Trending downward


When I started this blog, I decided to write a short recap of every game the Bulls have played this season. To be completely honest, I just wanted to generate some content because the site is brand new. I figured it would be give readers something to look at. However, reading summaries and perusing box scores for 40+ games had another unexpected benefit: It allowed me to pinpoint certain (to me) glaring trends. For instance, the Bulls have a maddening (read that: pitiful, feeble, distressing) habit of surrendering season-highs to so-so (or worse) frontcourt players. Guys like Joel Przybilla, Darko Milicic, Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace and Nick Collison are among the players who have put up season-bests against The Windy City Male Cows. (Note that some of those players might have since surpassed their performances against Chicago; I haven’t checked.) That trend continued against the Hawks, as Zaza Pachulia scored a season-high 18 points.

Pachulia’s big game wasn’t lost on Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls coach said: “Bibby had his way with us. But I thought the difference really was Pachulia. His 18 points really, really bothered us because he got easy points, layups.” That Zaza! He’s such a bother! I wonder if Vinny’s noticed that the Zazas of the league keep having those kinds of bothersome games against his team.

Another thing I noticed was a series of turnover meltdowns that either caused the Bulls to fall behind early or cost them the chance to win tight games. And, sure enough, they bumbled away the Atlanta game with 18 miscues that gave the Hawks 22 bonus points. Again, Vinny saw it – “The Turnovers really hurt,” he wisely perceived – but his observations sound like a broken record. Sorry, that’s a dated saying. They sound like a scratched CD that keeps skipping over the same chorus over and over. Better?

Then there’s the consistent inconsistency of Tyrus “Groundhog Day” Thomas. His ups and downs are giving me chronic whiplash, not to mention some pretty trippy Tyson Chandler flashbacks. Good one game, crummy the next, that’s our T-Time. Last week, he had 15 points (5-for-10), 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots against the Cavaliers and then 7 points (3-for-8), zero [!!] rebounds and a block against the Spurs. So far this week, he was great against the Knicks (19 points, 8-for-11, 10 rebounds) and then a no-show against the Hawks (6 points, 2-for-7, 1 rebound). Plus, he’s already in that late Chris Webber “falling in love with my 15 to 17-foot jump shot” phase. But he’s hitting only 33 percent of his outside shots! And I keep getting this unsettling feeling that we’re going to give up on him and then watch him break out for some other team…just like Chandler.

The Bulls don’t have a go-to guy. Ben Gordon isn’t it, and Derrick Rose won’t be until he starts getting whistles. And they don’t have any end-game offensive sets that can produce anything but low-percentage jumpers under pressure.

Which brings us to Vinny D, whose post-game comments are indicative of a man who can’t make coaching adjustments when his team needs them most: During the fourth quarter. After the game, Del Negro deduced the following: “You have to make plays,. You can’t turn the ball over. You have to play smart. You have to know your limitations and know time and score. We’re playing hard but not real efficient at times.”

Well, golly, thanks for that, Vinny. And see, that’s been my problem with Del Negro from the beginning. I remember listening to Vinny doing a pregame interview on ESPN 1000 early in the season. Someone asked him whether he let Derrick Rose run the offense or whether he handled the playcalling. His response, and I’m paraphrasing here, was something like: “Well, Derrick’s a rookie, so I call every play down the floor every time. On the other hand, basketball is spontaneous, so I want Derrick to feel free to ignore me and call his own plays.” That comment made me do a double-take even though I was alone in my car. I mean, which is it coach: Are you running the team, or is your rookie point guard?

Now, I understand what he was getting at. But Del Negro always looks so lost and confused during games, and he sounds vague and wishy-washy afterward. So he thinks his team need to shoot better, not turn the ball over, defend down the stretch. Yeah, okay, Vinny, that’s basketball 101. Del Negro doesn’t seem to have a clear, strong, forceful vision for what the Bulls are or should be. Or maybe he does and simply can’t put it into practice. For instance, every year I have to do some “acting” for an annual company video. When I’m prepping, my lines always sound smooth and natural. But once that camera is rolling, I lock up and belt out the words like I’m an alien meeting humans for the first time ever. (“Greeting…Earth Man…I am Gloort. You are how now?”)

What I’m saying is I don’t think that Vinny’s suddenly forgotten everything he knows about basketball, just that he’s struggling to teach it. It would help, I think, if (as I said) he knew what he was trying to create. Say what you will about Scott Skiles, but he put an emphasis on defense and giving all-out hustle on every play. He knew what he was doing and what his team was about. Had he been asked that same pregame question I mentioned above, he would have said something like: “We prepare Derrick to run our offense every day in practice. He knows the plays and I trust him to run them. If we hit a rough patch, I’ll call a timeout and draw up a play to get us back on track. Otherwise, it’s in Derrick’s hands.” Do you see the difference and why it matters?

My theory is that this is one of those “Secret Rebuilding Years” that teams periodically go through. John Paxson won’t come out and say the obvious: We aren’t going anywhere with this group of players this season. But the 2008-09 Bulls feel like a lab experiment. Spurned by the coach they really wanted (Mike D’Antoni), Pax went with a Del Negro because nobody better was available. Worst case scenario is that ownership gets to find out whether Vinny can coach while Rose develops and struggles through his rookie growing pains. And, while that’s going on, Johnny can reconsider the existing talent and shuffle/trade players without worrying about records and playoff positioning. He might claim that the goal is for this team to make the playoffs, but it isn’t. This is a talent evaluation year, from the coaches on down to the last man sitting at the end of the bench.

So where does that leave us as fans? I’ll be getting to that in the next day or so…

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8 Responses to Trending downward

    yoitsme January 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Bibby had his way with us? hehehe

    cilantromOnkay January 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    In your research you wrote that they bulls three main issues are giving career nights to mediocre players, turning the ball over at key points, and not having a go-to player down the stretch.

    Given the quote you provided from vdn it seems like he gets all because he, essentially, said the exact same thing. “You can’t turn the ball over.” (self-explanatory). “You have to know your limitations and know time and score.” (i.e. the players who are trying to be go-to players are not real go-to players).

    I guess the question becomes whether or not a coach can fix any of those problems mid-season and with no change in personal.

    First, I mean really, what are you supposed to do about turnovers anyways? Do you practice NOT turning the ball over? Obviously not but the issue is still “coachable” in so far as the problem is chemistry: players sulking on the team, potential trades looming, and a coach that the players perhaps dont respect. Bad passing and bad flow come from teams that dont have set rotations and dont have a hierarchy of players that everyone respects (i.e some players think they should be playing more and other think they should be shooting more).

    The giving away career nights to mediocre players is definitely an issue with the coach. It simply means that players are not being properly prepared for any other players then the opposing teams stars. Sure, players like noah and tt could be unprofessional and not really pay attention to scouting of mediocre players. I doubt this is the crux of the problem because the career nights seem to come from players at all positions not just, say, pf or center.

    Not having a go-to player down the stretch. Well the issue here is the hierarchy on the team. Gordan has shown the ability to make big-shots and manufacture offense but he fluctuates on this because occasionally the bulls run into a team that has a player that can stay in front of him. Gordan definitely is not at the level of stardom where he can impose his will on whomever is guarding him.

    I mean really you hit the nail on the coffin when you said they are relying on rose. Obviously, rose is that leader. What was the issue before this year? People where asking larry hughes at the end of last year whether or not the bulls needed a real pack leader, a wolf, and an assassin. They dont ask that anymore because Rose has shown glimpses of that this year.

    It really comes down to the fact that the bulls when close games when rose is facing defenses that are prone to his type of attack and when his jump shot is falling. If you watch the games that rose has taken over down the stretch and been a true go-to guy — having his number called time and again — he essentially fakes the drive to the hoop, gets separation from the opposing point guard and knocked down the mid-range shot.

    If they aint falling then the bulls aint winning in crunch time.

    Junior January 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Don’t you think at this point, Eddie Jordan would be a good coach to the Bulls? he failed this season with the wizards, but he was doing a good job if you see the Wizards on the last three-four seasons

    BadDave January 21, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Hmm – I disagree. Part of turnovers is how you run an offense. Heck, even having an offensive scheme will help da Bullsh now. They just run willy-nilly down the court – it’s mass hysteria.

    It is much to expect them to change mid-season, but some improvement on the handles is within reason.

    Hillmatic January 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm #

    Say all you want about the assemblance of talent on this team. The single person responsible for this catastrophe is Pax. As a person I respect him and what he has done for the Bulls as a player and a GM rescuing us from the abyss of the post Jordan years. But it’s run it’s course. The hiring of VDN was the final straw on my book. At this point I have no idea what he told Pax during this interview, but it’s obvious he has no idea or vision of what kind of identity he wants to instill. At least with Skiles we knew what he was about. I have no clue what the Bulls are doing at either end of the court….and I don’t think he does either.

    PT from Oaktown January 22, 2009 at 12:13 am #

    If they just could: keep Hughes and gooden on the bench, then played defense hard like the Skiles era, ran picks or actual plays for Deng or Gordon to shoot the jumper, didn’t let Gordon Dribble in the 4th quarter, and didn’t let TT shoot from outside, we would have twice as many wins.

    That sums it up for me. This team is hard to watch. Gordon TT stop turning the ball over you are killing me!

    DUDURTY January 22, 2009 at 12:57 am #

    I too believe this is all Paxson’s fault. Why hire VDN when you had Avery johnson out there. VDN and Pax should be fired neither one knows what they want out of this team.

    Matt McHale January 22, 2009 at 4:52 am #

    cilantromOnkay — I do believe that the correct coaching can limit turnovers. The Bulls just don’t play with a lot of discipline right now. They get out of control. Again, I’m not saying Scott Skiles is the world’s best coach, nor that his squads didn’t have turnover meltdowns, but his teams had much more offensive cohesiveness and discipline than Vinny’s bunch…despite the fact that, by and large, they’re the same group of guys.

    Junior — The reason I’m not sure I’d want Eddie coaching the Bulls is because, except for one successful stretch last season, he couldn’t get the Wizards to play defense with any consistency. The Bulls need that. That’s another one of their problems I didn’t mention in today’s post…

    Hillmatic — You know, I suspect Vinny had some great ideas during the interviewing process. But sometimes it’s hard to put those ideas into effect when it’s time to do so. For instance, when I was in college, I was given a position that was, essentially, to be the night manager of a dorm (or Staff Resident, head of the R.A.’s). I got the job based on a home-run interview in which I isolated all the staff problems and proposed the perfect solutions…few of which I was able to make happen due to various problems with the staff itself. I think Vinny’s in the same place. I would like to know what he said in he interview though…

    PT from Oaktown — I agree for the most part…although I think Gooden can contribute to the team. I just wish he was more consistent. Of course, i wish EVERYBODY on this team was more consistent.

    DUDURTY — Yeah, Pax, I think, just wanted a placeholder coach. Guys have become available, and more guys will by the end of the season. And if there’s somebody he wants, it’ll be easy enough to get rid of Vinny, make him the fall guy. But Paxson has screwed up too many opportunities. Trading LaMarcus Aldridge, paying out the butt for Ben Wallace when he already had Tyson Chandler (whom he then traded away for nothing). So on and so forth.

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