Chicago Bulls

Bulls Coaching Situation More Up in Air than Ever

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Bulls Coaching Situation More Up in Air than Ever

Wednesday, December 30

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

You can count me among the media members wondering why John Paxson or Gar Forman were so reluctant to make a public statement supporting their embattled head coach, Vinny Del Negro. Well, after watching Forman struggle to come up with the right words before Tuesday night's game against Indiana, I now understand why. The Bulls general manager did manage to utter the phrase "Vinny is our coach", but he quickly undercut that statement by saying everyone in the organization is being evaluated at all times, and the front office is considering all options to improve the team. When I asked Forman if he could commit to Del Negro as the Bulls' head coach for the rest of the season, he refused to give a direct answer, saying instead how all evaluations should remain private within the organization. In my mind, the non-answer was the same as a no. Vinny is on a very short leash now, with any kind of a losing streak possibly leading to his dismissal.

Del Negro has done a remarkable job of keeping his poise in this difficult time, patiently answering almost daily questions about his job future. But he admitted before the game Tuesday night that the line of questioning had become a little "ridiculous", asking reporters to talk to Forman or Paxson about the situation. Wednesday, a report on Yahoo Sports claimed Del Negro and his staff were very disappointed in Forman's lukewarm vote of confidence. According to that report, Del Negro finally realizes the front office is not in his corner anymore. Now, it's just a matter of how the Bulls' play on the court either improves his chance of staying on the job, or accelerates the desire of the front office to find a more qualified long-term replacement. We can all watch it play out in front of our eyes over the coming weeks.
TYRUS IS TERRIFIC

Del Negro's prospects certainly look better with the return of a healthy Tyrus Thomas to the rotation. Thomas has been nothing short of sensational in his first two games back, putting up 21 points and 9 rebounds against New Orleans, then following that up with an 8 point, 15 rebound, 3 blocked shots performance against Indiana. Sure, Tyrus still puts up bad shots at times, but his ability to run the floor and block shots gives the Bulls an element they simply don't have without him. He's one of the few players on the roster who can get easy baskets on the fastbreak and off the offensive glass. And, those emphatic dunks have more value than just 2 points on the scoreboard. They can pick up the energy level of the other Bulls' players on the court, while deflating the other team. Thomas' return also allows Del Negro the chance to go with a deeper rotation, saving the starters from playing heavy minutes every night. With Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson now in the starting line-up, Del Negro can call on Thomas, John Salmons and Brad Miller for consistent production off the bench, with James Johnson and Jannero Pargo also available for spot minutes depending on match-ups. We don't have to worry about seeing Lindsey Hunter or Aaron Gray on the court anymore, or worry about Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng burning out by mid-season. Quality depth was supposed to be one of the Bulls' strengths this season, but the early season injuries to Thomas and Hinrich took that away. Now that Del Negro has a complete roster again, we should find out in the next few weeks whether the Bulls can be a .500 or better team this season. The front office has to make a decision on the future of Thomas, who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1st. Remember, they'll have to renounce Thomas' rights to have a chance to make a maximum contract offer to one of the elite free agents next summer. And if Tyrus continues to play at the level we've seen over the last 2 games, that decision might not be as automatic as it appeared.

McGRADY TRADE COULD SOLVE CAP ISSUES

Which bring us to a suggestion we made about a month ago here on Beyond the Arc. The Bulls should pursue a trade for Houston's Tracy McGrady, who was sent home last weekend with the assurance that Rockets' management would explore deals to find him a new home. Granted, McGrady is just a shadow of the player who was a perennial All-Star for most of his NBA career, but he has an expiring contract worth around 22 million dollars which could guarantee the Bulls will be a major player in free agency next summer. Plus, T-Mac spent last summer rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery here in Chicago with Michael Jordan's long-time trainer Tim Grover. He might actually welcome the chance to revive his NBA career here in Chicago. The Bulls could offer several possible combinations for McGrady. If Houston wants expiring contracts in return, the Bulls could package Brad Miller, Jerome James and John Salmons. If the Rockets want more immediate help, the Bulls could send them Miller, Hinrich and Salmons. Or, they could make the package Miller, Thomas and Salmons, but that sounds like too much for the Bulls to give up. McGrady might be able to give the Bulls a go-to scorer for all those close games they figure to be involved in the rest of the way, but even if he doesn't, the salary cap relief would be a big bonus for a team that's obviously willing to sacrifice this season for the chance to mine free agent gold next summer.

So, what do you think? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail. I'll see you New Year's eve at 1:30 for Bulls Pregame Live. Kendall Gill and I will preview the match-up with the struggling Pistons, who've lost 8 games in a row, but should be close to turning things around with the return of Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and former Bulls' star Ben Gordon from injuries. You can watch the game on Comcast SportsNet at 2:00, followed by Bulls Postgame Live.

Happy New Year everyone! Let's hope 2010 begins a long run of sustained excellence for the Bulls' franchise, starting in July with the addition of a superstar like LeBron or D-Wade.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Doug Collins returns to Bulls as senior advisor

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USA TODAY

Doug Collins returns to Bulls as senior advisor

In a surprise announcement, the Chicago Bulls have brought former coach Doug Collins back into the fold, naming him a senior advisor to Executive Vice President John Paxson.

Collins was a coach with the Bulls and regarded as one of the best basketball minds through his various stops through the NBA as well as his commentary for Turner Sports and ESPN. Collins held front office authority in Detroit after the Pistons drafted Grant Hill, so he's familiar with the inner workings of the NBA.

More importantly, he coached Paxson during his three-year tenure as head coach, from 1986-1989, so one can presume Paxson will value Collins' expertise and opinions. The two sides have been discussing a role for quite some time, so although the announcement is a surprise, the marriage didn't come together hastily.

Collins is expected to be an extra voice in the room, doing a lot of observing and one can assume, bridging the gap many believe exists between the front office and coaching staff. Collins has residence in Chicago, with his son (Chris) coaching the Northwestern Wildcats so it's also a matter of convenience as well.

“We are pleased to have Doug return to the Bulls and have him join our front office. As our organization transitions into this next phase, we feel like Doug will bring valuable perspective with his vast knowledge of the NBA and the game of basketball,” said Paxson. “His enthusiasm and expertise make this a great fit for the Bulls. As an advisor, he will regularly contribute observations, insights and suggestions, and he will be part of conversations throughout this building. I know from talking to Doug he is excited to join us at this time, and we look forward to tapping into his experience to help improve this team.”

One can liken it to the Golden State Warriors bringing in Jerry West as a senior advisor several years ago, and West's influence was felt at the executive level as the Warriors continued their climb to the top of the NBA. West is perhaps the NBA's most decorated executive in the modern era, having shaped the Magic Johnson-led Lakers of the 1980's to five championships.

West has since moved into the same role with the Los Angeles Clippers, as he'll assist them in reshaping their franchise after the trade of Chris Paul.

Clearly the Bulls are not at the stage of development the Warriors were when West joined, starting what could be a long and arduous rebuild. Needing more knowledgeable and trusted voices in the room is what they were looking for, and presumably they feel Collins has been around today's NBA long enough to provide insight on a changing league.

“Doug will be great in this capacity for our organization. The position of ‘senior advisor’ has proven to work well around the NBA in recent years, and I am confident the same will hold true with the Bulls,” said Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in a statement. “The fact that our relationship goes back more than 30 years certainly helps, but he is especially qualified to assist our leadership in rebuilding the Bulls.”

Lottery reform might not be all bad for rebuilding Bulls

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USA TODAY

Lottery reform might not be all bad for rebuilding Bulls

At first glance, reports of the NBA pushing for major lottery reform might seem like terrible timing for rebuilding teams like the Bulls. The league's competition committee is trying to come up with a system that will discourage teams from tanking to improve their odds of winding up with the best possible draft position.

Under the current plan, the team that finishes with the worst record has a 25% chance of winding up with the top pick and selects no lower than fourth. The odds then decrease for teams that finish between two and 14.

The new plan would flatten the odds for the bottom four teams, all given a 14% chance to win the top pick in the lottery. The idea is teams will no longer have an extra incentive to lose if it doesn't help them end up with better draft position.

But here's where the Bulls come in. Even though the new plan is expected to be approved by league owners, it won't be implemented until the 2019 draft. That's crucial for a Bulls' team that is likely to have one of the worst records in the league in 2017-'18, but could improve pretty quickly with some good fortune in the summer of 2018.

If the Bulls land a Top 3 pick next June, they could draft one of two elite forward prospects, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. or Duke's Marvin Bagley III, or 18-year-old international star Luka Doncic. Then they could go into free agency with somewhere between 40 and 50 million dollars of cap space to land a couple free agents to give the roster a big time boost.

I understand the Bulls' record in free agency has not been all that great over the years, and they're not going to convince LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George or Russell Westbrook to come to a rebuilding team. But with so few teams expected to have significant cap space, why couldn't the Bulls make a run at next level stars like DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas (if healthy) or DeAndre Jordan? Plus, they could always go the route of adding two solid rotation players like Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler or Danny Green rather than shoot for one max contract All-Star.

Say the Bulls get Porter Jr. in the draft to handle the small forward spot, then sign Cousins in free agency to play center. All of a sudden you've got a starting line-up of Cousins, Lauri Markkanen, Porter, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, all lottery picks. At that point, the Bulls wouldn't be thinking about finishing near the bottom of the league to improve draft position. They'd be thinking about what moves they could make to get back to the playoffs.

So, when you read these articles about lottery reform, don't look at it as a huge negative for the Bulls. If all goes according to plan, they'll only have one season of being in strong contention for the No. 1 pick, and the rules aren't expected to change for the 2018 lottery.