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How will the Bulls look under Fred Hoiberg?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

When asked recently to assess the Chicago Bulls heading into this season, Carmelo Anthony didn't hesitate with an answer.

"They're still the Bulls," Anthony said. "They've still got the guys, they're just missing Thibs. They've still got the personnel."

The answer to the next question was the one the All-Star forward wasn't as sure about. Can the Bulls still be the Bulls without Tom Thibodeau?

"We don't know," Anthony said. "We don't know that. It's too early to talk about that."

Anthony's point is valid. Nobody knows exactly how Fred Hoiberg's first season is going to unfold in Chicago. But no matter what Hoiberg accomplishes this season, he will do so with Thibodeau's large shadow still hovering over the organization.

For his part, Hoiberg has been very respectful of Thibodeau and his accomplishments in Chicago during his time with the media this summer. But as is the case when any new coach comes to town, both players and executives are hoping that Hoiberg, the former Bull and Iowa State head coach, will create a new identity for his team much the same way Steve Kerr did for the Golden State Warriors after Mark Jackson was fired.

The buzzword that consistently pops up among players or coaches when the topic of Hoiberg's system comes up is "freedom." The belief being that Hoiberg will allow his players the offensive freedom that Thibodeau never did. Almost every time down the floor during Thibodeau's five-year tenure, players would look over to their coach so that he could bark out an offensive play. The predictability of those sets is one of the things that irked Bulls executives most about Thibodeau's game plan over the years.

In Thibodeau's defense, the Bulls did finish 10th in the league in offensive efficiency last season, but the ability to move up and down the floor without constant instruction is something that many players likely will enjoy.

"Obviously it's going to be different," Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said of having Hoiberg in charge. "I've studied some film with my trainer how [Iowa State] played in college. We go over some of the offensive schemes [Hoiberg's] told me and my trainer about. So we work that into our workouts, but it's definitely going to be different. I think it's not going to be so much concentrated on defense like it was [with] Thibs. I think it's actually going to be more offense [minded]."

The key for Hoiberg and his staff will be to try to maintain some of the defensive principles that Thibodeau instilled in his team over the years. The Bulls had a reputation throughout the league as being one of the most physical, hard-nosed teams in the league. The reason they struggled last season at times is that the trademark intensity that defined them went missing on some nights, especially on the defensive end. In Thibodeau's first two seasons, his team ranked first in the NBA in defensive efficiency. The Bulls ranked fifth and second in the next two years. But last season, they dropped all the way to 11th -- still acceptable -- but not to their usual standard.

The focus of Hoiberg's tenure will always be on the offensive end because that is the side in which he developed a name for himself at Iowa State. The hope within the organization is that Hoiberg's easygoing demeanor will be a nice change of pace for a team that had grown tired of listening to the style of Thibodeau's message over the years.

But in order for Hoiberg to step out of Thibodeau's shadow, he's going to have to do the one thing that Thibodeau was never able to do during his five years in charge -- get past LeBron James in the playoffs. If the Bulls are going to do that, the irony for Hoiberg is that while he can help his players get to a more consistent offensive level, he's also going to be tasked with improving the side of the ball that Thibodeau loved most.