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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."