When Fred Hoiberg took over the Bulls last summer, he crisscrossed the country and crossed an ocean to meet his players.
He caught up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah separately in California, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic together in Spain.
Following the lead of Steve Kerr, who did the same with his Warriors roster when Kerr succeeded Mark Jackson, Hoiberg cited building relationships and communication as critical to success.
Perhaps that’s why Hoiberg’s postgame comment Saturday night sounded so dire.
“Obviously what I’m saying right now, my message is not getting across,” Hoiberg said after an embarrassingly dismal 111-89 loss to the undermanned Magic, the Bulls’ third straight defeat.
That such a declaration came 72 games into his first season as an NBA head coach makes it all the more alarming.
So Hoiberg tried again Sunday, holding a team meeting before a brief practice at the Advocate Center. Jimmy Butler had declared late Saturday that “the truth hurts sometimes” and vowed to bring that element to the meeting.
“That was a big part of what (Sunday) was about, hopefully airing some things out,” Hoiberg said. “You have to have honest communication where things aren’t taken personal. I thought it was a productive day.”
The tricky part, of course, has been transferring alleged productivity in practice, film sessions and shootarounds to games. If the Bulls don’t want their seven-year postseason streak to end, that must change.
Monday’s game against the Hawks — who have owned the Bulls this season — begins a critical six-game stretch that includes swing games Tuesday at the Pacers and Saturday versus the Pistons.
“It’s a do-or-die week for us,” Mike Dunleavy said. “We just lost three tough games in a row to teams we expected to beat.”
Neither Hoiberg nor Dunleavy revealed specifics of the meeting. But Dunleavy said it never got heated, calling it “just team dialogue, people being open and expressing their opinions and beliefs and getting things off their chest.”
A seasonlong theme — the Bulls’ habit of giving in to adversity — was discussed.
“It starts with us flat-out competing and communicating with each other,” Hoiberg said. “When we put our heads down, obviously things don’t go well for our group. Adversity will hit us every time we step on that floor. What will define us is how we handle that adversity.
“It’s pretty simple: You have to fight. Instead of splintering and pulling apart, you have to find a way to stick together through those tough times.”
An honest team meeting is a start. Now it’s time for actions, not words.
“It’s two-way,” Dunleavy said on where the blame falls. “It’s what communication is all about. (Coaches) have to find a way for us to do it. But we as players have to take a collective responsibility and get it done. That’s what we’re searching for.”
Dunleavy said he feels the Bulls are “pretty well-prepared” entering games.
“It’s a good game plan,” he said. “I just think we’ve had some issues with carrying out that game plan, so maybe we need to be more thorough about it. Maybe we need to give guys less freedom in terms of what they’re able to do.”
While conceding the Bulls (36-36) aren’t a 60-win team, Dunleavy said they should have more wins and be in better playoff position.
“Talent’s not everything,” he said. “It’s about playing together. It’s about chemistry and some synergy. And those are things we’ve struggled with, quite frankly not just this year but in years past.
“So it doesn’t surprise me. But also I don’t think we can’t move past it and be better and win enough games to get in.”