Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

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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?

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.

And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.

Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.

"That's what great players do," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They step up when you need them the most. Jimmy obviously had a tough night shooting the ball (early). ... What he's been doing all year, taking over the game in the fourth, and tonight was no different."

Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.

"I think it was good defense," said Butler before giving a nod to his controversial whistle that went his way a week ago. "We don't wanna go back too far, but a foul's a foul."

Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.

"That dunk he had was unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "I should give him another week off."

In the early stages, Butler wasn't as futile as Wade, but he wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, finishing with 22 to go along with nine assists and four steals.

"Just keep shooting the ball and eventually it'll go in," Butler said. "And they did. Coaches put the ball in my hands, I kept taking the same shots, making the same plays. Then they went in."

The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. Booker scored 27, while Bledsoe, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss each scored 17. Bledsoe added 10 assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes.

They dominated the fast-break department at a 27-16 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting, hitting 12 triples and shooting 46 percent from 3.

Nikola Mirotic was 4-for-7 from deep on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all coming on five made 3s.

Three straight triples from Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.

"I like it, take the shots when you're open. Sometimes when you're not open, still shoot it and we know to get back," Butler said.

There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Two Chicago legends were spotted courtside before the Bulls tipped off against the Phoenix Suns on Friday. 

Chance the Rapper, recent winner of three Grammy Awards, snapped a photo with Benny the Bull at the United Center.

The south sider is spending a few months back in his hometown before starting a nationwide tour in April. His stop at the Bulls game should come as no surprise, as the "Coloring Book" rapper has become big friends with Jimmy Butler. Tough to name a more talented duo than that. 

Chance was also seen in New Orleans last weekend for the NBA All-Star festivities.

We know he's already a White Sox team ambassador, but are the Bulls next up?