May 10, 2010
It hasn’t even been a week since the Bulls officially fired Vinny Del Negro…
…but it feels a lot longer than that, doesn’t it?
Maybe it’s because Del Negro’s head was on the chopping block for so many months, but it seems like there should have been…something. Some sort of news. Some sort of definitive idea about what kind of coach the team is looking for if not an actual name.
But as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune pointed out, Bulls GM Gar Forman made it clear at last Tuesday’s execution, er, press conference that he plans to take his own sweet time in finding a new coach:
“In my mind, there’s not a huge rush. … In my mind, the first week or two or several weeks, I want to gather as much information as possible. I don’t want to be put in a box on what the time frame is. Could we find the right guy in a week? I guess we could. But there’s no rush. It could drag into June, into July. There’s not going to be a timetable.
“When we make decisions, we try to be very process-oriented. We gather as much information as we can. Thus, when John, Jerry (Reinsdorf) and I sit down, 99 percent of the time we’re on the same page.
“Any good executive will tell you that one guy is not always going to make every decision. You want input from others. I think you see that with any Fortune 500 company. But I will make (coaching) recommendations to Jerry, and as the owner Jerry has the right to veto any decision.”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The only problem is that, by all accounts, the front office seems to have known Del Negro was kaput for quite a while. I guess these comments could be a smoke screen, and that Forman might just have the world’s greatest poker face. But the apparent lack of any forward momentum makes it feel like the Bulls didn’t have a solid plan for going forward post-Vinny.
That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
May 5, 2010
May 4, 2010
There will be a news conference today, but Vinny Del Negro is already gone.
The truth is, Vinny’s been gone since March 30, when he got into that “we still don’t quite know what really happened” confrontation with Chicago Bulls executive vice president John Paxson over Joakim Noah’s minutes.
Or maybe he’s been gone since late December, when the Bulls stumbled to a disappointing 10-17 start.
Or maybe he’s been gone since last season’s playoff run, when his inability to manage timeouts may have cost Chicago a win or two in their seven-game series with the defending champion Boston Celtics.
Or maybe he’s been gone since February of 2009, when the team’s 20-27 record caused owner Jerry Reinsdorf to declare the season was a “disaster” and “embarassing.”
Or maybe he’s been gone since the first few months of his job, when he kept benching Derrick Rose during the fourth quarter of close games.
Or maybe he was gone from the very moment he was hired. After all, manangement fumbled its attempt to bring in their coach of choice — Mike D’Antoni, who’s gone 61-103 in two seasons with the New York Knicks — and seemingly decided on Del Negro as Plan Z. Although here’s what Paxson said when Vinny was hired:
“I am very pleased to name Vinny Del Negro as the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls. I have gone through the process of talking to many people since the season ended which has allowed me to hear the basketball philosophies of different candidates, and I felt very good about many of the interviews. Vinny distinguished himself from the group and I feel I have been able to identify a person who has the strong ability to lead, communicate and bring a fresh, energized approach to our young basketball team. Vinny will be able to draw from his experiences in basketball as a player, scout and executive, and I am confident that he will be successful in this new role.”
The funny thing is, Del Negro really was successful in his role.
Vinny led the Bulls to two .500 seasons and two trips to the playoffs despite a lot of things. Such as the fact that the Bulls are built around a group of players who live and die off of long, contested two-point jumpers, a.k.a the worst shot in basketball. Or the fact that there has been major personnel overhauls during both seasons, but not the kind that brought in a quality, All-Start caliber player. Or the fact that the last two seasons have been marred by injuries to key players. Or the fact that the team’s leading scorer was allowed to bolt for Detroit last summer. Or the fact that management clearly decided not to invest in the 2009-2010 season in order to maximize cap space for this summer’s free agent bonanza.
Del Negro always seemed to be on the verge of being fired. He never received strong support from the front office. His team never really had any continuity or even consistent health. Yet Vinny was always professional and spent two straight seasons turning lemons into lemonade even though he was working with a noose around his neck.
Did you know that Bill Fitch has the 8th most coaching wins in NBA history? Or that Dick Motta has the 10th most? And yet both Fitch (.460) and Motta (.479) have a lower winning percentage than Del Negro (.500). Vinny also has a better winning percentage than Byron Scott (.498), Lawrence Frank (.483), Hubie Brown (.461), Mike Dunleavy (.461), Sam Mitchell (.452), Mike Woodson (.419), and several other coaches who get more respect. All the coaches I named except Frank and Woodson have a Coach of the Year award. Woodson is currently coaching the Atlanta Hawks, and Frank has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Del Negro.
But hey, you know what they say: NBA coaches are hired to be fired. Especially when they don’t see eye to eye with the people above them in the food chain.
Back in 2009 when Reinsdorf was making his “disaster” comments, he also said: ”When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization. But if there’s one person that is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know. He’s a great general manager and a great judge of talent.”
Forget the fact that Paxson is the same guy who broke the bank for Ben Wallace, swapped LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas, and has made at least a half dozen other indefensible moves. The team owner loves Paxson, and Paxson did not love the coach. So what is pretty much had to be.
Look, there’s a scale between bad and great. Vinny wasn’t great — I’m not sure the man ever learned to call a decent play coming out of a timeout — but he wasn’t bad either. Under the circumstances, many of them very unfavorable, Del Negro was a good coach. He kept the ship afloat and helped develop Rose into an All-Star and Noah into a near All-Star. The Bulls could have done a lot worse.
Still, let’s hope this time they do a lot better.
May 3, 2010
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Vinny Del Negro met with Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on Sunday, but the embattled coach’s 11th-hour argument to keep his job won’t change what the Tribune has reported since December 2009: Del Negro is expected to be dismissed with one year and roughly $2 million remaining on his guaranteed three-year contract. Barring a snag, the Bulls will make this news official Tuesday.”
Shock. Surprise. More shock.
Of course, we won’t know “for certain” this is true until tomorrow…but it feels about right, doesn’t it? Vinny — for all his good points and his bad — was more or less hired into lame duck status. A place holder. A book mark. A footnote. An afterthought.
At this point, there’s really no reason to argue his merits (overachieved with an undertalented team) or his pitfalls (terrible out of timeouts and with in-game adjustments). The Del Negro era is (most probably) over.
So what now?
According to the ESPN NBA Rumors page, here are some possible successors:
Dallas assistant Dwane Casey:
Ken Berger of CBS Sports writes that Casey “would receive serious consideration” if Del Negro is let go.
He’s had success with an All-Star point guard already in Chris Paul, and says he’d be open to Chicago.
Ex-Nets coach Lawrence Frank:
When Del Negro was on the outs in December, his name was mentioned.
Boston associate coach Tom Thibodeau:
He could bring a defensive mindset to the team.
Would he leave his TV gig to coach in the league again?
Kevin McHale, Maurice Cheeks. The Chicago Tribune reports these two could be in the mix.
I sincerely hope that McHale isn’t serious consideration. Love the name, hate the baggage. In fact, I’m not real high on this list in general, although Thibodeau kind of sparks my interest. However, the Bulls were (when healthy) pretty good on defense and abominable on offense. Tom would certainly need an offensive-minded assistant.
April 28, 2010
Most people thought Vinny Del Negro would be fired immediately after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs. Well, it turns out we’re going to have to wait a few more days to find out anything.
According to Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com: “The Chicago Bulls will not make an announcement on the fate of head coach Vinny Del Negro at least until the weekend, general manager Gar Forman said following the Bulls’ first-round series-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. The team will have player exit meetings Wednesday and organizational meetings for the next couple of days. No decision will be made until those meetings are concluded and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf returns from out of town this weekend, Forman said.”
So, either: 1) Vinny might actually have a shot at returning next season, or 2) the front office wants to make it look like Vinny has a shot at returning next season. My gut tells me it’s more 2 than 1, but who knows?
Maybe the delay is due in part to the fact that Derrick Rose has been very vocal in his support of Del Negro. Here’s what Derrick had to say immediately after the team’s first round elimination:
“We both came in as rookies. It would be devastating. But it’s not up to me, it’s up to the front office. They’re the ones that drafted me, so I guess I’m behind them. It would be unusual, especially since it’s our second time [in the playoffs]. But the league changes constantly. I guess that’s how it is in the NBA. It’s tough to coach up here.
“That’s a guy, when we both came in, he let me have my freedom. He still coached me. He let me make my mistakes. We watched film together every day. He taught me a lot of offense and defense, what I’m supposed to do. But the decision is not up to me. It’s up to the front office, so I’m just going to let them deal with that.”
Regardless of how management feels about Del Negro, that kind of support from the franchise player — I mean, Derrick said Vinny getting canned would be “devastating” — could go a long way. It’s also interesting how Rose said: “They’re the ones that drafted me, so I guess I’m behind them.” He has to guess? It sounds to me like Derrick is more in Vinny’s corner than management’s.
He isn’t the only one. Earlier this season, Charles Barkley gave Del Negro his vote of approval, and even LeBron had some positive things to say after last night’s game: “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. I’m not trying to make a pitch for Vinny because I know what’s going on — ‘Is Vinny in or is Vinny out?’ That’s not my job, but this team that we played in this series played hard.”
That’s a lot of love coming Del Negro’s way. In the end, it might not make any difference. If management wants him gone, he’s gone. But we won’t know for sure until the weekend.
April 27, 2010
Amid speculation that coach Vinny Del Negro could be standing in an unemployment line as early as tomorrow — said Joakim Noah: “How about we just focus on the game tomorrow and see what happens. When the season’s over, you’ll figure it out.” — the Bulls are hobbling into what may be their final game of the 2009-10 season.
Derrick Rose, who hurt his left ankle stepping on Shaq’s foot in Game 4, had an MRI yesterday. Bulls fans can take a huge sigh of relief, because there were no significant findings. Nothing’s certain yet, but my guess is that Rose will play in Game 5. Ditto for Luol Deng, who’s feeling pain in his calf and knee.
It’s been that kind of season.
Said Del Negro: “Obviously, we need both those guys to play at a high level. I think they’ll both be fine and ready to play. But who’s 100 percent at this time of the year? Not many guys.”
Well, LeBron James is about 174 percent. But other than that…
April 15, 2010
What a crazy season.
I mean, think about it. Before it even began, Ben Gordon left for Detroit. Then the season opened with Derrick Rose semi-hobbled by an ankle injury. Four games in, Tyrus Thomas fractured his left forearm during a weightlifting session at practice. Then Kirk Hinrich missed time with a sprained left thumb. John Salmons went through the worst two or three-month slump of his career. Luol Deng broke his left thumb but kept playing.
In the shadow of all that, the Bulls opened the season 10-17. This stretch included a home loss to the New Jersey Nets (who entered the game 1-19) and another home loss to the Sacrament Kings in which the Bulls choked away a 35-point lead. It started to seem as if coach Vinny Del Negro could get fired any day…or, at the very least, at the end of the season. Management, for their part, provided only a token show of support and would not commit to Del Negro beyond the season.
Just as things were looking really bad, Rose — who was becoming the subject of countless “What’s wrong with Derrick?” and “Rose is overrated” discussions – caught fire and the team started to turn things around. The turnaround was symbolized by a January road trip during which the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to ever win five games in a row on the road against plus-.500 teams.
In the midst of Chicago’s surge, Tyrus returned, started playing well, could not regain his starting spot from Taj Gibson, began playing poorly, and then finally had a verbal altercation with Del Negro. In response to that incident, and several others, and the fact that he still had not yet lived up to his amazing potential, the Bulls sent him to Charlotte at the trade deadline. They also sent John Salmons to Milwaukee in order to maximize their cap space for this summer’s free agent bonanza.
By February 26, the Bulls were a season-best four games over .500 and looked like they could end up seeded as high as fifth in the Eastern Conference. Then a nagging case of planta fasciitis sidelined Joakim Noah for 10 straight games. The Bulls lost all 10 of them and fell right out of the playoff race. During that same time, Deng also missed several games with a strained calf and Rose had to leave two different games after being dropped by Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Hinrich also earned an ejection and a one-game suspension for bumping into a referee. Meanwhile, Salmons was single-handedly resurrecting the Bucks and Tyrus was enjoying some success with the surging Bobcats.
Just when it looked like Chicago’s playoff hopes were toast, Noah returned and the Bulls finished the season by winning 10 of their last 14 games. They were helped by the fact that Toronto’s Chris Bosh broke his face, although the Raptors were already starting to fall apart before Bosh’s injury. Before winning their final two games of the season, Toronto lost 18 of 25 games, a stretch that included two five-game losing streaks, a four-game losing streak and a three-game losing streak.
Of course, it still wasn’t simple. Down the stretch, the Bulls lost a crucial home game to the Andrew Bogut-less Milwaukee Bucks and then a road game to the Nets, who had already cemented their place as one of the worst teams in NBA history. In doing the latter, Chicago became the only team to lose two games (and their season series) to the Nets, who finished the season 12-70. And even as the Bulls entered their final — and most important — two games of the season, rumors surfaced that team VP John Paxson might have assaulted and threatened Del Negro. Then it came out that Del Negro may have initiated the physical contact…and that it wasn’t the first time Vinny had done something like that.
Paxson hasn’t been reached for comment. Del Negro won’t comment. Lawyers have been dispatched to investigate the situation, the full details of which may never be fully known to the public. And in the shadow of all that, the Bull beat the Celtics in Chicago and then defeated the Bobcats in Charlotte on the last night of the regular season to eke into the Eastern Conference playoffs with a record of 41-41. They will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
Whew. Talk about a wild ride.
The Bulls showed a lot of heart last night. It’s true that the Bobcats — minus Thomas, who clearly wanted to have a strong game against the team that had given up on him — didn’t have a lot to play for. After all, Charlotte was already locked into the seventh seed. That isn’t to say they didn’t try, but the ‘Cats brought regular season intensity while the Bulls were bringing playoff intensity.
With their integrity, pride and the entire season on the line, Rose and Noah stepped up big time. Of course, Derrick has been stepping up all month. Check out his April splits: 8 games, 25.4 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.1 RPG, 54 percent shooting. He concluded the season by scoring a career-high 39 points and shutting down Rajon Rondo in the Boston game and then scoring a game-high 27 points against the Bobcats the very next night. Rose sounded brash and maybe even a little foolish when he guaranteed the Bulls would make the playoffs a few weeks ago, but he did everything he could to make it happen. And it did.
Meanwhile, Noah was amazing. He was like a hurricane in hightops last night. He had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first quarter, but it felt like he had twice the output. Jo was doing a little bit of everything. Bringing the ball upcourt, shooting jumpers, driving to the hoop, muscling his way inside, hitting putbacks, rebounding on both ends…and erupting in primal screams at every opportunity. Noah finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and a game-high nine free throw attempts. If Rose is Chicago’s MVP, Noah is the team’s MEP — Most Energetic Player — and its spiritual leader.
Then there was Gibson, who was again solid if not spectacular. Gibson — who in part made Thomas expendable — finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive end. Gibson far exceeded all expectations during his rookie season, and he was one of only two Bulls (along with Brad Miller) to play all 82 games, and he did it despite suffering his own case of plantar fasciitis.
That’s the foundation of the Bulls’ future: Rose, Noah and Gibson. When management is shopping for free agents this summer, those three guys will be prominently featured in the recruiting brochures. And based on the way they all played when healthy, that’s a pretty solid three-man core. Let’s home someone, say a Bosh or Dwyane Wade, agree with that assessment.
I have no idea what the future is going to bring. Vinny might be fired soon. The Cavaliers might easily sweep the Bulls out of the playoffs. Bosh, Wade and other big name free agents might spurn the team this summer. But right now, considering all the crazy circumstances, it feels pretty good to be a Bulls fan. The team never gave up.
Said Noah: “You know what I love about this team? I feel that even when times were hard, we went on a 10-game losing streak, I feel like we never let down. We always believed in each other. To be in this position right now is a great feeling, and I feel it’s really deserving.”
Said Del Negro: “I’m very proud of the way the guys have hung together all year, through a lot of things, and just gutted it out.
Said Bobcats coach Larry Brown (with a smile): “Chicago has not had an easy year. To put themselves in the position they have it’s pretty neat, even with people fighting.”
Yeah. It is pretty neat.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
April 14, 2010
Nobody was stopping Derrick Rose last night. Nobody.
Talk about untimely and unwelcome distractions. Going into last night’s matchup with the Boston Celtics – only the biggest game of the season so far – reports surfaced that, after Chicago’s home loss to the Phoenix Suns on March 30, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson apparently grabbed coach Vinny Del Negro by the tie, jabbed him twice in the chest and challenged him to a fight.
These reports come from multiple sources.
The confrontation seems to have occurred because of “a narrow breach of a management-imposed minutes limit on injured forward Joakim Noah.” This certainly provides new perspective Vinny’s by-the-books approach to Jo’s minutes in Chicago’s recent loss to the New Jersey Nets. Sources say that Bulls have hired lawyers to interview witnesses about the incident.
Major drama. Shocking to say the least. It cast a dark cloud not only over last night’s game, but over the team’s future as well. What does this mean for Paxson’s future? Vinny’s? Will there be actual litigation? Will this effect Chicago’s hunt for a big name free agent? I suppose worse things could have happened at a worse time, but this simply boggles the mind.
Before the game, Vinny wouldn’t bite on the subject: “I’m not going to comment. I go about my job every day no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All the other things that happen pretty much stay internally.”
Say what you will about Del Negro the coach, but Del Negro the man seems almost unflappable. The dude has kept his cool during two seasons’ worth of rumors about his impending doom, and he apparently didn’t retaliate when his boss seemingly tried to bully him into a fight. And despite a season full of injuries — during which all management has done is take pieces off the board in an effort to save cash for this summer’s free agent bonanza — Vinny has his club on the verge of a playoff berth.
Seriously, Del Negro has done about everything anyone could possibly ask of him. And his boss may have tried to fight him over a player’s minutes. Unbelievable.
While this situation was brewing behind the scenes, the Bulls had to fight for their playoff lives against a team with their own agenda. The Celtics have been slumping and were on the brink of losing the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston coach Doc Rivers went with his starters and made a major push to win this game.
It didn’t matter. Derrick Rose wanted it more.
Rose stepped up to the challenge like a true superstar. You want impact: How about a career-high 39 points? You want efficiency: How about 15-for-22 shooting? You want aggressiveness: How about a game-high 10 free throw attempts. You want leadership: How about a game-best 7 assists. You want defense: How about a co-game-high 3 blocked shots.
Derrick did literally everything his sternest critics could have possibly asked him to do. To me, his effort was embodied by a couple sequences that happened just after the midway point of the second quarter. WIth 4:58 remaining, Rose went way up to block a jumper by Rajon Rondo and came away with the rebound. About a half-minute later, Derrick outjumped Kevin Garnett to rip down a rebound and threw a terrific outlet pass to Kirk Hinrich, whose layup was goaltended.
It’s hard to properly describe the intensity of those plays, which occurred during a big Bulls run. But they showed me that Rose was ready to step up to the biggest challenge of his pro career so far. It was an amazing thing to watch. I mean, Rose may be taking his game to a whole new level while we watch. Keep your eyes peeled, folks.
Speaking of stepping up, how ’bout Kirk Hinrich? Captain Kirk has taken his lumps for years, mostly because he’s overpaid. And you know nobody else in the NBA is overpaid, right? The first half of the last three or four seasons have featured so many Kirk-centric trade rumors that people have made top 10 lists about them.
His response has always been to just keep playing. He did that last night…in spades. Hinrich finished with a season-high 30 points, going 11-for-20 from the field and 4-for-7 from downtown. And Kirk hit two of the biggest shots of the game: a three-pointer with 1:15 left and then an 18-footer right before the shot clock went off on Chicago’s very next possession.
Those were huge, huge shots that stymied Boston’s rally attempt. Yet another example of Hinrich answering the call after being left for dead by a basketball public that’s obsessed with the size of his contract.
Rose scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, during which he almost fouled out Rondo and make an absolute mockery of Nate Robinson’s efforts to defend him. Hinrich had 10. That’s out of 34 total points.
While the Bulls’ starting backcourt was scoring 69 of the team’s 101 points, Joakim Noah (16 rebounds) and Luol Deng (12 boards) were cleaning the glass. Brad Miller was bumping bodies and committing hard fouls. And the Bulls, as a team, were taking another step toward locking up a playoff berth.
There’s more to be done, of course. Chicago’s magic number is one: One win tonight against the Bobcats in Charlotte, or one loss by the Raptors in Toronto against the Knicks. It’s a worrisome prospect. After all, the Bulls might be worn out after their win over the Celtics, while the Raptors get to play a lottery team at home.
I’m not going to bother to hope for Toronto to lose. Who wants their team to back into the playoffs? No, I’m going to hope Rose and the rest of the Bulls saved a little something for the Bobcats.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
April 7, 2010
In terms of injuries and sheer dumb luck, the Bulls haven’t caught many breaks this season. But last night at least, the bad breaks started going their way for a change. Seemingly.
After all, the Milwaukee Bucks showed up to the United Center without Andrew Bogut, who will miss the rest of the season recovering from surgery on his broken right hand. By the numbers — Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares in particular — Bogut is Milwaukee’s best and most important player. That’s a pretty big loss.
What’s more, the Toronto Raptors — the team standing between the Bulls and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers after their best player, Chris Bosh, suffered a “maxilla and nasal fracture to the right side of his face” during a collision with Antawn Jamison.
So all the Bulls had to do to tie the Bosh-less Raptors in the standings was win a home game against the Bogut-less Bucks. Considering the fact that Chicago is set to face the Raptors in Toronto on Sunday, it looked like the Bulls’ destiny was finally in their own hands.
Of course, they blew it.
Normally, playing at home and holding an opponent to 79 points on 36 percent shooting is enough to win an NBA game. But after starting the game on fire and leading 27-14 at the end of the first quarter, the Bulls were outscored 28-9 in the second. And yes, those 9 points were Chicago’s season low for a single quarter.
When Bulls players are sitting at home watching the first round of the playoffs on television, they’ll probably remember that 12 minutes as the quarter that cost them a shot at the postseason.
What in the world happened? The Bulls had the advantage. They had the momentum. They had the motivation. Can somone explain this to me?
Kirk Hinrich, who’s 4-for-16 shooting night was a big part of the problem, said: “They’re a good defensive team, but I think it was more than just the shots. We kind of had them going early in the game, we were relaxed and then they kind of outworked us in the second quarter and that kind of changed the momentum of the game. I think it’s more mental. I think we have a tendency to relax. We relaxed and they cranked it up and they got more aggressive defensively and we never really had an answer for them.”
Whaaaaaa?! How? How does a team “relax” against a vulnerable opponent when their entire season is on the line? That’s as stunning as it is unacceptable.
This was a prime time for Derrick Rose to back up his words. Instead, he ate them. Rose dished out a game-best 11 assists but also finished with a game-worst 6 turnovers. He scored 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting and got to the free throw line only once. That last fact is more damning than the turnovers and bad shooting. Granted, the Bucks were clogging the paint to prevent penetration, and Chicago’s outside shooters weren’t opening things up. But Derrick needed to be more aggressive. He needed to force the action and earn some whistles when his team needed him the most. That’s what franchise players must do.
Instead, John Salmons haunted his old team by earning a game-high eight foul shots and scoring a game-best 26 points. Salmons brought his A-Game on a night when the rest of the Bucks’ starters contributed only 16 points on 6-for-26 shooting. Chicago’s loss really was Milwaukee’s gain. For this season, at least.
Granted, the Bulls fought their way back to take a 65-63 lead with 6:13 left. But the Bucks immediately regained control as Chicago’s offense started sputtering down the stretch. The Bulls simply could not get a good shot. Credit some strong defense by the Bucks…and some downright bawful playcalling by Vinny Del Negro.
Now, I’ve been trying to take it easy on Vinny lately. After all, the Bulls overachieved last season and — despite a litany of injuries — are at least in the hunt for a playoff berth this season. But the garbage he was calling down the stretch cut three or four years off my life span.
Again, Milwaukee’s defense was stellar — what else would you expect from a Scott Skiles-coached team? — and maybe the Bulls players failed to execute. But down by three points with under 10 seconds to go, Brad Miller got called for traveling on one of the ugliest drives to the hoop I’ve ever seen. Why was Miller going for two when his team desperately needed three? Don’t ask me.
And don’t ask me why, after a forced foul of Brandon Jennings that put the Bulls down by four points, the Bulls came out of the timeout and got a two-point jumper from Hinrich, the coldest-shooting player on the floor.
This was a total failure by everybody. The players failed. The coaching staff failed. And of course management gave the Bucks the player (Salmons) who is helping send the Bulls to the lottery.
Said Rose: “We weren’t passing the ball enough, me making poor decisions, everyone just couldn’t get in a groove today. Nobody could get in the right groove to pull this team along. That’s why we struggled. We haven’t played this way in a while.”
Given those facts, and the importance of this game, maybe it’s better the Bulls don’t make the playoffs.
Update! Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald lumped a lot of blame on Chicago’s dreadful lack of outside shooting. I would like to extend that to the Bulls’ lack of offensive diversity. Look, I’ve said this so often this season I don’t always bring it up to avoid needless repetition, but the Bulls are a mid-range jumpshooting team. They don’t have an inside scoring threat, and they don’t have high percentage long-range shooters.
Yes, I think Vinny’s playcalling deficiencies exacerbate that. But, honestly, when the offense bogs down, shots aren’t falling, and the opposing team clogs the paint, the Bulls are rendered helpless. Like, turtle-rolling-around-on-it’s-back helpless. There’s no safety valve. No post player to dump the ball to. No lineup of marksmen that can open up driving lanes. The Bulls are often the victim of what they don’t have.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
March 8, 2010
Let's hope he's not calling another play for Pargo...
A lot of fans are confusing and/or conflating some basic issues during these trying times for the Bulls. While every fan hopes for his or her team to make the playoffs, that goal is not necessarily consistent with the objectives of team management and owners. That’s not to say that they don’t want the team to go as far as possible this year, but rather that their prime objective has, for some time, been to acquire a top free-agent during the off-season, and to build a stronger contender in 2011.
So, for example, when fans gripe about the Bulls having traded Thomas and Salmons, they are really missing the main point, as reaching the playoffs was not management’s primary consideration. Also, as Matt has pointed out repeatedly, the Bulls have little chance of beating elite teams with Noah out, and other key players slowed by injuries. Had those trades not been made, the slide might not have been quite as precipitous as it threatens to be, but their presence would not have been able to prevent it.
What I believe has been somewhat overlooked through all the consternation about the trades is the overarching problem facing the team: VDN. When the team was healthy and playing well, and more recently, when the Noah-less Bulls beat some bad teams, del Negro’s weaknesses were overlooked by many. But now, as the Bulls are being exposed by better teams, his weaknesses have (again) become glaring.
Rather than review Vinny’s many faults, let’s look at one aspect of the Dallas game as an example that dovetails nicely with the above point about the Bulls (theoretically) being molded to be more formidable next year.
During a second-half stretch in which they had a realistic chance of reeling in the Mavericks, Vinny chose not only to use Pargo, but to rely on him heavily! Shouldn’t it be obvious to del Negro, as it has become to any alert observer, that Pargo is barely competent as a spot up shooter, let alone an all-around player? (As an aside, in stark contrast to the Pistons’ legendary Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, I’d submit that Pargo should be nicknamed “Two Sticks”, given how long it takes him to heat up enough to make two shots in a row.)
What was so incongruous (and further damning) about VDN’s use of Pargo, was how little he used James Johnson (FOUR minutes!). Johnson, as any half-serious observer will have noticed, is gaining confidence, and improving fairly rapidly with added playing time. Johnson played well enough in a brief stint during the first half of the game, and was precisely the sort of (healthy) athlete who could have been of defensive service against the likes of Butler and Marion, who were torching the Bulls with easy baskets. And yet VDN chose to rely heavily on a three-guard lineup, including a bad streak shooter who — God forbid — will play no part in the Bulls future, rather than continuing to develop a promising young player who might very well become a valuable contributor.
The Bulls’ management deserves criticism for many moves that they have made in recent years, but even more than any player personnel decisions that have been made, hiring and retaining VDN has been their most insidious and damaging recent blunder. Therefore, more than any draft pick that may result from what is likely to prove to be an otherwise disappointing season, the true silver lining could be — hopefully will be — the hiring of a new coach.
About the author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As a pick-up player, he admits to having stuck too long with low-top shoes (Puma Baskets, for the detail oriented), but did belatedly make the switch when the sprained ankles became tedious. Tony’s professional life revolves mainly around buying, selling and managing Thoroughbred racehorses. While he now resides outside of Chicago, he remains an interested, enthusiastic, and at times critical Bulls fan.