost always stops with the head coach.

In Hoiberg’s case, it shouldn’t. Not because he’s been outstanding for Chicago, which is now 31-35 overall this year and 73-75 during his tumultuous tenure after going 98-66 in the two seasons prior to his arrival.

Rather, it’s time to start holding professional athletes accountable for their actions. And there is no better place to start than with these Bulls players, who have blatantly disrespected the game with some of their recent performances.

On Friday, Chicago was outscored 68-30 in the second and third quarters against Houston — a stretch that included a 31-2 Rockets run. On Sunday, the Bulls had 26 points in the entire first half of a lopsided loss at Boston.

Hoiberg’s squad has now dropped five consecutive games. Before that, an 18-point home setback to lowly Denver was sandwiched between victories over 2016 NBA finalists Cleveland and Golden State. In the last month alone, enigmatic Chicago has beaten the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics and Raptors — all considered conference championship candidates — only to lose by 31 to Golden State, 18 to Phoenix, 28 to Minnesota, 18 to Denver, 21 to Houston and 20 to Boston.

Hoiberg has to answer to the confusing lack of consistency, yes, but the body language of his players — from mercurial star Jimmy Butler all the way through the end of the bench — tells a story that is becoming all too familiar in professional sports. This isn’t just a matter of a broken gameplan, mismatched parts or an overwhelmed head coach. This is about effort. And heart. And pride.

Dwyane Wade will make over $23 million this year. Butler, $16.4 million. Rajon Rondo, $14 million. Robin Lopez, $12.7 million.

In other words, more than enough to avoid acting like disgruntled, insubordinate employees who, in stretches, collectively perform like they just don’t care.

Therein lies the problem with guaranteed eight- or even nine-figure contracts in today’s pro sports landscape. Where is the motivation? Or the consequences for not playing hard?

Money has poisoned the well. Inflated contracts lead to inflated egos, and inflated egos have created an era of individual entitlement in a team game. Coaches like Hoiberg are often downgraded to pawns. Their bosses spend a fortune for name recognition — i.e., broken-down parts like Rondo and Wade — and the ”stars” act like they’re owed something accordingly. Not enough shots in basketball? They sulk. Not enough at-bats in baseball? They sulk.

Guys like Hoiberg wind up stuck in the middle when a scenario doomed from the start isn’t miraculously saved from inevitable failure.

When performances dip, fans get frustrated. But when the effort becomes erratic, fans tend to assume it’s strictly up to a coach to rescue his team from the chemistry abyss.

Here’s a thought: instead of worshipping false idols and tossing coaches under the bus when adversity strikes, direct your anger toward the bonus babies. They are the ones being paid millions of dollars to play a game to the best of their ability on a nightly basis. So play it.

Something to consider the next time a coach like Hoiberg becomes an unnecessary fall guy. The Mayor isn’t necessarily in over his head. His players have framed it in that light, however, and perception in Chicago is quickly becoming reality.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net