Bulls

Running with the Bulls: The Future of Del Negro

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Running with the Bulls: The Future of Del Negro

Friday, April 30, 2010
4:27 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the recent end to the Bulls seasonanother in which they showcased their immense potential, but still came up short in a first-round playoff exit, the most immediate hot topic at hand (behind free agency, but that doesnt officially begin until July 1st) is the future of head coach Vinny Del Negro.

Throughout the season, it was more of a question of when Del Negro would be fired (beginning in December, when an in-season termination seemed imminent), rather than if. After leading Chicago to consecutive 41-41 regular-season marks, eighth seeds in the postseason and admirable opening-round showings, some national observers have openly questioned why Del Negros job is in jeopardy. Since many believed Del Negro would be out of a job the day after the Bulls season endedvarious team sources have said that no official decision will be made by team management until after the weekend, at the earliesteven more anticipation has surrounded the coachs fate.

However, when taking into consideration the ugly late-season drama involving Del Negro and managementdisclosure of alleged physical altercations between Del Negro and both team executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, as well as the controversy regarding center Joakim Noahs minutesit is likely that Del Negros departure is still a foregone conclusion. Added support for that theory was built when recent reports detailed that Chicago wont attempt to fire Del Negro for cause, resulting in the coach not needing a lawyer to either defend himself or sue the team for the salary he would receive on the last year of his three-year contract.

At the same time, its clear that even through the tumultuous season the Bulls endured, the players on the team are in favor of bringing Del Negro back for another season, as evidenced by their comments to media both following Tuesdays Game 5 loss in Cleveland and Wednesdays exit interviews at the Berto Center.

I would vote yes, said Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, when asked in his postgame press conference Tuesday night about where he stands on Del Negro returning for the final year of his contract. Thats a guy where we both came in, he let me have my freedom, but still coached me.

Del Negro let me make my mistakes, watched film with him almost every day, told me a lot on just defense and offensewhat Im supposed to dobut the decision isnt really up to me, continued Rose, whose arrival to the Bulls coincided with Del Negros and described the potential firing of his only NBA head coach as devastating. Its up to the front office, so Im going to let them worry about that and just deal with it.

Yeah, I endorse Vinny, added Noah, who was regarded as a potential bust before Del Negros arrival, at the Berto Center on Wednesday. He did a lot for me as a player, gave me my chance to play.

Chicagos pair of rookies, Taj Gibson and James Johnson, expressed similar sentiments Wednesday.

Hes been great to me, said Gibson, who was today named to the NBA all-rookie first team. Hes a players coach. Any other coach, I dont know if they could have weathered that stormtrade talks, injurieshe just kept coaching. Look at him every gamehes still standing up, going after itand it was good for our team. Even late in this series, he just kept coaching usno head down, no worrying about if hes going to get firedthats why I respect him. Hes a good coach.

Thats not my job to determine it. I just say how good of a person I feel Del Negro is, continued Gibson, when asked if Del Negro should return. If the guys upstairs the Bulls front office feel different way from meIm a rookieI really cant say anything. Im just going to go with the shots.

I learned a lot from Vinny this year, added Johnson, whose minutes fluctuated throughout the season. I cant really cant touch on whats going to happen to him. My rookie year wasnt a bad experience.

Id take Vinny Del Negro back. He taught me that not everything comes easy, he went on to say. I was always used to being a starter in college and high school, then going to not playing built my character up a little bit more.

Regardless of the players support for Del Negroand being such a young team, its not clear how much weight those comments hold with the front office, as they could be easily dismissed as opinions of mostly professional neophytes on the scant experience theyve had on the NBA levela coaching change seems to be in the cards, as any job where management seemingly cant coexist with an employee, no matter what position that employee holds, usually results in a change.

Its always been somethingin the beginning of the year, there was talk about he might get fired, then the whole incident with Paxson and all thatand as a player, you cant look at those things. Thats up to you guys the assembled media at present at Wednesdays player exit interviews at the Berto Center to bring up and write about, but as for me, right now Vinny Del Negro is my coach, said veteran small forward Luol Deng. Thats the mindset I have right now. Whatever happens upstairs, like I said, whoevers the coach, thats whos going to be in charge and thats whos going to lead us next year. If its Vinny, its Vinny. If its not, its not.

After two years, I think hes been trying to get better. Hes been working hard, but its always changes. Ive had teammates who played really hard and now theyre not here anymore, so the organization is always going to try to get better, continued Deng, who expanded about Del Negro the most of any player on Wednesday. He was the head coach, he talked to a lot of players about staying positive and keep playing hard.

Its kind of a unique thing. We had a loose group and I think Vinny kind of fit the bill for us, added fellow veteran Kirk Hinrich. He lets you be who you are, expects you to go out there and work hard and compete every night, and thats what we tried to do.

Obviously we got to the playoffs two years in a row with a lot going on. The trade we had last year for me coming in with John Salmons and this year with the trades we had, chimed in backup center Brad Miller. Hes done a pretty good job just keeping us together and we had fun, played hard and went from there.

With his two-year record as an NBA head coachhis first coaching position at any level, as he went directly from his playing days to the front officeDel Negro is almost certain to garner future interest from other teams in the league, as the common perception is that he did a good job developing Chicagos young talent, held down the fort through some challenging times, kept the team afloat despite trades that handicapped his situation and always got the Bulls to compete during his tenure, which is especially remarkable because of his lack of experience. While insiders may disagree about some of those assumptions, the reality is Del Negro did a decent, if not overachieving job, coaching Chicago, and while his in-game adjustments and overall coaching strategy may have not measured up to the Gregg Popovichs and Larry Browns of the league, his timing could not have been betteras fans, media and rival front-office types alike from around the NBA observed the Bulls challenge the top seeds in the Eastern Conference two years in a row. Even if the embattled Del Negro isnt back in the Windy City, his rise from novice to at the very least, a coach capable of guiding a team to the NBAs second season will assuredly make him part of the leagues merry-go-round of recycled candidates when its franchises vacancies open.

I think expectations in some ways were almost unrealistic, especially when you factor in Hinrich being injured, Rose being injured and Deng coming back from a year off, said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers in support of Del Negro prior to the Bulls home finale against Bostoncoincidentally, minutes before the report about Del Negros alleged physical confrontation with Paxson broke. Im obviously biased. Vinnys been better than a good friend.

Perhaps an even more valued opinion comes from LeBron James, who was up close and personal with Del Negros coaching during the Cavaliers first-round series win over the Bulls.

I think they were well-coached, said James in his postgame press conference Tuesday, following the Cavaliers series-clinching Game 5 win in Cleveland. 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.

Im not trying to make a pitch for Vinny or that coaching staff, continued James. Is Vinny in or is Vinny out? Thats not my job, but this team that we played in this series played hard.

Various sources and reports have indicated that Chicago will target candidates with previous NBA head-coaching experience and name recognition with young players to replace Del Negro, as well as one with perhaps a defensive-minded approach or a former NBA point guard, who could mentor Rose. Some of the names that have been mentioned include former Bulls coach and current TNT analyst Doug Collins, ex-Nets coach Lawrence Frank (who was mentioned as a possible replacement if Del Negro was fired during the season), Mavericks assistant and former Seattle (now Oklahoma City) head coach Dwane Casey and ex-Hornets head coach Byron Scott, who expressed an interest in the job during a recent radio interview. Others whose names have come upwhether they are seriously being considered or not is a different storyare current ESPN analyst and former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Boston assistant and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau (long considered ripe for an NBA head-coaching position) and current Oklahoma City assistant and former 76ers and Trailblazers head coach Maurice Cheeks, a Chicago native.

Another twist to this situation is the fact that Chicago clearly put themselves in position to acquire a top free agent this summer, and the longer they dont have a coach in place or Del Negros status looks to be in limbo only further complicates matters. The line of thinking that the Bulls either have to hit a home run as far as making a big-splash hire or select a choice that might have some leverage with one of the players theyre targeting is obviously a flawed approach, but with more credence being given to Chicago being an organization in disarraya tact rival teams competing for the same free agents are sure to use; the aforementioned alleged incidents involving Del Negro and management arm them with plenty of ammunitiona move with the requisite approval factor could be used to overcompensate for any negative buzz.

As for Del Negro himself, hes remained classy about the situation, choosing to either defer or take the high road when asked about his fate, something that could pay off for him in the future, as his local perception of an underqualified first-timer could be erased to his victimization in the alleged Paxson saga, his ability to guide the squad to the postseason in both of his seasons and the support of his young players, who have made considerable progress under his watch.

I dont even think about that stuff, said Del Negro after Tuesdays loss. All those things will take care of themselves.

How anybody wants to judge that, theyll judge it.

A team on the verge, a coach likely on the outs, free agency in the near future. Just because their the season is over doesnt mean episodes of As the Bulls Turn will be on hiatus anytime soon.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

The best player in basketball left the Eastern Conference two weeks ago when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Now another top-10 player in the league is on the move, as the Spurs dealt All-Pro Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors, in essence, are going for it. General manager Masai Ujiri made a calculated decision that his current core - or more accurately, his top combination of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan - couldn't get over the hump. They've bowed out to LeBron James and the Cavs each of the last three years (including two sweeps) and, despite James moving to the West, now face legitimate tests in Boston and Philadelphia.

That's why Ujiri was willing to move DeRozan, the face of the franchise who had been with the team since he was drafted there in 2009, for a shot to get over the hump in the East. As talented as the four-time All-Star DeRozan is, he can't match what Leonard brings to the table on both sides of the ball. They also added wing Danny Green in the trade, making them a better team in the short-term.

That's where the Bulls come in.

Both Leonard and Green have one year remaining on their contracts. It's been well-documented that Leonard wants to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, meaning there's a better-than-not chance he plays just one season with the Raptors. Of course we saw what happened with Paul George and the Thunder, so never say never. It just appears likely at this point. Also, Green was more a function of making the dollars and cents work out in the deal; the 31-year-old probably isn't part of Toronto's long-term plans.

In other words, this could be Toronto's last shot. DeRozan had three years left on his contract, and Jakob Poeltl (also part of the deal) is entering the third year of his rookie contract. If the Raptors don't win in 2018 and Leonard bolts for the Lakers or Clippers, Toronto is looking at tearing it all down and entering, more or less, a rebuild phase. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will be on the final years of their contracts, and the team might be willing to build around young role players in Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

That's certainly a team the Bulls could move past in the following two seasons. With a young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Jabari Parker - plus next year's first-round pick - the Bulls will be trending upward as the Raptors attempt to pick up the pieces on a potentially failed dice roll on Leonard. Had the Raptors run it back with DeRozan they'd at least have their core in tact through 2020 (and DeRozan has a player option for 2021).

So while the Raptors were going to be ahead of the Bulls in the standings regardless this year, their window to compete in the long-term closed by swapping DeRozan for Leonard. That's good news for the Bulls in the coming years.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a member of the Bulls for the first time.

For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.

Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick of the the 2014 draft the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.

“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.

It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.

It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.

“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”

The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.

The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.

“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.

“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”

It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.

The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.

“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.

“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”

Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.

After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.

“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”

Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.

“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”

The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.

The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.

At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.

“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”

And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.

“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”

The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.

“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”

And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.

“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”

“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”