Former Bulls coach Del Negro has Clippers surging


Former Bulls coach Del Negro has Clippers surging

LOS ANGELESClippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, now more than three years removed from his dismissal as Bulls head coach, had the last laugh Saturday night. His current team blew out his former team, 101-80, and while he said all of the right things afterwards, one got the feeling that the memory bitter taste he likely had in his mouth after leaving Chicago made the Clippers blowout victory that much sweeter.

This is one of those nights. I have a lot of respect for Chicago, he told reporters. I thought we did a good job tonight in a lot of ways. Its a good, solid win for us against a very good team. You have to play hard. We knew we had to do that and our guys came out, and we responded well.

Prior to the game, at his pregame media availability, he talked about the fact that the Bulls are without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who Del Negro coached upon his arrival to the NBA.

Its Derrick Rose. Hes the MVP of the league. You take anybody of that caliber which are very few out of that lineup and obviously, its going to change. Its just natural. Derricks that good of a player, he said.

But these days, Chicago is in his rear-view mirror. Despite being looked at as the other professional basketball franchise in Los Angeles, Del Negros Clippers are actually the better team at the moment and at least early in the season, they appear to be a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Its been good. We have great guys. We have great balance to the roster. Looking forward to getting Grant Hill back, getting Chauncey Billups back from their respective injuries, he said. We have a lot of depth and were trying to use it right now. But we have nice balance, some younger guys, guys in their prime and some veteran guys who have great leadership. Things are built around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and everyone else is accepting their role right now. We have to get a lot better. We have to improve in a lot of areas, but theyre giving me good effort and thats all I can ask for right now, is us coming together with chemistry as the season goes on.

Weve got a lot of people that I think are quality players. Its hard to give them the minutes that they probably deserve, but its about the team. Its not about individual, and you win and lose as a team, and guys have to accept that a little bit and theres nobody in our locker room that didnt know what they were getting into when they started. Well work through it as guys come back, as we manage the schedule and injuries throughout the season, Del Negro continued, discussing arguably the leagues deepest roster. Chauncey will start in the backcourt. Im not sure when hell be back. Its kind of his call, really when he feels comfortable. Hes been practicing in all contact, in all practices probably at least the last few weeks. Looks very good, but hes had a couple setbacks with his calf and his back, but hes feeling great. And then, Grant will probably be back later than Chauncey, and well just work through it. Grant went through training camp, played in China during the preseason for us. We had a good rotation off the bench then, so well just work through it when they come back, but youre talking about two guys who know how to play, know the big picture and are more than capable of accepting their roles, and theyre going to be contributors on our team.

Still, he acknowledged that in the Hollywood culture of the city, the star-studded Lakers and the recent drama surrounding Mike Browns firing, Phil Jackson getting passed over for the job and Mike DAntoni being hired as the teams new head coach means the Clippers, even with the star power of All-Stars Paul and Griffin, play second fiddle in the arena the two teams share.

It is unusual, but we dont spend any time with that. Thats kind of the fans and the media, and things. But were just kind of focused in on what we can control, our preparation, our mindset, our improvement. We know we have to get better in a lot of areas. You cant control other things that are going on, whether its the Lakers or the Bulls, or other organizations, he explained. Youve just got to control your day-to-day routine here. Were trying to continually build an environment, build a culture and do things the right way to be successful, and were not where we need to be yet, but were seeing signs of more consistency, so thats great.

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Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

College teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder made plans to go to dinner after Thursday’s game in Chicago but for a few short moments they weren’t just competitors but unexpected combatants, getting tangled up in the second quarter.

There looked to be some harsh words exchanged after Butler took a charge on an unsuspecting Crowder near three-quarter court, with Crowder putting the basketball in Butler’s chest while Butler was still on the floor, causing players on both teams to convene for some tense moments.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got involved and then before Butler could blink, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo joined the proceedings, as pushing and shoving ensued before technical fouls were assessed to both teams after an officials’ review.

If one wondered whether these Bulls—a team that touts itself as young with so many players having three years or less professional experience—could play with some bark and bite, perhaps the season opener provided a bit of a positive preview for the next 81 games.

Nearby, an unbothered Dwyane Wade took a practice 3-point shot, much to the delight of the United Center crowd, as observers witnessed the first sign of tangible proof the Bulls have intentions on regaining a bit of an edge on the floor.

Wade joked and took it as a sign of respect between the two teams.

“It looked like it, right? Yeah. It was a little something out there,” said Wade when asked if there was some chippy play. “Every time we play them it’s gonna be like that. Two teams finding their way in the Eastern Conference. We know we gotta see each other a lot. They never give up. They can be down 30 with 15 seconds left and they’re still gonna fight.”

The Bulls have externally preached toughness from the start of camp. Although Wade didn’t participate in that meeting of the minds, he isn’t exactly running away from such matters.
And Rajon Rondo is competitively ornery enough to have his voice hard no matter the setting.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s been a big theme of practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We want to play with physicality and toughness. I think it was evident on the glass tonight.”

Yes, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 19, but that could’ve been a by-product of the Bulls’ crashing the offensive glass on a porous shooting night. And yes, the slightly tense moment between Butler and Crowder probably won’t be an expected occurrence.

But when’s the last time one had multiple examples to dissect to discern this team’s level of toughness—or lack thereof.

“That’s something to show that the guys are out there fighting for each other,” Hoiberg said. “That they were playing with an edge. It happens with this game. You have to be competitive.”

Competition boiled over slightly, but considering the NBA isn’t exactly UFC, one doesn’t have to do much to display a little physical resolve.

“The fact that nothing escalated was good,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that those guys are out there and playing for each other and have each other’s back, that’s a huge thing right now.”

Too many times last season, it seemed the Bulls would submit in situations like those. Not that they were particularly soft, but it didn’t appear they had the collective will to fight for one another if an altercation arose.

Half the time, they looked like they could barely stand to be in the room with each other.

“It’s people’s will to win. Not saying a bad thing about anybody from last year,” Butler said. “To tell you the truth, I study the game and put in a lot of work but Rondo studies the game a lot. Every time I’m in the gym, he’s in the gym. That lets me know, these (dudes) are going to war with you. Every day. When I hit that deck, Rondo was right there. I wanna play with guys that’s gonna play hard, that’s gonna fight.”

And it didn’t take long for Butler to realize he has at least a couple teammates willing to jump in the foxhole with him.