How bad will it get for Chicago Bulls? Hoiberg remembers the worst of times

Updated 10/1/2017 8:33 PM
  • Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who was a player during the last Bulls rebuild, says this rebuild is "completely different."

    Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who was a player during the last Bulls rebuild, says this rebuild is "completely different."

As Chicago Bulls vice president John Paxson has mentioned several times, the team chose a direction this summer by trading three-time all-star Jimmy Butler.

That direction is south.

So despite all the talk during training camp about everyone working hard and being dedicated to winning games, expectations are low.

How bad will it be? Well, the Bulls lowered the bar in that category during their post-championship rebuilding project, winning 15 and 13 games from 1999-2001. One player on those teams was current Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

"It was hard, because I'd really never played on a team that had lost," Hoiberg said. "You're always competing for a championship -- state championships in high school, NCAA championships in college. My first four years in Indiana were great with really good veteran teams.

"And then you go through that losing and it's hard. But at the same time it's an opportunity as a young player to solidify yourself in the league. It's an important part of it. And we've got a lot of guys in this group where it's really their first chance. I know they're going to go out there hungry and play extremely hard."

Hoiberg helped establish his career during four losing seasons with the Bulls. He went on to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004.

Perhaps the biggest difference from this year's Bulls and the 1999 version is the number of young players.

Just about anyone on the current Bulls roster could end up being a piece for the future. No one on the team has reached 30, so it's conceivable veterans such as Robin Lopez or Justin Holiday still could be around if the next playoff push occurs relatively soon.

In 1999, the only real building blocks were rookies Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Michael Ruffin. Remember, the plan was to create cap room, then sign Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, so the Bulls weren't looking to load up on young players.

The Bulls still had holdovers from the championship era -- Toni Kukoc, Randy Brown and Dickey Simpkins. General manager Jerry Krause tried to build goodwill with agent Arn Tellem (who repped McGrady) by bringing back Will Perdue and B.J. Armstrong. Krause traded Brent Barry for veteran Hersey Hawkins, who didn't have much left in the tank.

So outside of Kukoc, the veterans didn't provide much help. Kukoc played in the first four games, then sat out until early January with a back injury. When Kukoc returned the Bulls' record was 2-26.

Most of the season's wins happened during the small window between Kukoc's return and his trade to Philadelphia, when the Bulls went 10-12.

Hoiberg missed a big chunk of that 1999-2000 season with a quad tendon strain. He was asked this weekend if the thinks anything learned back then might help the Bulls get through this season.

"I don't. It's completely different, a different situation, obviously different guys, different team," Hoiberg said. "You always look back over the course of your career and try to find things that you liked and didn't like, but this is a completely new group and we're obviously starting from scratch."

One thing that could be similar is the frustration of close games.

The original rebuilding Bulls were blown out plenty of times, but also lost a number of times in excruciating fashion simply because they had no one to count on at crunchtime. When the Bulls did win that season, it usually was Kukoc or Armstrong doing the late scoring.

No current Bulls have any track record as clutch scorers. They'll go to Zach LaVine in those situations as much as possible, but he will miss the first month of the season at least while recovering from a torn ACL. At least the Bulls won't be trading him to clear cap space, like they did with Kukoc in 2000.

"We've been putting in some late-game situations and trying to figure out who's going to be a guy to get the ball to late in the game," Hoiberg said. "Last year we knew that was going to be Jimmy. This year it's about figuring out who that guy is going to be."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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