December 28, 2009
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine: “The decision to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro has already been made, according to sources with knowledge of the Chicago Bulls’ thinking. The fact that the Bulls’ front office has not been able to settle on a replacement is the main thing keeping the embattled Del Negro employed, the sources said.”
I know this is all uncomfirmed…but is anybody really surprised? Vinny always was the “Wet Floor” sign of NBA head coaches. Unless he made some serious magic happen, he was hired to be fired.
Apparently, there was some talk about having John Paxson, Chicago’s executive vice president of basketball operations, take over as coach, but Paxson wisely opted against that idea. Bulls management seemingly doesn’t want to go with assistant coaches Bernie Bickerstaff or Pete Myers, which leaves…who exactly?
There are several well-known coaches still available, including Avery Johnson, Byron Scott, Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Lawrence Frank and Sam Mitchell. Honestly, I’m not particularly excited about any of those guys, especially Frank and Mitchell. My first choice would be Van Gundy, because his teams play rugged defense and there’s always a chance he’ll get dragged around the court on somebody’s leg. Scott would be my second choice, with Johnson coming in a very distant third.
It might be easier to select a head coach if Chicago’s front office could decide on a team identity first. Should the Bulls take advantage of Derrick Rose’s innate abilities and become a running team, or should they cover up their offensive deficiencies by thinking defense first?
It seems like Vinny’s biggest problem (among the many) is that there is no specific focus on what the team should be or work toward becoming…hence the “we need to run, no we need to rebound, no we need to run” mixed messages. Say what you want about Scott Skiles, but he chose to focus on defense and hustle plays, and it worked until the players got tired of being directed around at the end of Skiles’ cattle prod. (“Why should we have to work so hard? We’ve already proved how good we are!”)
So which will it be: choose the coach and let him shape the team, or decide what kind of team you want and then select the coach who can make it happen?
Update! Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald says not to expect a move anytime soon: “For now, the Bulls are surely discussing future coaching candidates. They’d like a player-friendly coach, so that probably rules out Avery Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy. Lawrence Frank, Byron Scott and Kevin McHale figure to be possibilities. Almost no chance Doug Collins gets involved again. But it’s wide open right now and the established coaches tend to shy away from taking over at mid-season. That’s another reason they’ll try to keep Del Negro.”
December 23, 2009
Were the Bulls suffering from an emotional hangover after their epic failure against the Kings on Monday night? Well, let me put it this way: the Knicks entered Tuesday night’s game ranked 22nd in Defensive Efficiency (106.5 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions), and yet the Bulls staggered through a first quarter in which they scored only 12 points on 6-for-21 shooting while committing four turnovers. Chicago finished the first half with a point total (31) that was hardly bigger than their deficit (22).
I guess you could call that an emotional hangover.
In a reversal of the previous night’s debacle, the Bulls were the team who fought their way out of a huge crater. They did it behind the only three players who have been worth a darn this season: Derrick Rose scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half, Joakim Noah ripped down 21 rebounds to go with his 10 points, and Luol Deng added 23 points, 8 boards and 4 blocked shots. Those three guys accounted for all but nine of Chicago’s 50 second-half points.
Unfortunately, three was not enough. The Bulls actually pulled to within a point (80-79) on (gulp) one of Noah’s deadly Earthballs with 1:40 left, but that was as close as they could cut it. On New York’s next possession, Chris Duhon missed a layup, but David Lee snared the offensive board and got fouled by Joakim. The situation was eerily reminiscent of Jon Brockman’s offensive rebound that led to Tyreke Evans’ game-breaking 22-footer the previous night. Lee knocked down the foul shots and then it was a race against the clock. A race the Bulls lost.
So yeah, it was great the Bulls came back, but the end result was still another loss. All the team did was avoid some embarrassment. It reminds me of what Kevin McHale said after his Celtics almost came back against the Pistons in Game 6 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Semifinals: “Yeah, and the patient almost lived.”
In other words, moral victories are meaningless.
Noah seems to agree with McHale’s sentiment. He said the Bulls “definitely have a lot of soul searching to do” and added: “If you were my friend, I would tell you a lot of things, but I feel like if I say something, it’s just going to make things really bad. I’m not in a position as a player to really talk on that. We’re really going through hard times and I don’t want to make it even tougher.”
Huh. That doesn’t sound good.
Meanwhile, coach Vinny Del Negro sounded like he hit a “repeat” button from Monday night’s press conference: “We can’t play just a half of basketball. We’re not that good of a team to do that. We have to play consistently the whole game and we haven’t done that the last couple of nights and you usually get what you deserve, like I always say.”
Vinny had better hope that’s not true. For his sake. Otherwise, he might end up with a pink slip for Christmas.
Update! Check out this burning dis on Vinny and the team from Ken Burger of CBS Sports: “That wasn’t the only indictment of Del Negro that emerged Tuesday night. The most troubling, to me, came during the layup line. Less than 24 hours after blowing a 35-point lead on their home floor, the Bulls were clowning around during warmups as though they were getting ready to play the Rockettes. Miller, who contributed nothing but a scowl after tipoff, exerted more energy blocking shots and throwing alley-oop bounce passes than he did in the game. I learned two things from watching the Bulls’ layup drill: 1) Jannero Pargo can’t dunk, despite a half dozen of his best efforts; and 2) The Bulls are an undisciplined mess, a team that lacked the conscience to be ashamed of what happened to them the night before.”
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
December 22, 2009
Not again? How about never before?
With 8:49 left in the third quarter, John Salmons hit an 11-footer to help the Bulls go up 79-44 on the Kings. For those who enjoy simple math, that represented a 35-point lead with less than 21 minutes to go. Completely and utterly insurmountable, right?
Historically speaking, it should have been. But, of course, it was not.
Sacramento outscored Chicago an astounding 58-19 the rest of the way, including 33-10 in the fourth quarter. No home team had ever lost after building a lead that huge. It was the biggest come-from-ahead loss in Bulls franchise history. Conversely, it was the largest come-from-behind win in Kings franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the biggest comeback since Utah overcame a 36-point deficit to beat Denver on November 27, 1996.
That’s some pretty epic fail right there. As John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times said: “There’s no way of knowing for sure, but the Bulls might be the first team in NBA history to be booed off their home court in a game in which they had a 35-point lead.”
What makes this loss even more stunning is that things started off so well. The Bulls began the game by playing some of their best, most confident basketball of the season. In the first quarter, they shot lights out (71 percent), took care of the ball (zero turnovers), and played inspired defense (forcing the Kings into 39 percent shooting and 7 turnovers). Chicago went ahead by 24 at halftime and then opened the third quarter with a 12-1 run that seemed to put the game hopelessly out of the Sactowners’ reach.
Frankly, it was the kind of performance that people have been expecting from the Bulls all season: efficiently and rather mercilessly taking care of business at home against a lesser team. And I’m sure coach Vinny Del Negro had to be thinking about getting his starters some rest for tomorrow night’s game in New York.
Well, they got their rest all right…by going to sleep in the court. May I suggest some narcolepsy medication? Some 5-Hour Energy, perhaps?
My mind is still boggled by what happened. The Kings committed their fifth personal foul with 7:45 to go in the fourth quarter, which meant the Bulls would be shooting free throws on every foul from that point forward. After Salmons knocked down his freebies from that foul, Chicago was still up 94-79. All the Bulls had to do to secure the win was be aggressive, attack the basket, and force Sacramento to foul them. You want to know how many foul shots they earned in the next seven minutes? Four. And they missed two of them.
Instead of pressing their advantage, the Bulls got sloppy. How sloppy? Chicago gave up 23 points off 20 after the first quarter. They committed nine of those turnovers in the fourth quarter, including two shot clock violations, a three-second violation and a carry. They went 2-for-10 from the field during the fourth while giving up 17 points in the final 3:08. The Bulls also surrendered four huge offensive rebounds in that final period, including two in the final 1:12 that led to 1) Evans’ 22-footer that made it 99-96 with 50 seconds left and 2) Evans’ free throw that made it 100-98 with 15 seconds left. Obviously, those boards were critical.
What in the world happened?
Said Luol Deng: “I think we relaxed. We were making mistakes defensively. We were just not aggressive and that carries over to offense. It’s frustrating.”
Added Del Negro: “It was a matter of us not being smart at either end. It’s frustrating. It’s difficult. But what are you going to do, put your head down and feel sorry for yourself?”
Oh, I don’t know, Vinny…how about making some defensive adjustments? Tyreke Evans absolutely killed the Bulls down the stretch. In the final 2:13, Evans outscored the Bulls 9-3 by himself. He started by bolting past Kirk Hinrich and converting a layup while also drawing a foul from Deng. (And of course he knocked down the ensuing free throw.) He hit another driving layup on Sacramento’s next possession, tying the game in the process.
On the Kings’ next trip down the floor, Evans got past Hinrich again, drawing the foul. He hit the first foul shot to put Sacramento up by a point. Evans bricked the second freebie, but the Bulls couldn’t corral his miss. The Kings milked the shot clock before Evans drilled a 22-footer in Deng’s face to put his team up 99-96 with 50 seconds left.
That was a dagger.
Here’s what I want to know. Once it became obvious that the Bulls couldn’t contain Evans with single coverage – the dude was leaving skid marks on poor Hinrich – why didn’t Vinny switch things up? Maybe throw a few double teams at him, try to get the ball out of his hands. Wouldn’t it be better to make, say, Beno Udrih or Jon Brockman try to beat you?
Here’s another thought. Once it became obvious the Bulls were sleepwalking through the fourth quarter, why not insert Jannero Pargo? And I mean before there are only five seconds left in the game. The guy is a spark plug. I can guarantee you Pargo would have been aggressive even if everybody else was standing around twiddling their thumbs. If you have somebody who can come off the bench shooting, what better time to use him than to counter a case of group lethargy?
Look, I’ve tried to cut Vinny some slack. I mean, we all know he’s not Phil Jackson. We also know he’s had to deal with a brutal schedule, a variety of injuries and a group of underperforming players. But it’s the coach’s job to make the necessary adjustments when his team starts to let down. Defensive switches, strategic substitutions, demanding that his players attack the rim on every single possession to take advantage of being in the penalty. Any one of these things might have saved the Bulls from this catastrophe.
And make no mistake: my use of the word “catastrophe” is not an overstatement. The team’s psyche has been fragile all season. After a handful of strong performances last week, they were finally getting a little swagger back. I saw it in the first half. But this kind of loss is a confidence killer.
How will the players respond tomorrow night against the Knicks?
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
Go here to read a Sacramento fan’s breakdown of the game with links to several related writeups.
December 11, 2009
The Bulls are in the midst of their patented early-season slump — going into tonight’s matchup the Golden State Warriors, they’ve lost nine of their last 10 games – and the villagers are lighting torches and sharpening their pitchforks.
“Fire Vinny!” has become a popular refrain. And he knows it.
Naturally, the press wants to know whether Vinny is worried about his future in Chicago. His take: “You guys worry about that stuff; I don’t. I talk to Gar [Forman, the Bulls' general manager] every day. They understand how hard the staff’s working and what we’re trying to do. ‘That’s all you can do. You have to keep on moving along. As bad as it is, it’s still pro basketball and there’s a lot of positives. There’s no question there’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it interesting and worthwhile.”
Ever notice how often the word “interesting” pops up when bad things are happening? “Interesting” is almost never good.
More Vinny: “It’s easy to sit back on the sidelines and everyone has these great ideas and people think they know what they’re talking about. ”But until you live it and do it, no one has an idea. ‘All you guys have to write and do your jobs and come up with stories and things, and that’s all great and you have to do that. But you guys really don’t know what it’s like — you know what I mean? — because you’ve never done it.”
Fair enough. Of course, I’ve never actually slipped on a banana peel either, but I still know enough to avoid doing it.
Anyway, it’s not surprising to see the guillotines going up all over Chicago. When a team underperforms, the coach is usually called into question in various demeaning and sometimes profane ways. Those questions are often followed by an unceremonious axing by management. You know, the same guys who hired the coach and assembled the talent. Just ask Tim Floyd (who “resigned” on Christmas Eve in 2001), Bill Cartright (who was canned before December in 2003), or Scott Skiles (who got fired on Christmas Eve in 2007).
But although Del Negro hasn’t exactly set the coaching world on fire — and some of the rookie coaching mistakes he made last season were both obvious and embarrassing — here’s a question worth asking: Are these Bulls really underachieving?
Think about it. Even on paper, this wasn’t going to be a great team. In a best-case scenario, the Bulls had aspirations of above-averageness. The general consensus was Chicago could win 40-ish games and maybe compete for an “upper-lower seed” in the East (say fifth or sixth).
But even so, it was well-known that the Bulls had to 1) adjust to life without Ben Gordon and therefore develop a new team identity, 2) work Luol Deng back into the mix, 3) deal with any injuries that popped up (such as the ones suffered by Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, plus the lingering aches and pains of Jannero Pargo), and 4) contend with a rather brutal schedule that was front-loaded with road games and includes a league-high 22 sets of back-to-backs.
Considering all that, it’s actually understandable the Bulls are struggling in the early going.
Of course, it hasn’t just been the losses that has the natives feeling all restless, it’s been the way the Bulls are losing. Blown out (and badly) at home by the Raptors, losing at home to the 1-19 New Jersey “Nyets,” not even competing after the first quarter in a loss to the Hawks in Atlanta. With the way they’ve played in their last few games, the these Bulls have been drawing rather fair comparisons to the Tim Floyd-era teams that failed win 50 games over three vomit-inducing seasons.
Losing is one thing. Appearing not to muster even a half-hearted effort is another.
So…what’s Rose’s take? ”I don’t really know what to do. It’s all mental. Either you want it or don’t. It’s not about what plays we run or nothing. It’s about hustle. If want it, defend people and rebound. It’s all mental now.” When asked whether the players “wanted it” against the Hawks, Rose added: “It speaks for itself. We’re just not playing hard, not rebounding the ball as a team and playing our regular game.”
For his part, Rose doesn’t sound like somebody who’s quitting on his coach. Are the rest of the Bulls doing it, though? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just quitting on themselves, which can happen when a team is slumping. It’s hard to go all-out when everything is going wrong and everyone is out-of-sync.
That’s not to make excuses for the players, or for Vinny. But expectations must be grounded in reality. And the reality is: this was a poorly constructed team (no low post presence, loads of players who rely on forced, long-distance two-point jump shots) that has been set back by injuries, scheduling, and a crisis of confidence.
Look, if the team management wants to go out and hire a better coach — assuming there’s someone who’s capable, ready, and available — I’m fine with that. More than fine, even. But firing Vinny without someone really good and very proven waiting in the wings is nothing more than prestidigitation, a way to distract fans from the many non-Vinny problems facing the Bulls, not only as a team, but as an organization.
Let’s face it, Doc Rivers looked like a bum of a coach before Danny Ainge gave him Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play with. I’m not defending Vinny…I’m just sayin’.
December 9, 2009
I moved to Chicago back in the summer of 1998, so I didn’t become a hard core Bulls fan until the Michael Jordan era was coming to its storybook ending. It was a case of unlucky timing on my part, because the Bulls were about to go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the trash heap.
This meant that, as a fan, I had to live through some very dark times.
I’m talking about the Tim Floyd era. I’m talking about a three-season stretch in which the Bulls won a total of 45 games. I’m talking about 47-point losses to the Orlando Magic. In short, I’m talking about real wrath of God type stuff: fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!
Yeah. Dark times indeed. I’ll tell you this much: I learned to appreciate what Clippers fans have gone through for, well, ever. But I can honestly say I’ve never felt as demoralized as I did when the Bulls lost to the New Jersey Nets last night.
I really thought that 110-78 homecourt loss to the Toronto Raptors was going to be the low point of the season for the Bulls. I was sure of it. I simply could not envision a more painful loss. Then the Nets strolled into town with a 1-19 record and nothing to lose. I have to admit, I was looking past them to the game against the Hawks in Atlanta tomorrow night. I don’t know if the Bulls were looking ahead too, but I sure was.
Well, my bad. And Chicago’s bad, too. Very bad.
What makes the whole dreary situation even more galling is that there were actually some really positive signs in the game. Taj Gibson scored a career-high 20 points (8-for-12) off the bench. Luol Deng scored 27 points (10-for-17) on a variety of jumpers, post moves and even three-pointers (two of them!). But best of all, there was Derrick Rose, who had his best game of the season (27 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists, a steal and a block).
It wasn’t just the gaudy statistics, though. Rose asserted himself — I mean, really asserted himself — down the stretch for the first time this season. He scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, two of which came on a running, one-handed jumper with 19 seconds left. That shot gave the Bulls a 100-99 lead…but it didn’t last.
After a New Jersey timeout, it took Devin Harris all of five seconds to answer Rose’s shot with a running one-hander of his own. Said Harris: “I saw an opening and I knew what to do. It was the same play they ran, we ran on the other end. Pretty much an isolation. It was my shot to take. It just happened that we both ended up hitting runners, going right.”
Now the Bulls were down 101-100 with 14 seconds left, and it was Vinny Del Negro’s turn to write up a clutch play.
I don’t know what play the Bulls were supposed to run. What I do know is that John Salmons (12 points, 4-for-12) caught the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the arc and jacked up a 25-footer with seven seconds still on the clock. It didn’t go in, Harris pulled down the rebound and the game was pretty much over.
And that, my friends, is how the Nets got their second win of the season.
Pain in the paint:
Oh yes. Chicago’s interior defense was once again the goat in yet another brutal loss. Brook Lopez (25 points, 9-for-14, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots) became the latest in a looooong line of big men who have had their way with the Bulls (both this season and last), and the Nets racked up a whopping 54 points in the paint. In all, they got 16 layups and five dunks. And when they weren’t scoring outright, they either earned free throws (28 of them) or created open looks.
In all seriousness, the Bulls’ inability to protect the basket is their biggest weakness. Bigger than any of the many things going wrong for them on offense. Although, speaking of which…
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
With the way the Bulls handled the ball last night, I can only assume they’ve been taking passing lessons from Jay Cutler. By game’s end, they had given up 20 points off 19 turnovers. By contrast, the Nets gave up only 11 points off 14 turnovers.
Other little problems:
The Bulls missed eight free throws. Sure, the final miss was intentionally bricked by Rose because Chicago had to try and get the ball back for a last-second, game-tying two-pointer. But still, Rose and Gibson went 0-for-4 on back-to-back possessions near the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Both teams looked great when they got out on the fast break. Unfortunately, the Nets did more running, which is why they outscored the Bulls 20-10 in fast break points. You know, the Bulls are such a lousy shooting/scoring team that they really need to run, run, run and then run some more. Why not take advantage of Derrick’s speed?
Like I said, Rose stepped up and became a go-to guy down the stretch. That was awesome. What was decidedly less awesome was Rose’s defense. He simply could not stay in front of his man. Even Rafer Alston (15 points in only 17 minutes) was burning Rose alive. It boggles my mind that someone as speedy and athletically gifted as Rose can’t stay in front of, well, anybody. Honestly, my gast is flabbered.
Vinny’s big adjustment was starting Brad Miller. ‘Nuff said.
Here’s what he had to say about the three by Salmons that killed any chance the Bulls had of pulling this one out: “The play was designed for Derrick to come and get the ball. … Derrick was unable to get open and we went to John Salmons. We did not attack on that and pulled back for the jumper.”
Quote of the night:
Said Joakim Noah: “It never feels good to lose to the team with the worst record in the NBA. It hurts.”
New Jersey entered last night’s game on an 18-game road losing streak stretching back into last season. Furthermore, the Nets came into the game scoring a league-worst 87.6 PPG. They surpassed that average by over 15 points against the Chicago defense.
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart.
November 30, 2009
Finally, mercifully, this year’s circus trip is coming to an end. After their 1-4 start to this edition of their annual trek through hell, the Bulls are 10-60 this decade when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to Chicago. Human words cannot adequately describe that level of fail.
When the worse-than-expected Bulls finish wrap up the trip in Milwaukee against the better-than-expected Bucks, it probably will be without Kirk Hinrich and his sprained left thumb. Said Captain Kirk: “It would have to improve considerably. It’s still really sore. I have trouble gripping. It doesn’t feel strong. But I’m pretty confident it’s not going to be long.”
Well, that’s a relief.
As you may have heard, an MRI of Hinrich’s cranky digit confirmed the left thumb ligament wasn’t torn. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Hinrich said he’s visiting a specialist on Monday merely for ‘closure’ and to get ‘more of a timetable’ for how long he’ll be sidelined.”
So…is there any chance at all he’ll play?
Added Hinrich: “[Sunday] it was a little bit better, but it’s still very sore. I wear this splint just to keep it from moving because pretty much any movement, it’s very sore. I have trouble gripping anything, like tying my shoe, opening bottles or anything like that. If it feels better [tonight] and I feel like I can give it a go, I’m gonna try and play.”
Sounds like a big “maybe” to me. But Vinny Del Negro downgraded that somewhat optimistic appraisal to what sounds like a bigger “no.”
Said Del Negro: ”He hasn’t practiced. We need him to get back, but we want to be smart about it.”
Fair enough. No sense in risking Kirk’s health in November. It is, after all, a long season.
With Hinrich out, that means more minutes for Derrick Rose…not to mention a starring role as the primary defender for Brandon Jennings. You may remember Jennings as the rookie who dropped a game-high 25 points on the Bulls a month ago and a bigtime 55 points on the (notably defenseless) Golden State Warriors back on November 14.
The good news for Rose is that Jennings has been cooling off a bit lately. The kid went 7-for-22 from the field in a 100-98 loss to the Magic on Saturday, and he’s averaged only 14.0 points and 29.0 percent shooting in Milwaukee’s last four games. Not coincidentally, the Bucks lost all four of those games.
That doesn’t mean the Bulls should relax, though. The end of a long road trip usually results in a major letdown game for the visiting team, which could result in a comeback game for Jennings. But Rose apparently has an anti-Jennings plan: “You have to make sure you always stay in front of him, contest all his jump shots; it’s like that with any other good guard. He can score and so can every guard in the league. You just have to make it difficult for him.”
Rose knows what he’s talking about. After all, opposing defenses have been making it difficult for him all season.
Interestingly enough, Rose has been the opposite of Jennings on this circus trip. When Brandon’s scoring tailed off, the Bucks started losing. Meanwhile, Chicago’s depressing four-game slide — all four of which have been double-digit smackdowns — has coincided with the return of Derrick’s offense. Rose has averaged a shade over 20 PPG on 50.7 percent shooting during the losing streak. Before that, he had been averaging 13.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting.
It remains to be seen whether the Bulls have what it takes to salvage the final game of this brutal trip, but Vinny seemed awful upbeat about the team’s chances: “We’ve had a couple of days to practice. We just have to bounce back and play well, get a good game under our belts and find a way to win on the road. It usually comes down to the fourth quarter. If you’re able to execute and make plays, you can win, and we haven’t done that the last few games.”
Four-quarter execution can be difficult for tired teams…which the Bulls probably will be. After all, they weren’t terribly deep to begin with. Now they’re minus one starter (Tyrus Thomas) and their primary backcourt reserve/best perimeter defender. Will their seven-man rotation be enough to pull out a win in Milwaukee? We’ll see.
October 29, 2009
There’s not a lot of data available for a full preview, but I do have some thoughts / questions for the Bulls’ season opener:
1. How long and (more importantly) how well will Derrick Rose play? Remember, he just wants to be the best at his position.
2. Is really Luol Deng ready to go?
3. Will Tim Duncan eat Tyrus Thomas alive?
4. Will the Spurs be gassed after thrashing the Hornets last night and then travelling to Chicago?
5. Will DeJuan Blair (14 points, 11 boards off the bench against the Hornets) make the Bulls regret not drafting him?
6. Has Vinny Del Negro figured out a rotation? Speaking of which…
7. And the starting lineup is…?
8. How badly — if at all — will the Bulls miss Ben Gordon (who had 22 points off the Pistons bench last night).
9. Will Joakim Noah be able to wreck the world in his battle with Matt Bonner. On that subject…
10. Why oh why did the Aaron Gray injury have to rob the world of a potential Bonner versus Gray matchup?
June 1, 2009
According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Bulls assistant Del Harris will announce plans to retire from coaching today. Harris, 71, worked one season on the Bulls bench after spending the previous eight seasons as an assistant with Dallas. The Indiana native was a head coach for 14 seasons with Milwaukee, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was NBA coach of the year in 1995 with the Lakers and led the Rockets to the 1981 NBA Finals.”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune got a few words out of Harris regarding his looooong career: “I’m proud of the 50 years. I didn’t want to quit after 49. And though I never won that title, I don’t think that’s a failure. I’ve impacted people. I still have players I coached in high school and college who call me. That means more to me than wins.”
And here’s the “but” statement on the relative finality of his retirement: “Like Michael Jordan, Brett Favre and Muhammad Ali, I reserve the right to change my mind.”
My enduring memory of Del — other than his amazing turn as Lieutenant Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun movies — is of his Coach of the Year performance in 1994-95, when he coaxed 48 wins and a first-round upset of the Seattle Sonics out of a Lakers squad that featured a starting lineup of Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos, Anthony Peeler, Vlade Divac and Elden Campbell. (And mind you, that Sonics team would make it all the way to the NBA Finals the next season…where they lost to the Bulls.)
Meanwhile, Vinny Del Negro now has an empty spot next to him on the bench. Who’s going to fill it? According to the Johnson: “[the vacancy] could be filled by holdover Pete Myers or another candidate. League sources said former Bulls guard and current Sacramento Kings assistant Randy Brown interviewed with Del Negro here at this week’s NBA predraft camp, although indications are Brown could be hired in a player development role rather than coaching. Myers, whose contract ends after June, had been relegated to a behind-the-bench role with little input last season. Still, sources indicate Myers remains in good standing with the organization and that attempts to have Del Negro expand his role could be made.”
April 22, 2009
The second-biggest storyline coming out of Game 2 — after Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon — was the Bulls’ lack of timeouts in the closing seconds, which forced a final (and fatal) 50-foot heave from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. And in true “I’m Italian!” fashion, the one person not second-guessing Vinny Del Negro is…Vinny Del Negro.
According to the Notorious VDN: “You always want to try and keep a time out, but you always want to try to keep yourself in the game. There’s no need to save your time outs if you’re down 15 points, or 10, or 12. At certain times, when they’re making runs like that, and we get the ball with 20 seconds to go in the game and we’re down two, I want to make sure we get a good shot and have an opportunity to tie. Because if we don’t execute well and set something up — especially with a young team — then they’re shooting free throws and the game’s probably over. So I would have liked to have had one at the end, but sometimes you can keep them and sometimes you have to use them to stay in the game.
“People are going to second guess and first guess. So what? I don’t care. They can guess. I’m the coach. I’m going to make the decisions. That’s the way it is. In two seconds or whatever we’ve got to take the ball out of bounds. The ball is going to go to Derrick, because he’s our fastest guy to get it up the court. We set up a play in the time out. We didn’t execute it because the Celtics did a good job with their execution. And that’s the end of the game. I mean, two seconds, I don’t second guess that.”
And now, the money shot. On whether he regrets his use (or, if you’re a critic, misuse) of timeouts: “No not at all. Not a second.”
First off, let’s look at the timeouts Vinny called down the stretch. There was a full timeout with 1:54 following a couple miscues by the Bulls and a quick mini-spurt by the Celtics that cut a five-point Chicago lead to 109-108. The result: A midrange shot from Ben Gordon to make it 111-108. There was a 20-second timeout with a minute left and Boston up 112-111. The result: A 20-footer from BG to put Chicago up 113-112. The final pause, another 20-second timeout with 20 ticks on the clock, predeced another Gordon jumper (from 16 feet out) that tied the game at 115-115 with 12 seconds to go.
To recap: All three late-game TOs resulted in made shots that either increased the lead, took the lead or tied the game. (Chicago’s only other second-half timeout was used with 2:50 left in the third quarter.) So in a sense, they were a success in that they all led to scoring conversions, which gave the team a very real chance to win the game. And mind you, there’s some 20-20 hindsight going on here. The only reason people are screaming about this is because Ray Allen hit an incredible shot over Joakim Noah. If Allen had missed that shot — which wouldn’t have been much of a stretch — then nobody’s talking about this now.
And honestly, what was Vinny supposed to say? Would it have made his critics — or, more importantly, his team — feel any better if he was killing himself with regret? I doubt it. And while I certainly hope that Vinny is able to hold onto a timeout (or two) in Game 3, I’d be giving him a little more hairy eyeball if the ones he called in Game 2 had ended in empty possessions.
Onto rebounding, the third-biggest storyline of Game 2. According to one AP article, the Bulls are “seething” over how badly they were beaten on the boards. (Note that there aren’t any particularly juicy quotes that communicate that seething feeling, but whatever.) To tell you the truth, I’ll be more interested to see what kind of adjustments Vinny makes in the team’s rebounding than how many timeouts he holds onto. Can he rely on Joakim, Tyrus and Brad to deny Boston the second-chance opportunities they lived off of in Game 2? Will he press the “little guys” (Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons) to crash the boards a little harder? And if he does, will that slow down the running game?
I tend to think he’ll continue to put the onus on his big men to get the job done. The Bulls have become a running team. Their fast break has really hurt the Celtics in the first two games; Chicago had a 24-13 advantage in fast break points in Game 1 and a 21-10 edge in Game 2. I doubt he’ll want to surrender that weapon.
Update! Actually, Vinny’s putting the onus on everybody. Here’s the scoop: “Everybody has to do a better job rebounding, not just the bigs. Guards have to get in there and get long rebounds. Rondo has hurt us bad with his rebounding and overall game.”
One last thing. According to a little urban legendry, Chicago’s team logo might hide a rather benign secret: “If you turn the Bull’s head upside down it reveals…a robot sitting on a park bench, reading the Bible. The Bull’s nostrils form the robot’s eyes, its furrowed brows are the open pages of the book, and the horns are the legs of a park bench. (Why the Bible? Well, it just looks like a big book.)” And in case you need a visual:
Not exactly the Da Vinci Code…but mildly interesting nonetheless.
April 8, 2009
Bad news straight from the source: “I increased the workout a little bit and had a great deal of pain. So I’m just going to try and be off of everything for a little bit again. I don’t want to get to that point [where his season is over]. Even if I’m capable of being back for five or 10 miniutes, whatever, so guys can sit down a little bit because guys are playing a lot of minutes I can help out. Now I can’t even scrimmage for five minutes let a lone go and play. I’m hoping next week to try and increase it again and see how it goes.”
Added Vinny Del Negro: “That has been the mind-set all along just because I know how much pain the guy is in. He works and feels better and then doesn’t feel as well. If there’s a way to get him back, we’d love to. But we also want to be smart about it. He has a pretty good injury.”
If Luol’s still in “a great deal of pain” and can’t even practice, the Bulls need to end the farce and just shut him down for the season. There’s no reason to risk his future health for a playoff run that’s unlikely to last more than four or five games. Grant Hill did that for the Pistons back in the 2000 playoffs…and we all know how epically badly that turned out.