Running with the Bulls: The Future of Del Negro

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Running with the Bulls: The Future of Del Negro

Friday, April 30, 2010
4:27 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the recent end to the Bulls seasonanother in which they showcased their immense potential, but still came up short in a first-round playoff exit, the most immediate hot topic at hand (behind free agency, but that doesnt officially begin until July 1st) is the future of head coach Vinny Del Negro.

Throughout the season, it was more of a question of when Del Negro would be fired (beginning in December, when an in-season termination seemed imminent), rather than if. After leading Chicago to consecutive 41-41 regular-season marks, eighth seeds in the postseason and admirable opening-round showings, some national observers have openly questioned why Del Negros job is in jeopardy. Since many believed Del Negro would be out of a job the day after the Bulls season endedvarious team sources have said that no official decision will be made by team management until after the weekend, at the earliesteven more anticipation has surrounded the coachs fate.

However, when taking into consideration the ugly late-season drama involving Del Negro and managementdisclosure of alleged physical altercations between Del Negro and both team executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, as well as the controversy regarding center Joakim Noahs minutesit is likely that Del Negros departure is still a foregone conclusion. Added support for that theory was built when recent reports detailed that Chicago wont attempt to fire Del Negro for cause, resulting in the coach not needing a lawyer to either defend himself or sue the team for the salary he would receive on the last year of his three-year contract.

At the same time, its clear that even through the tumultuous season the Bulls endured, the players on the team are in favor of bringing Del Negro back for another season, as evidenced by their comments to media both following Tuesdays Game 5 loss in Cleveland and Wednesdays exit interviews at the Berto Center.

I would vote yes, said Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, when asked in his postgame press conference Tuesday night about where he stands on Del Negro returning for the final year of his contract. Thats a guy where we both came in, he let me have my freedom, but still coached me.

Del Negro let me make my mistakes, watched film with him almost every day, told me a lot on just defense and offensewhat Im supposed to dobut the decision isnt really up to me, continued Rose, whose arrival to the Bulls coincided with Del Negros and described the potential firing of his only NBA head coach as devastating. Its up to the front office, so Im going to let them worry about that and just deal with it.

Yeah, I endorse Vinny, added Noah, who was regarded as a potential bust before Del Negros arrival, at the Berto Center on Wednesday. He did a lot for me as a player, gave me my chance to play.

Chicagos pair of rookies, Taj Gibson and James Johnson, expressed similar sentiments Wednesday.

Hes been great to me, said Gibson, who was today named to the NBA all-rookie first team. Hes a players coach. Any other coach, I dont know if they could have weathered that stormtrade talks, injurieshe just kept coaching. Look at him every gamehes still standing up, going after itand it was good for our team. Even late in this series, he just kept coaching usno head down, no worrying about if hes going to get firedthats why I respect him. Hes a good coach.

Thats not my job to determine it. I just say how good of a person I feel Del Negro is, continued Gibson, when asked if Del Negro should return. If the guys upstairs the Bulls front office feel different way from meIm a rookieI really cant say anything. Im just going to go with the shots.

I learned a lot from Vinny this year, added Johnson, whose minutes fluctuated throughout the season. I cant really cant touch on whats going to happen to him. My rookie year wasnt a bad experience.

Id take Vinny Del Negro back. He taught me that not everything comes easy, he went on to say. I was always used to being a starter in college and high school, then going to not playing built my character up a little bit more.

Regardless of the players support for Del Negroand being such a young team, its not clear how much weight those comments hold with the front office, as they could be easily dismissed as opinions of mostly professional neophytes on the scant experience theyve had on the NBA levela coaching change seems to be in the cards, as any job where management seemingly cant coexist with an employee, no matter what position that employee holds, usually results in a change.

Its always been somethingin the beginning of the year, there was talk about he might get fired, then the whole incident with Paxson and all thatand as a player, you cant look at those things. Thats up to you guys the assembled media at present at Wednesdays player exit interviews at the Berto Center to bring up and write about, but as for me, right now Vinny Del Negro is my coach, said veteran small forward Luol Deng. Thats the mindset I have right now. Whatever happens upstairs, like I said, whoevers the coach, thats whos going to be in charge and thats whos going to lead us next year. If its Vinny, its Vinny. If its not, its not.

After two years, I think hes been trying to get better. Hes been working hard, but its always changes. Ive had teammates who played really hard and now theyre not here anymore, so the organization is always going to try to get better, continued Deng, who expanded about Del Negro the most of any player on Wednesday. He was the head coach, he talked to a lot of players about staying positive and keep playing hard.

Its kind of a unique thing. We had a loose group and I think Vinny kind of fit the bill for us, added fellow veteran Kirk Hinrich. He lets you be who you are, expects you to go out there and work hard and compete every night, and thats what we tried to do.

Obviously we got to the playoffs two years in a row with a lot going on. The trade we had last year for me coming in with John Salmons and this year with the trades we had, chimed in backup center Brad Miller. Hes done a pretty good job just keeping us together and we had fun, played hard and went from there.

With his two-year record as an NBA head coachhis first coaching position at any level, as he went directly from his playing days to the front officeDel Negro is almost certain to garner future interest from other teams in the league, as the common perception is that he did a good job developing Chicagos young talent, held down the fort through some challenging times, kept the team afloat despite trades that handicapped his situation and always got the Bulls to compete during his tenure, which is especially remarkable because of his lack of experience. While insiders may disagree about some of those assumptions, the reality is Del Negro did a decent, if not overachieving job, coaching Chicago, and while his in-game adjustments and overall coaching strategy may have not measured up to the Gregg Popovichs and Larry Browns of the league, his timing could not have been betteras fans, media and rival front-office types alike from around the NBA observed the Bulls challenge the top seeds in the Eastern Conference two years in a row. Even if the embattled Del Negro isnt back in the Windy City, his rise from novice to at the very least, a coach capable of guiding a team to the NBAs second season will assuredly make him part of the leagues merry-go-round of recycled candidates when its franchises vacancies open.

I think expectations in some ways were almost unrealistic, especially when you factor in Hinrich being injured, Rose being injured and Deng coming back from a year off, said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers in support of Del Negro prior to the Bulls home finale against Bostoncoincidentally, minutes before the report about Del Negros alleged physical confrontation with Paxson broke. Im obviously biased. Vinnys been better than a good friend.

Perhaps an even more valued opinion comes from LeBron James, who was up close and personal with Del Negros coaching during the Cavaliers first-round series win over the Bulls.

I think they were well-coached, said James in his postgame press conference Tuesday, following the Cavaliers series-clinching Game 5 win in Cleveland. Vinny and that coaching staff had those guys ready. They have a group of young talent that loves to play the game of basketball, and they play hard. There was not one point where they kind of laid down.

Im not trying to make a pitch for Vinny or that coaching staff, continued James. Is Vinny in or is Vinny out? Thats not my job, but this team that we played in this series played hard.

Various sources and reports have indicated that Chicago will target candidates with previous NBA head-coaching experience and name recognition with young players to replace Del Negro, as well as one with perhaps a defensive-minded approach or a former NBA point guard, who could mentor Rose. Some of the names that have been mentioned include former Bulls coach and current TNT analyst Doug Collins, ex-Nets coach Lawrence Frank (who was mentioned as a possible replacement if Del Negro was fired during the season), Mavericks assistant and former Seattle (now Oklahoma City) head coach Dwane Casey and ex-Hornets head coach Byron Scott, who expressed an interest in the job during a recent radio interview. Others whose names have come upwhether they are seriously being considered or not is a different storyare current ESPN analyst and former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Boston assistant and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau (long considered ripe for an NBA head-coaching position) and current Oklahoma City assistant and former 76ers and Trailblazers head coach Maurice Cheeks, a Chicago native.

Another twist to this situation is the fact that Chicago clearly put themselves in position to acquire a top free agent this summer, and the longer they dont have a coach in place or Del Negros status looks to be in limbo only further complicates matters. The line of thinking that the Bulls either have to hit a home run as far as making a big-splash hire or select a choice that might have some leverage with one of the players theyre targeting is obviously a flawed approach, but with more credence being given to Chicago being an organization in disarraya tact rival teams competing for the same free agents are sure to use; the aforementioned alleged incidents involving Del Negro and management arm them with plenty of ammunitiona move with the requisite approval factor could be used to overcompensate for any negative buzz.

As for Del Negro himself, hes remained classy about the situation, choosing to either defer or take the high road when asked about his fate, something that could pay off for him in the future, as his local perception of an underqualified first-timer could be erased to his victimization in the alleged Paxson saga, his ability to guide the squad to the postseason in both of his seasons and the support of his young players, who have made considerable progress under his watch.

I dont even think about that stuff, said Del Negro after Tuesdays loss. All those things will take care of themselves.

How anybody wants to judge that, theyll judge it.

A team on the verge, a coach likely on the outs, free agency in the near future. Just because their the season is over doesnt mean episodes of As the Bulls Turn will be on hiatus anytime soon.

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.

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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."