Running with the Bulls: Best choice for coach?

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Running with the Bulls: Best choice for coach?

Thursday, May 6, 2010
5:50 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Now that the dust has settled on the ever-eventful end to the Bulls season with Mondays firing of head coach Vinny Del Negroas well as Tuesdays official announcement, complete with a subsequent press conference from Chicago executive vice president John Paxson and a statement delivered by the deposed Del Negro outside the Berto Center, the teams practice facilitythe focus of the organization now squarely rests on the dual goals of hiring a new head coach and positioning to sign a marquee player in advance of the official beginning of free agency on July 1st.

The two goals go hand in hand, as it is assumed that without a head coach in place before the start of free agency, a top-tier player like LeBron James or Dwyane Wadelet alone players such as Chris Bosh or Joe Johnsonwouldnt give the Bulls serious consideration without knowing who would coach them, regardless of the talent surrounding them.

Speculation has been rampant about potential candidates, despite Bulls general manager Gar Formans insistence on Tuesday that no initial vetting of possible replacements was done before Del Negros dismissal. Forman, who will be running the searchalthough both Paxson and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf will surely play crucial roles in the processalso refused to give a timetable for hiring a coach, something that immediately harkens to the summer 2008 process that eventually netted Del Negro.

The candidates who may be on Chicagos radar is a large initial group that includes former New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank, current Oklahoma City assistant Maurice Cheeks, former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale, current Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, TNT television analyst Doug Collins, former New Orleans head coach Byron Scott, ESPN television analyst Jeff Van Gundy, current Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, ESPN television analyst Mark Jackson and University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

Media reports indicate the Bulls have done background work on Frank, McHale and Cheeks and will eventually interview them. After being fired by the Nets early in the season, Frank was rumored to be considered by the Bulls as a potential in-season replacement for Del Negro. McHale, who currently works as a television analyst, was not successful during his stint coach the Timberwolves after moving down from his longtime general manager post, but is viewed as someone who has good rapport with players.

Cheeks, a Chicago native, was a head coach in both Portland and Philadelphia (leading both teams to the playoffs), but experienced problems with discipline in both stops. However, the locker-room turmoil and cast of miscreants with those teams would be unlike the solidly-regarded character guys in Chicago. In addition, the former standout point guard ostensibly would be placed in a mentoring role to All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and his hand in developing the Thunders young talent would also be a boon.

Casey, who was briefly a head coach in Minnesotawhere he replaced McHale, who was serving as the teams interim coach at the timeis a perennial top candidate for head-coaching vacancies and was a finalist for the Chicago job back in 2008. Scott, who experienced success with both the Hornets and the Netswho he led to the NBA Finals before being replaced by Frank, his assistant at the timerecently expressed interest in the Bulls job during a radio interview. Van Gundy, the former Knicks and Rockets head coach, also was asked about his interest in the position in a radio interview, but demurred to comment, which is in line with sources thinking that he cherishes his time with his family and is reluctant to leave his present job.

Collins is obviously familiar with the Bulls having coached them just prior to the teams championship run (he also coached in Detroit and Washington) in the 1990s, as well as interviewing for the job the last time around. Sources close to Collins tell CSNChicago.com that in addition to location, his comfort level and a teams championship aspirations will be important factors in his decision-making process (he is also under consideration for other positions, like many of the aforementioned candidates), as he, like Van Gundy, is comfortable in his current role and would only return to the sidelines for the right job.

Of the candidates with no NBA head-coaching experience, Thibodeau is viewed as a defensive gurua quality Chicago covetsbut while it may finally time for the Celtics assistant to no longer be a bridesmaid, the length of Bostons playoff run may affect him, although some observers speculate that he could opt to wait out head coach Doc Rivers, as some believe he may take a hiatus from the sidelines after this season.
Jackson, another former standout NBA point guard, has let his intentions to be a pro head coach be known over the last few years and while hes viewed as an extremely bright basketball mind, his actual coaching acumen remains an unknown until hes thrown into the fire.

As for Calipari, the wild card of the bunch, sources close to him insist to CSNChicago.com that he has no interest in the Bulls or any other NBA head-coaching job (such as the Nets, who were rumored to be interested) in the near future. Kentucky is arguably the most high-profile program in college basketball, his stint in the pros (with the Nets, ironically) was forgettable, he is in talks to sign a contract extension (which were slated to occur even before recent reports tying him to Chicago), several top high school recruits will arrive on campus over the next few years and even though he obviously has a pre-existing relationship with Rose because of the point guards one-year career at Memphis (Caliparis previous stop), his connection with NBA players (including potential free agents) is perhaps overblown.

After the dismissal of Del Negro, previous NBA head-coaching experience is viewed as coveted aspect for candidates for the Bulls job, although Forman stated Tuesday that he would possibly be open to applicants who have not been head coaches at the pro level. Other factors in play could be a coach with a strong defensive philosophy, an up-tempo offensive scheme and a vision thats in line with that of Chicagos management.

A potential monkey wrench in finding the ideal replacement could be timing. Of the aforementioned candidates, Casey, Collins and Jackson have already been on interviews with other teams and as the pool of available coaches dwindlesif and when they potentially accept positions with other teamsChicagos options may become more limited.

Three coaches whose names have surfacedfor different reasonsif they dont return to their current positions are Dallas Rick Carlisle, Atlantas Mike Woodson and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, a vaguely familiar name in the Windy City. Carlisle guided the Mavericks to the second-best regular-season record in the Western Conference, but with antsy team owner Mark Cuban liable to make drastic changes at any time, some observers feel theres a possibility the defensive-oriented coach may not be back in Dallas next season. Jackson is in the final year of his contract in Los Angeles and even though he admitted there was a slim chance he wouldnt return, he recently denied interest in coming back to Chicago. Woodson, also in the final year of his deal, led the Hawks turnaround in recent years, but has been alternately on and off the hot seat throughout his tenure and was seen as a likely firing victim if Atlanta didnt stave off underdog Milwaukee in their first-round playoff series.

The man Carlisle replaced in Dallas, Avery Johnson, is one top candidate for vacancies around the league, but probably wont be under consideration by the Bulls after criticizing management following the now-infamous physical confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson in a late-season interview.

In regard to free agency, players main motivations for signing with a team are usually money, winning and location (not always in that order), but with all things even, the cache of a premier head coach could be a deciding factor. While less high-profile candidates like Casey and Thibodeau may have great relationships with players (and maybe importantly, their agents), the name recognition of a Calipari (his friendship with LeBron James is another reason his name has been thrown into the mix) and Van Gundy (not to mention Woodson, a favorite of Hawks superstar Johnson, long regarded as a realistic option behind James and Wade, a good fit and a potential target of Chicago) could help the Bulls cause in trying to acquire a top-tier free agent. At the same time, Forman also professed Tuesday that the organization wouldnt be putting the cart before the horse, or hiring a coach simply to attract a particular player.

After covering the team for the majority of the season, this writer, like anybody who observes the Bulls on a regular basis, has some ideas on what are some desired qualities in a successful candidate. An energetic coach, who connects with young players is of extreme importance, as the Bullsat least the six players under contract for next season; Rose, center Joakim Noah, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and forwards Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and James Johnsonare a cohesive, hard-working bunch with good chemistry on and off the floor. Certainly a fast-paced offensive approach and a strong defensive background would be valued aspects, but some of that can be addressed within the entire future coaching staff. While a former NBA point guard seems like an obvious benefit to guide Rose, the teams franchise player, more important is a coach that easily connects to him and can continue to further his development. Stability, as in a coach who will be around for more than a year or two to lead the young squad, will be important.

So, who would be the best choice? As things stand, Collins has some local support, Cheeks background would appear to be a good fit and Scott has experience coaching elite floor generals, while Van Gundy would seem to be a home-run hire. But as far as who is likely to get the jobonly time will tell.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

This story originally appeared on Big3.com. Hear from Kendall and Ice Cube as they give their opinions on the Aug. 26 fight in the video above.

Timing really is everything.

When I went to Las Vegas for the BIG3 combine and draft back in April, I liked my chances. Sure, I was one of the oldest guys there, but my training as a boxer (I fought professionally after my NBA days) keeps me in great shape.

So I was pretty shocked when I didn’t get drafted.

I tried to be positive about it. I figured maybe the man upstairs was saying, “Just sit tight. I gotta put you on the right team.”

So there I was, sparring in the gym the other day. I get out of the ring and there’s a text waiting for me from Corey Maggette, asking me if I want to play for Power.

He didn’t have to ask twice!

Next thing I know, I’m getting a call from Power’s coach, Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. I looked up to Clyde my whole career, looked at him as a big brother. To play for him in the BIG3 is the perfect scenario.

So it was great to be in Philadelphia last Sunday and help Power defeat the Ghost Ballers in my BIG3 debut. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Cuttino Mobley, DeShawn Stevenson, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and Paul McPherson.

I was a bit rusty on the offensive side, but my defense -- which has been a staple for me throughout my career -- my rebounding, passing, that was all on point. I found Cuttino and DeShawn for a couple of shots when we forced them to double-team down on me. I had Mike Bibby on me in the post, and they knew that he probably couldn’t guard me down there.

So it was a pretty good first day. Now that I’ve got that under my belt, here comes the fun part. Everybody was excited when I was finally added to a team, and when they found out we were playing in Chicago they got twice as excited. When I got off the plane from Philadelphia on Monday, I had about 50 messages waiting for me – friends and family asking for tickets to the UIC Pavilion for Sunday’s games.

And since I work Chicago Bulls games for CSN Chicago, the network is excited, too. They want to mic me up and follow me around for the day, go behind the scenes. Radio stations have been calling me for interviews about the BIG3 coming to Chicago. It’s exciting. But when it comes time to play, I’ve got to forget about all that and go out there and play.

A lot of people think I’m biased because I was born and raised here, and still live in Chicago, but if you look at the number of pro players that we’ve produced, there’s really nowhere else that can compare to Chicago as a basketball town. You look at all the number one picks in the draft. Look at the top five picks in the NBA Draft throughout history. I think you’d have to say Chicago is probably the number one producer of NBA players – and college basketball players for that matter.

Only a few fortunate kids make it up the ranks to college and the pros. For most kids growing up in Chicago, at least basketball can be an important recreational activity that helps keep them off the streets and out of trouble. But there’s so much more we can do. When I was preparing for the BIG3 draft, I was practicing with Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education. Duncan, who has played competitive 3-on-3 with USA Basketball, is doing some great work with underprivileged kids in Chicago.

For my part, I donated a home in Champaign-Urbana (home of my alma mater, the University of Illinois). It’s the Cunningham Children’s Home and it helps disadvantaged kids in the region. We just had our annual golf tournament last week. We’ve been doing it for 28 years and have raised more than $1 million for the home.

While Arne Duncan is doing great work with Chicago youth, I’m grateful for the work he put in with me on the basketball court. He showed me a lot about how to cut, do a lot of pick and rolls away from the ball. In 3-on-3, those aspects of the game are very undervalued. Some guys have a tendency to play too much one-on-one, which I saw in some of the other games I was watching Sunday. The 3-on-3 game is very easy if you do it right, like we did. I think that’s why we won that game. We did a lot of cuts, and it worked well for us.

So after the disappointment of not being drafted, I’m thrilled to be where I am now – playing for a Power squad that is 3-1 and looking good for the playoffs. Which got me to thinking…

I really love boxing – not just training and sparring myself, but watching it. Boxing is the sweet science.

If we are fortunate enough to make it to Las Vegas for the BIG3 championship game on August 26, there just happens to be a pretty big boxing match taking place that night, right down the road. You may have heard:  Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor.

Personally, I don’t think McGregor has a chance. I’ve seen Floyd train in person and I’ve seen all his fights at least 10 times. He’s one of the greatest fighters to ever live. Now a guy who has no boxing experience whatsoever is going to get into the ring with him? Not happening.

But it’s gonna be an event. Believe me, I’m planning to buy the Pay-Per-View.

Unless I’m in Vegas that day and get to see it in person. You know, right after we win the BIG3 title.

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Thursday: 

Is #TheReturn getting a reboot? Report says there's a possibility Derrick Rose comes back to Bulls

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

That escalated quickly: Cubs just a game back of Brewers, could be in first place as soon as this weekend

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

Joe Maddon's prime-time message: 'Help or die'

Report: Derrick Rose is considering teaming up with LeBron James, Cavs

Cubs Talk Podcast: State of Cubs-Cardinals rivalry and what lies ahead

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since