Bulls

Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

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Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

With the acquisition of superstar point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers are the talk of the NBA these days. With the likes of Paul, reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, promising young center DeAndre Jordan, free-agent signee Caron Butler, veteran Chauncey Billups and bench depth highlighted by scoring point guard Mo Williams, the "other" team in the City of Angels has a chance to not only make some noise this season, but even surpass their Staples Center co-resident, the Lakers.

For all of the pieces the team has, however, their is one perceived weakness: Vinny Del Negro. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke recently wrote an excellent piece about the pressure facing the Clippers head coach.

Del Negro is obviously a familiar name to Chicagoans from his stint stalking the Bulls sidelines. In his two seasons in the Windy City, the Bulls finished with identical 41-41 records and first-round playoff exits.

Aside from the drama that surrounded his final days in Chicago, Del Negro was a much-maligned figure locally, as he was viewed as a coach incapable of taking the team to the next level, something magnified by Tom Thibodeau's success in his first season. Thibodeau also had more talent to work with, but the fact that Del Negro, at the least, didn't hinder the development of Derrick Rose, among others, has to be noted.

Subsequently hired by the Clippers the summer following his dismissal, Del Negro seemed to be entering a situation in which there were few expectations for a perennially-losing franchise, but a rough start to last season immediately turned up the heat and although his young squad improved as the season went on -- even beating the Bulls upon his return to Chicago -- an early-season pregame press conference in L.A. when the Bulls were in town, in which local writers aggressively questioned his competence as a coach, showed it wasn't all smooth sailing. But that was then and this is now.

Del Negro, equipped with a roster that's the envy of the majority of the league, has to oversee a successful campaign in the last year of his contract. While he's often quietly lauded for giving young players the room to improve, this season can't simply be a care-taking effort, as the stakes are just too high, with Paul only committed to the Clippers for two seasons, Billups and Butler likely on the downsides of their careers, the organization committing to Jordan with a four-year extension and Griffin's eventual free agency looming, not to mention trading assets like up-and-coming shooting guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, second-year small forward and 2010 lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu and perhaps most importantly, the Timberwolves' 2012 first-round draft choice (likely to be a fairly high selection in a loaded draft class) to the Hornets in exchange for Paul.

Can Del Negro surpass expectations for his own performance to help meet expectations for the team, preserving his own coaching shelf life in the process? What do you think?

Kobe Bryant reportedly dies in helicopter crash in Calabasas

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USA Today

Kobe Bryant reportedly dies in helicopter crash in Calabasas

According to Yahoo Sports, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash over Calabasas Sunday morning.

TMZ Sports first reported the news. Shortly afterwards, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs confirmed the crash:

ABC 7 News and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski both later confirmed the report that Bryant was among those that perished:

Bryant played 20 years in the NBA, all with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA championships, two MVPs and appearing in 15 All-Star games. He is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and four daughters. He was 41 years old.

The story appears to still be developing, but this is heartbreaking and stunning news for the basketball world at large, and, above all, Bryant's family.

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Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

On Thursday, Zach LaVine will find out whether he makes his first All-Star game as a coaches’ reserve selection.

“Zach deserves to be an All-Star,” executive vice president John Paxson said. “I know we don’t have as many wins as we all would like. But nobody can ignore what he has done and it would be [an oversight] if he doesn’t get recognized.”

If he doesn’t, LaVine, and the Bulls, will be disappointed. But missing out shouldn’t obscure what is becoming a special season for LaVine.

Saturday’s masterpiece of 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a road victory over the Cavaliers is just the latest example. With averages of 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in January, he’ll also draw strong consideration for Eastern Conference player of the month.

Each summer, LaVine tries to add something to his game. This season, his focus centered on consistency and improving defensively. The 14 straight 20-point games is a sign of the former. And while he admittedly still occasionally drifts off the ball, his 1.4 steals per game mark is a career-best.

LaVine is on a streak of 14 straight 20-point games. His fourth 40-point effort of the season came with all defensive attention on him because Lauri Markkanen missed his second game of an extended absence with a hip injury. And that’s on top of the Bulls playing without Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr.

LaVine’s eight assists highlighted the improved decision-making that is defining this breakout season. And it also allowed him to join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls in franchise history to record at least 44-10-8 in a game.

That’s not the only time LaVine is getting mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan this season. He became the second-fastest player in franchise history behind Jordan to score 3,000 points in a Bulls uniform, needing 24 more games.

And he became the first player in franchise history to sink 300 3-pointers in 132 or fewer games.  He’s on pace to set the single-season franchise record for 3-pointers this season.

LaVine is averaging career-highs in scoring at 25.3 points per game, 3-point percentage at 38.9 and rebounding at 4.9. After a slow start, LaVine has increased his free-throw attempts to 5.6 per game, just .4 off last season’s career-high. He has increased his free-throw attempts per game every season he has been in the league.

Some critics still paint LaVine’s accomplishments as empty calories. There’s another line of thought that LaVine needs to be ball-dominant — his usage rate of 31.7 ranks 10th — to be successful.

LaVine still takes the occasional heat check. But his forced shots are way down and he’s carrying such an offensive burden mostly because he has to for this Bulls team. An example of his do-whatever-it-takes mentality: He has led the Bulls in rebounding since Carter went down to his sprained ankle.

LaVine has said he'd be more likely to participate in Saturday's slam dunk contest — and the 3-point shootout if he's invited — if he lands in Sunday's real All-Star game. What a weekend it could be. But even if it doesn't happen, LaVine is focused on this goal for the right reasons. He wants the Bulls to win.

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