Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?


Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

With the acquisition of superstar point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers are the talk of the NBA these days. With the likes of Paul, reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, promising young center DeAndre Jordan, free-agent signee Caron Butler, veteran Chauncey Billups and bench depth highlighted by scoring point guard Mo Williams, the "other" team in the City of Angels has a chance to not only make some noise this season, but even surpass their Staples Center co-resident, the Lakers.

For all of the pieces the team has, however, their is one perceived weakness: Vinny Del Negro. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke recently wrote an excellent piece about the pressure facing the Clippers head coach.

Del Negro is obviously a familiar name to Chicagoans from his stint stalking the Bulls sidelines. In his two seasons in the Windy City, the Bulls finished with identical 41-41 records and first-round playoff exits.

Aside from the drama that surrounded his final days in Chicago, Del Negro was a much-maligned figure locally, as he was viewed as a coach incapable of taking the team to the next level, something magnified by Tom Thibodeau's success in his first season. Thibodeau also had more talent to work with, but the fact that Del Negro, at the least, didn't hinder the development of Derrick Rose, among others, has to be noted.

Subsequently hired by the Clippers the summer following his dismissal, Del Negro seemed to be entering a situation in which there were few expectations for a perennially-losing franchise, but a rough start to last season immediately turned up the heat and although his young squad improved as the season went on -- even beating the Bulls upon his return to Chicago -- an early-season pregame press conference in L.A. when the Bulls were in town, in which local writers aggressively questioned his competence as a coach, showed it wasn't all smooth sailing. But that was then and this is now.

Del Negro, equipped with a roster that's the envy of the majority of the league, has to oversee a successful campaign in the last year of his contract. While he's often quietly lauded for giving young players the room to improve, this season can't simply be a care-taking effort, as the stakes are just too high, with Paul only committed to the Clippers for two seasons, Billups and Butler likely on the downsides of their careers, the organization committing to Jordan with a four-year extension and Griffin's eventual free agency looming, not to mention trading assets like up-and-coming shooting guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, second-year small forward and 2010 lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu and perhaps most importantly, the Timberwolves' 2012 first-round draft choice (likely to be a fairly high selection in a loaded draft class) to the Hornets in exchange for Paul.

Can Del Negro surpass expectations for his own performance to help meet expectations for the team, preserving his own coaching shelf life in the process? What do you think?

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Dwyane Wade soak themselves in Cubs fever

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Dwyane Wade soak themselves in Cubs fever

The party that started Saturday night on the north side of town had vibes that stretched all the way west of downtown, as the Chicago Bulls players and coaches soaked themselves in Cubs fever.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has been a lifelong Cubs fan due to growing up in Iowa and of course, Dwyane Wade came back home at the right time to witness the Cubs winning the pennant for the first time since 1945.

“It’s been fun, it’s been fun to watch. I’ve talked about how together that team is, how much of confidence, how much of a swagger they play with,” Hoiberg said. “It’s just a fun team that looks like it has unbelievable chemistry.”

Playfully, Hoiberg admitted he went streaking in Wrigleyville after the Cubs finished off the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field—although if he actually had been streaking, Hoiberg probably would’ve blended in with the deliriousness that took place well into Saturday night.

Seriously, though, Hoiberg admires the unity and joy the Cubs have played with all season—embracing the expectations without letting themselves get engulfed in them.

“It’s a team that I think you can learn from with what they’re doing and the backing that they have from the city,” Hoiberg said. “Cubs fans, from the time they’re born like myself, they’re just, it’s been awesome to watch and see the celebration after the game.”

Wade agrees, and having been part of three championship teams, knows chemistry when he sees it.

“That team has figured out a way, even during this series when it looked like their back was against the wall they came out swinging. They stuck together,” Wade said. “You have to support each other. No matter who’s on the basketball court for us, who’s on the bench, it’s all about supporting each other and really caring about the other guy. When you start caring about the other person, you don’t want to let that other person down on the court. You become a better team because of that.”

With the World Series starting Tuesday in Cleveland, Wade and good friend LeBron James will likely make a friendly wager, with the two exchanging playful tweets after the Cubs’ clincher.

“It’s been a long, long, long time, and just obviously I felt the buzz when I got back to the city, and everyone thinking that this was the Cubs’ year,” Wade said. “And they’ve been obviously playing amazing, so it’s great. It’s great to be in Chicago at this time with the Cubs being as successful as they are so far, and so it’s good to be here and it’s good to be a sports fan at this time in Chicago, so it’s good.”

Cleveland has gone from a national sports joke to one with an embarrassment of riches in the past six months, while the Cubs are trying to end the longest championship drought in the four major sports.

“Just pride in your city. Cleveland has obviously had droughts in sports and then he went back there to change that drought from the standpoint of basketball, and they accomplished that,” Wade said. “And now Cleveland is trying to do the same, and they got to a World Series, which has been a drought for them.”

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Luckily for the Bulls—or any Chicago sports fan for that matter—Thursday’s season opener doesn’t conflict with a game, but fans won’t be so lucky next Saturday night. The Bulls will play the Indiana Pacers while the Cubs will host Cleveland for Game 4. Wade doesn’t think he’ll have trouble getting into Wrigley Field, but after Scottie Pippen’s unfortunate rendition of “Take me out to the ballgame” Saturday night, Wade wants an opportunity for a reprieve.

“I know Scottie butchered the 7th-inning stretch. I think me and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo could do a good job together if they ask us to do it,” Wade said. “It’s just cool to be a part of it.”

Hoiberg summed it up succinctly, likely echoing the beliefs of many long-suffering Cubs fans.

“Four more to go,” Hoiberg said. “I like their chances just because of how confident they’re playing.”

Doug McDermott, Kyle Korver return to Creighton for NBA preseason game

Doug McDermott, Kyle Korver return to Creighton for NBA preseason game

Competing in Nebraska may have been foreign for most Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks players, but Doug McDermott and Kyle Korver were right at home. 

The veterans, who both starred at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., returned to their college stomping grounds for NBA preseason action Thursday night. Korver's Hawks got the best of McDermott's Bulls, 97-81, on Creighton's home floor.

Both had illustrious careers for the Blue Jays basketball squad. McDermott, who graduated in 2014, won the Wooden Award his senior season and is the all-time leading scorer. Korver, as you may have guessed, holds the school record for most three-pointers made. Fans at Thursday's game got a flashback from these glory days, as both logged significant minutes and put up offensive numbers. 

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McDermott didn't have his best shooting night, but knocked down two triples and finished with 16 points. Korver also scored 16, splashing in four from beyond the arc. 

Afterwards, McDermott thanked the Omaha faithful via Twitter.

With the loss, the Bulls' preseason ends with a record of 3-4. They open regular season play on Oct. 27 against the Boston Celtics.