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.