Tag Archives: phil jackson

Is Dwyane Wade for real and other tall free agent tales

Free agency Day 1: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Yes, I believe that was first written when Charles Dickens was unable to lure the top free agent chimney sweep at the time as he instead moved into a high-rise condo near the Bastille.

This big LeBron free agency is actually becoming a tale of three cities, Chicago, Miami and Cleveland.

Though the big news Thursday, with nothing official until July 8 after the official salary cap figures come in July 7, was the apparent agreement by Joe Johnson to return to the Atlanta Hawks for some $120 million maximum salary and Rudy Gay to remain in Memphis for an extension of more than $80 million.

Unless you have the Hawks and Grizzlies playing in the 2011 Finals, this suggests the first wave of players did what most expected and what many teams with cap room feared—that the players would take the most money and run.

And no one even needed a gub in a holdup.

Sorry, I reference the 60s and 70s and the classics, like Dickens and Woody Allen, at least when he was funny. Dickens actually was quite the humorist himself, as readers know, though it’s still tough to get a good laugh out of the French revolution.

Meanwhile, there was some other free agent money promised, like Drew Gooden—now that’s what the word journeyman means—to the Bucks for apparently a full midlevel exception of about $34 million. Now, if Scott Skiles also wants Tim Thomas then I truly give up.

Johnson was the guy everyone was worrying their team would overspend on with a max five-year contract. And now he’s apparently off the market with a six-year monster deal with the Hawks, who barely got past the Bucks in the first round and were as uncompetitive as anyone ever in the next round against the Magic. The Bulls have long liked the idea of adding Johnson, but never really will get a shot. Johnson apparently will do some perfunctory interviews to say he experienced the process, but he’s back to play before 6,500 fans and hope again to get to the second round.

Heck, Gay hasn’t even been to the playoffs, but I heard he loves watching them. He cancelled his interviews to stay in supposedly cash strapped Memphis for more than he could have gotten on the open market.

Memphis fans have to credit owner Michael Heisley for being so willing to spend and not even for their top producer in a modest sized market with limited consumer support. This is hardly making a great owners’ case that the NBA is in financial trouble and franchises are about to fail. You’d think Memphis had to be among the worst off, and then they go spend like this.

But the worry for teams like the Bulls, Heat, Knicks and Nets has to be that, in the end, the players are going to take the money rather than take a chance on winning somewhere.

The test is soon to come as we’ll see where LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the elite of the market, choose to go and why.

The Bulls have talked with Bosh and have a meeting set. They’ve already met with Wade as well as Carlos Boozer as they’ll make their way through all the top free agents as they head for Akron Saturday and the final LeBron session with his main suitors. James then will talk to the Cavs, who in most eyes crept slightly ahead of the pack with the signing of Byron Scott as coach.

Scott was in line for the Lakers job if Phil Jackson left. But Phil returns for a shot at a third three-peat, and so Scott goes to Cleveland just as it seemed they were about to hire Brian Shaw.

Did LeBron send word? Did Scott get an assurance? No one is saying or seems to know for sure, but Scott fits a profile LeBron has talked about as a former player who will be tough on him and hold him accountable and who has had success. Scott has done well with stars like Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, and Paul is said to be perhaps James’ closest friend in the NBA and supposedly gave James a strong endorsement of Scott.

The speculation began immediately since Scott and Paul remain close that Paul, who has two years left on his contract though he has been the subject of trade rumors, will push for a trade to the Cavs now that he knows the Hornets looked to trade him. It wouldn’t seem the Cavs have enough, but they can add a player with a mid-level deal, give up J.J. Hickson and several first round picks and who knows. You never say never in the NBA.

But the Bulls may have gotten some unexpected good news with a good Thursday session with Dwyane Wade, who sought out the initially reluctant Bulls.

Was he just a spy? Heck, it may have been worth it just for the heart palpitations for Pat Riley.

I wrote about this last Monday, and Wade could make a heck of an end run boxing in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh. Then Miami is out for James and he’d have to stay in Cleveland to have any chance to contend and clearly would be an also ran to Wade/Bosh/Rose/Noah.

New Jersey has suddenly revived with their presentation to James Thursday, and the biggest speculation around the NBA is the mysterious new owner with international billions will just stash away a fortune for James somewhere. Could James seriously talk contending going to a 12-win team moving to Newark? For less money? Really, what is going on!

Wade has to be giving the Chicago scenario some thought if he is serious about winning, and how sweet would it be to outdo James?

If Wade returns to Miami as expected, even with Bosh, if LeBron and, say, Boozer go to Chicago with Rose and Noah, Wade likely would never get back to the Finals and maybe the conference finals. Leaving with Bosh and walling in James would be the strategic move of the year to maybe bury James’s title hopes for the next year. The Bulls were said to be surprisingly upbeat after the Wade session.

But it would cost Wade a fortune since he would forfeit the six-year max and likely that $28 million sixth year pay day as he is 28 now, and even that extra three percent or so Florida doesn’t pay in state taxes.

So we’ll see where he is as well, but a door previously thought closed seems to have opened a bit.

One of my favorite parts of the day was the report when the Nets met first with James that a “Nets source” called the meeting “front runner tremendous.”

This reminds me when my group was the first off when a golf course in Miami had just opened. When we got in, someone asked what the course record was. They said we were the first to play the course so there was none. Yes, for about 15 minutes I had the course record at the Golf Club of Miami with a 94.

The Nets were first in. Of course they were the front runner.

Then came the Knicks with their grand tradition of having won a championship 40 years ago with a bunch of white guys and basically booing out of town the best player they had since, Patrick Ewing. Sure, they’re going to be on top of everyone’s list. The Knicks were said to be pursuing Ray Felton.

And then there was Darko getting $20 million for four years from Minnesota as Gay cancelled his scheduled meeting there. Yes, $20 million for Darko. Then $30 million for Channing Frye. Some $34 million for Amir Johnson. Who? Really, has anyone ever seen Amir play? How many could pick him out of a lineup? Do you think Luol Deng is overpaid now? I expect Deng to ask for renegotiations seeing the productivity of guys getting these contracts.

The Magic were said to be quietly exploring sign-and-trade scenarios for Vince Carter, and I can see why as if they weren’t quiet everyone would laugh out loud.

Day 2 should be even more fun.

Thibodeau hired to coach Bulls

The Bulls have a new coach, Tom Thibodeau of the Boston Celtics.

Thibodeau, according to reliable sources, agreed to a three-year deal early Saturday afternoon to become the 15th (not counting interims) coach in Bulls history.

Thibodeau currently is the associate head coach of the Celtics, who are down 1-0 in the NBA Finals.

NBA rules do not specifically prohibit the announcement of significant transactions like a trade or coaching hire during the Finals, a spokesman said. But teams are strongly discouraged from doing so to not upstage the league’s premier postseason event. Plus, Thibodeau is busy now, anyway.

I know. Apparently this memo never reached LeBron James.

So the Bulls declined comment.

But reliable sources close to Thibodeau confirmed that Thibodeau received the three-year offer worth some $6.5 million late Friday and agreed early Saturday.

Sources also said Thibodeau is trying to persuade Oklahoma City Thunder assistants Mo Cheeks and Ron Adams to join his staff in Chicago with holdover Pete Myers.

Thibodeau also is not expected to comment until the Finals conclude and under rules of the Celtics assistant coaches cannot do interviews with the media.

Unlike the interview process, which was permitted by the league to be public, the Bulls will have to wait to make the official announcement. Team officials could not be reached for comment.

But it was clear with word from Thibodeau’s associates the deal is done and that Thibodeau is thrilled. Thibodeau made the unusual commitment to pass on several job opportunities just for the chance to be considered a prime candidate for the Bulls job.

Although the Bulls did extensive background work on numerous candidates and had informal personal and telephone discussions with candidates, the interview with Thibodeau while the Celtics prepared for the Finals earlier this week was the most significant.

So did the Bulls get a great coach?

No one ever truly knows that until they get the chance to prove it. But Thibodeau has strong backing and support around the NBA and in retrospect perhaps the major surprise is he is just getting his first NBA head coaching job.

The guy has been so good for so long that he’s been taken for granted,” Jeff Van Gundy told the Newark Star-Ledger about Thibodeau, his longtime assistant. “Tom now has this thing where he’s known as a defensive guy, which he’s great at — not good, great. But he also is very good offensively. And it’s the reason why I hired him initially in New York — his work with individual players. He had incredibly good offensively ideas. His work with Yao Ming still gets overlooked because Yao is hurt a lot. But in Yao’s last full year, he was an MVP candidate, 25 and 11.”

Thibodeau has gotten a reputation as a so called defensive guru, which is a bit unfair because you have to have the players. And while he did have Kevin Garnett in Boston, no one ever accused Ray Allen or Paul Pierce of being defenders previously in their careers and they’ve both been principal starters for one of the NBA best defenses the last three years, and at the most vital wing positions where there is the best talent.

The so-called knock on Thibodeau has been that he’s too intense, so would not relate well with players. But with Thibodeau up for serious head coaching consideration this season his players have been effusive in praise. And Van Gundy also noted the irony of guys being condemned because they don’t work hard enough and here’s a guy who supposedly works too hard.

And while Thibodeau is highly regarded for his defense systems and schemes, even Kobe Bryant credited him in a recent interview for helping Bryant develop his offensive game when Bryant was growing up in Philadelphia and Thibodeau was a 76ers assistant.

As the son of former 76ers Joe Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe had access to 76ers facilities and said of Thibodeau: “He started drilling me, NBA basketball drills, when I was 14. So he kind of has inside information on what I like to do because he taught me most of the stuff.”

Added Bryant: “I’ve been facing his defenses here for some time and they’re tough – very, very tough.  Every single team he’s been on has had great strategies and physical defenses.”

And Van Gundy’s point about Thibodeau and Yao was significant, if often overlooked.

But before his injury which kept him out all last season, Yao had become one of the most efficient and effective offensive players in the NBA. Thibodeau is a renowned worker who has put the job before everything in his life. Friends says he owns little but a car as he spends all his time working with players and on the game. During his time with Van Gundy in Houston, Thibodeau traveled to China in the summers to work with Yao and developed a strong teacher/student relationship with him and Yao long has been an advocate.

Here are some quotes from Boston players on Thibodeau:

Ray Allen: “Tom will come up with a defensive scheme that we’ve never heard before, and he’ll say it like we’ve been talking about it all year.  But he makes sure we’re all on the same page with it. So, he’s definitely kept us keyed in.”

Kevin Garnett: “Coach is real animated. He’s real emotional. He’s real energetic. That’s what type of defense we try to go out and have. It’s an energetic, consistent defense. It’s a talkative defense, and when you see him on the side, those are the things that he’s put in for us to try to go and carry over to the court.”

Kendrick Perkins: “Thib has been the best thing that happened to us.”

I’ve also heard the stuff about Thibodeau and being too much a workaholic and humorless, and as I’ve written previously I didn’t find that when I’ve talked with him and I remember a scene at the All Star game in New Orleans a few years back when I saw Yao and Thibodeau doing something of a comedy routine for the NBA Entertainment cameras, which are everywhere during All Star weekend, about Thibodeau being single and what he does on Valentine’s Day and both shooting one liners at one another. And if you have been around Yao you knew he does that much better than most guys with English as a first language. It certainly didn’t strike me with Thibodeau as a guy who didn’t have the humor gene.

Which is not to say the Bulls hired Jerry Seinfeld.

I believe they hired one of the most respected coaching minds in the NBA. That seems to be a good start. And, at least on this one, Jeff Van Gundy and I agree.

I caught up with Van Gundy Saturday afternoon after Finals practice and he was both thrilled and relieved his old friend and coaching colleague, Thibodeau, finally gets a chance to be a head coach.

Van Gundy chose to sit out this coaching derby to stay with his ESPN/ABC television gig, but his views about the game are held in high regard and he believes Thibodeau will be a success with the Bulls.

Van Gundy admits he probably wouldn’t have been so bold if he were Thibodeau to turn down jobs to pursue a chance with the Bulls, but Van Gundy said, “You’ve got to admire him. He knew what he wanted and he went for it.

“He’s smart,” said Van Gundy about why he believes Thibodeau is the right man for the Bulls job now. “But not just smart about the game, but about people and making the right decisions. That’s critical to being a good coach and that’s what he’s got. The other thing is he’s sincere, reliable and trustworthy. Those are the things that are going to form the basis for solid relationships.

“He’s as bright as anyone I know about the game,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t worry about that. It’s the other stuff at which he’ll surprise his critics. This is a guy who’ll be astute about the magnitude of the job.”

Van Gundy laughed about past questions of Thibodeau’s supposed lack of a gregarious nature. Besides not necessarily being the case, Van Gundy said it’s not like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are going around doing celebrity roasts.

“I have no doubt for a guy who never has coached an NBA game that he’s done as much to prove he’s ready to get an opportunity as anybody. He’s experienced everything, the highs and lows, the championships, long losing streaks, winning streaks, all kinds of markets and players. He’s a guy who knows how the NBA works and he’ll be the same coach every day. No real highs or lows, and that demeanor will serve him well.

“And he understands the balance you need for winning basketball,” said Van Gundy. “You see that with the teams still playing, teams that balance offense and defense.”

Van Gundy admitted his friend was discouraged some after the Celtics won in 2008 and he didn’t get a head coaching chance, but he persevered, which is the kind of trait a coach needs to carry a team through the tough parts of seasons.

“Like any good coach, Tom believes in certain principles without regard to who is on the team,” said Van Gundy. “Play hard, play smart, play together, defend, rebound, take care of the ball. But he will design a system that plays to the strengths of his best players and try to hide their non strengths. I think his time in Philadelphia, New York and Boston has prepared him for the magnitude of the job.”

All signs pointing to Thibodeau as next Bulls coach

Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently has emerged as the top candidate for the Bulls head coaching job to replace Vinny Del Negro.

Although the Bulls privately are saying there is no agreement and they are only talking seriously with Thibodeau, at least one Boston newspaper is reporting Thibodeau will be the Bulls’ next coach.

The Boston Herald Friday night quoted an anonymous source saying Thibodeau is the Bulls choice to be their next head coach and a contract offer is being formulated.

There have been other reports of a three-year deal similar to the contract Del Negro worked under and that former Chicago prep star and 76ers All-Star Mo Cheeks and former Bulls assistant Ron Adams, both now on the staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder, could work with Thibodeau. Another source, whose information could not be confirmed, said Thibodeau has been given an informal offer in preparation for working out an official deal.

There also are media reports circulating the New Orleans Hornets, who were first to pursue Thibodeau as a potential head coach, have turned to Portland assistant Monty Williams and will likely hire him as coach.

Thibodeau reportedly also has received strong consideration to fill the open New Jersey Nets coaching job. Nets sources say Thibodeau indicated a preference, instead, for the Bulls job.

There also remains the possibility Celtics coach Doc Rivers could take a leave after this season to spend more time with his family and replace Doug Collins on TNT broadcasts. Would Thibodeau replace him? Boston sources said Thibodeau is more interested in the Bulls situation because of the young core and salary cap flexibility and what he believes is a bright future for the team.

Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson met with Thibodeau earlier this week in Los Angeles and reportedly came away impressed over the meeting. Team officials also have learned that despite having the chance for two different head coaching jobs after a career as an assistant, Thibodeau apparently passed on both and risked having no offer so he could only just have a chance for the Bulls position.

Thibodeau has been mentored in his coaching ambitions by his longtime colleague Jeff Van Gundy, who despite criticism of the Bulls’ decision with Del Negro, advised Thibodeau the Bulls job would be the most desirable, sources said.

Thibodeau also is represented by the Creative Artists agency, which also represents potential free agent LeBron James. The Cavs Friday after previously firing coach Mike Brown accepted the resignation of general manager Danny Ferry. That led to speculation both of an organization in crisis on the verge of losing James or preparing a management team opening for James to return and fill, perhaps someone like Larry Brown or John Calipari.

But it may work to the Bulls’ advantage to have someone like Thibodeau, who has a close working relationship with some of the top business advisors to James who will be helping James get his next contract.

Although Thibodeau never has been an NBA head coach, he is one of the most experienced assistants in the league and an expert on defensive system play who has been on the sidelines as the associate head coach, as he is in Boston, or top assistant in more than 125 playoff games and three NBA Finals. While no one assistant is responsible for all elements of a system, Thibodeau generally has been the defensive coach in 19 seasons in which his teams finished in the top 10 in defense 16 times.

Thibodeau worked for Van Gundy with the Knicks and Rockets and has been with the Celtics four seasons.

There has been a vague criticism of him as a workaholic who finds it difficult to relate to players and staff, though friends of Thibodeau have long been confused about the charge. Van Gundy and Rivers this spring both raved about Thibodeau’s work ethic and relationships with their teams, and I’ll add I know Thibodeau and have always found him relatively pleasant and unassuming, a man who simply likes to talk basketball with a ready good humor. You can only go by how people treat you and I never have had issues with Thibodeau.

He, basically, is a career assistant, a basketball gypsy and lifer who began coaching at his alma mater, Salem State U. in Connecticut. He then was an assistant at Harvard, where he coached President Barack Obama’s Education secretary Arne Duncan, who long has been an ardent supporter of and advocate for Thibodeau as an NBA head coach.

Thibodeau started in the NBA in 1989 working with Bill Musselman in Minnesota, where Thibodeau worked more with the offense. Coaches who worked with him there belied the notion he is only a defensive planner. Thibodeau scouted for Seattle after leaving Minnesota and then was an assistant with the Spurs and 76ers before moving to the Knicks with Van Gundy, who long has championed Thibodeau’s credentials.

Ironically, one of the issues that led Mike D’Antoni to leave the Suns and go to the Knicks was management’s request that D’Antoni hire Thibodeau as associate head coach for defense.

Van Gundy has chosen to remain a TV broadcaster, but most around the NBA regard him as one of the most astute minds in the game and don’t believe he’d damage his reputation or push for Thibodeau for so long unless he believed Thibodeau could be a high level coach. And you have to start somewhere to be a head coach as coaches like Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Van Gundy were little known assistants before getting their first chance. The key for them was they got good teams and top players.

If Thibodeau is able to attract someone like Cheeks to his staff along with holdovers Pete Myers and Randy Brown, the Bulls would have a strong mix of veteran NBA minds and popular and tough former players to comprise an enviable staff.

The Celtics gave teams permission about a month ago to begin talks with Thibodeau after denying him a chance to interview two years ago when Boston was last in the Finals. That probably most hurt Thibodeau’s chances with the Bulls, who were not permitted to interview Thibodeau. This time the Celtics agreed to give Thibodeau a chance and two of the more respected GMs in the league, Jeff Bower in New Orleans and Rod Thorn in New Jersey, quickly made him their top priorities.

Of course, all this could be for naught as no official deal has been struck. But it seems clear that Thibodeau holds the chance to coach the Bulls in highest regard. It also doesn’t appear the Bulls are as close to making a decision with any other top candidate. Plus, Phil Jackson has taken himself out of the mix and Rivers with a year left on his deal after going to the Finals certainly is not going to be allowed by the Celtics to leave and join a conference foe.

The Bulls have indicated they’d talk with other candidates, including Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. But in Forman’s initial remarks about what the team is seeking in a coach he stressed a thorough knowledge of the game and the players, a teacher and someone with a strong defensive system of play.

Plus, the reports in the Boston media strongly suggested the offer to Thibodeau is imminent. There is no deal until there is a deal, and many NBA deals have disappeared before being signed.

But the Boston Herald is known to be close with Celtics coach Rivers and was the publication that first reported Rivers’ interest in perhaps sitting out next season. It would be expected Thibodeau would inform Rivers since the Celtics are in the NBA Finals and Thibodeau would be expected to finish the series on the Celtics bench before joining the Bulls if a deal is forthcoming and finalized. But with the draft upcoming and planning for free agency probably becoming urgent once the Finals concludes, it would make sense to have a coach in place before too long.

Cavs out of playoffs; LeBron headed to Bulls?

Stupid time officially began about seven minutes after the Cavs were knocked out of playoffs Thursday in losing 94-85 to the Boston Celtics to fall four games to two in the Eastern semifinals.

Chad Ford of ESPN reported he’d heard from three league general managers who said they now believe James will leave the Cavs as a result of the series loss and said James would be coming to the Bulls and will be coached by John Calipari.

Of course, there were no actual names mentioned from these sources who may or may not know.

Among the actual people, former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, doing the pregame and postgame for ESPN, said he believed James would be going to the Nets. I took this to mean Johnson would like to be Nets coach.

Johnson’s postgame partner, former player Jamal Mashburn, said he believed James would be staying with the Cavs, though Mashburn was told he had to pick a team other than the Cavs—clearly ESPN as well as Joakim Noah is tired of Cleveland—for James to go to and he also guessed New Jersey.

ESPN national NBA writer Chris Broussard said he believed James would be signing with the Bulls, maybe with Phil Jackson as coach.

No report yet on whether Michael Jordan would come out of retirement for this, as he isn’t quite 50 yet. But, hey, it still wasn’t time for the real late SportsCenter…

Whew! I’m tired already. This is going to go on for the next two months since free agency begins July 1 and then teams have a week until they are permitted to sign a player.

James said after the game he “has no plans.”

He said, “We’ll see what happens.”

James acknowledged the Cavs are “committed to winning,” but added, he has “given myself options.”

How dare he be vague when so many people actually know what he’s doing? Who is he to say he doesn’t know?

It’s gotta be the Bulls, right? James already has said he’ll change his number next season to No. 6 because he didn’t feel anyone should wear No. 23. Yes, the Bulls can keep Jordan’s number retired.

Though James is friends with entertainer Jay-Z, a part owner of the Nets, who are now owned by one of the world’s richest, and supposedly to be the most generous to his basketball players.

But there’s the Knicks, the only team that can give a full free agent contract to James and whomever James wants to bring with him, even if it’s Ilgauskas. The owner of a famous New York strip club was quoted last week offering James free lap dances for life. I’m not fully sure how that works under the salary cap. I don’t know if James ever does that sort of thing, but I’m quite sure they wouldn’t be that expensive for him, anyway. I’m not saying, mind you, he engages in such behavior, whatever it is since I’m not familiar with the term.

There’s the Clippers and L.A. and the movie industry, which is where LeBron’s spending this summer making a movie. Of course, there’s the sign and trade possibility with the Lakers to play with Kobe. Can’t the NBA get this straight? Wasn’t this supposed to be a Kobe/LeBron Finals? And three second round sweeps. If the NBA manipulates these matchups they do a poor job.

The instant ESPN poll had 31 percent saying he’d go to New York, 27 percent say remaining in Cleveland and 24 percent for Chicago. Another 18 percent were said to be leaning to Warren Buffet’s basement.

Pat Riley allegedly has ordered LeBron to come to Miami because, well, he’s Pat Riley! OK, enough.

The Heat, meanwhile, already has set up a website inviting fans to urge Wade to remain in Miami. But there’s also a fan web site up now asking James to come to Chicago.

David Letterman has been running a segment of reasons for LeBron James to come to New York, though so far they’ve included being hit by a speeding taxi and being able to watch a foul mouthed TV anchor cursing on the air.

I’ve checked. No websites yet of anyone asking for free agent Shaq.

This is big, seriously.

This is the back-to-back MVP, a player whom some believe could one day be considered the games greatest not only being upset again in the playoffs, but threatening the geography of the NBA with James a free agent who may leave the Cavs.

And we know, as James would say, here’s a guy who has won at every level but college and the NBA.

It was not only a stunning, unexpected result after the Cavs led the league in wins for the second straight season. But it was shocking to see the way the Cavs gave up at the end, not even trying to foul to extend the game after Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo were gagging free throws down the stretch. Make them earn it! Heck, everyone does that even in the regular season.

I know Cavs players looked toward the bench at that time, though the mistake probably was not looking at the real coach, James.

There are going to be major ramifications from this series even if James elects to remain in Cleveland. No King Abdicates headlines quite yet.

It seems likely coach Mike Brown will be out. That would be a year after winning coach of the year and after winning at least 60 games in consecutive seasons. And they felt sorry for Vinny Del Negro. No coach ever has lost his job after such a run, though Alex Hannum resigned after a pair of 60-plus win seasons. James did say afterward he thought there could have been some better adjustments.

It was another unusual series for Brown as he stayed with the ineffective O’Neal for long stretches, failed to play smaller and quicker with players like J.J. Hickson to take advantage of getting James out in the open court, where he is unstoppable, and seemed more like a Rube Goldberg mad scientist trying different and odd combinations with Daniel Gibson appearing from nowhere, and never figuring out what to do with Antawn Jamison.

As I wrote during the Bulls series with the Cavs, if James really wanted to win—and I guess GMs in New York, New Jersey, Miami and L.A. would differ—he’d join the Bulls.

Yes, this appears on the Bulls’ site, but I’d say the majority of my mail about free agents favors Dwyane Wade over LeBron. Fans seem to personally like Wade more, though I know any team would take James first. He’s the best and he fits with anyone and everyone. And he sure can dance.

Forget positions. He can play anywhere, and probably one of the bigger issues with the Cavs is he has monopolized the ball too much. That took Mo Williams, for instance, out of games, and I thought the first half Thursday for the Cavs was better because Williams plays better with the ball. When James took over more after halftime, Williams became more a standstill player, which is when he’s not at his best.

Though James controls the ball a lot and has the mentality of a point guard, he would be better off playing with Derrick Rose.

James is such a threat that he should play in a faster, more open game, which suits Rose, because as James goes up court he’ll take the defense with him and make it easier on his point guard. It was an issue the Bulls had early with Michael Jordan. Doug Collins always tried to get Jordan to run out ahead of the ball, but Jordan resisted because he liked to have the ball in his hands and didn’t trust his teammates.

Once Scottie Pippen gained trust with Jordan and could handle the ball, Jordan attacked more without the ball and it led to Bulls titles.

So, James would do well to play with a ballhandler like Rose.

By the way, for those who whined all season about letting go of Ben Gordon and trading John Salmons, this was why. No, the Bulls may not get James. But they are now in the conversation. If they’d have kept either Gordon or Salmons they wouldn’t be. And how could they justify that?

Though the perfect scenario would be to get the Cavs to agree to a sign-and-trade for James, say Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and a No. 1 pick, for example, and then have salary cap money left to attract another free agent like Chris Bosh, David Lee or Joe Johnson.

That’s also why the Bulls seem to have the edge over, say, the Knicks, who have few sign-and-trade assets to offer. The Nets are much better equipped with a high draft pick and Devin Harris. It’s hard to see James going somewhere without a sign and trade, which would mean a lesser contract. Of course, James could go for three years with an opt out after two, which he could do with the Cavs to give them one more shot.

Of course, the sign-and-trade route opens the field to a team like the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and others to pair James with Bryant. You can be sure there will be other offers, though would the Cavs be the franchise that agreed to trade LeBron James? Almost better to let him walk.

James did acknowledge some issue with his elbow after the Game 6 loss, though there seemed more all of a sudden a level of dysfunction within the Cavs as their emotions and enthusiasm almost disappeared. We may be hearing something was amiss eventually.

As for Boston winning, you’ve now got to consider Celts top assistant Tom Thibodeau for at least an interview for the coaching job. The Celtics defense was terrific in this series, and without Kevin Garnett being great. What Boston had is what so many teams don’t and which troubled the Bulls this season, one system of play to fall back on when things went wrong or under pressure.

LeBron also needs to be coached. He clearly has run things in Cleveland, as everyone around the NBA knows, but that doesn’t seem to be working out. You don’t want to hire someone who is his friend or whom he chooses, but someone he can respect for his knowledge of the game and ability to put him in position to succeed, a strong figure.

This just in: James was heard listening to “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. Does anyone need anymore proof than that he’s coming to the Bulls?

Bulls begin coaching search; here’s a list

So now the Bulls need a new coach with the official announcement Tuesday of the firing of Vinny Del Negro.

I suppose if you are looking to get to the so-called Point C, then, literally, you might need a C for Collins. But that ship has sailed and I don’t believe the former Bulls coach Doug Collins is in the mix to be the next coach.
Other Cs? Casey, Cleamons, Cartwright, Cheeks? No, I don’t think that’s what the Bulls have meant about going to Point C, which, actually, GM Gar Forman avoided referring to in his Tuesday press conference.
The question not only is who, but what. What makes a good coach?
There are several principal elements and several particulars that apply to the Bulls.
Forman Tuesday talked generically about accountability, teaching and leadership, and I didn’t take that as a direct shot at Vinny, but more general qualifications.
Still, Vinny was not so much a so-called accountability coach, as was Scott Skiles. Those guys say play defense. You don’t, you sit until you do. But since the Bulls had one of those and fired him, the next guy tends to be a bit looser, more so-called player friendly, which Vinny was. Plenty of good coaches are–Flip Saunders, for example.
There’s also experience. Though Forman said he wouldn’t exclude anyone, I’d assume the Bulls would this time want a coach who knows the NBA, which Forman did refer to, and a coach who didn’t require on-the-job training. That would be a former head coach or, at least, a veteran assistant with longtime experience and leaguewide respect.
There’s what I’d call equanimity, something of the ability to work with management and avoid the pitfalls of competitors going at one another. That obviously became a late season issue with the dustup between Del Negro and Executive VP John Paxson. The issue is these guys are together virtually all year with training camp, the season, draft and summer league. When they can’t comfortably get along and talk basketball for fun, the job becomes a chore, which it should never be.
Then there’s presence, someone who commands respect with the team for what he knows and/or who he is as well as with the community. That also being a person who communicates being in charge, so-called leadership.
As Rick Pitino once famously said not long before he was being fired, “Bird, McHale and Parish aren’t walking through the door.” Neither are Sloan, Popovich and Jackson, though more on that later.
Most of the great ones are taken, but it’s not like you have to settle as much as perhaps your choice cannot be everything to everyone.
This is where I think the Bulls are, though I have no actual evidence: I think they have an idea of candidates, which is what all organizations have. Don’t fool yourself. Everyone organization keeps a list of prospective head coaches and assistants, as well as players. It’s what they do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.
The classic story is one of the reasons the Jerry Krause/Doug Collins dynamic split. Krause, as we recall, was something of a Mr. Malaprop, saying the wrong thing the wrong way, like when he said organizations win championships. He was trying to say a good thing and commend all the support staff, and, well, that was Jerry.
So this one time he’s talking to Doug and tells him something about, what if Doug were unable to coach perhaps from an accident or something and there being staff to step in. Jerry was trying to make a point of how good the staff was, but Doug took it as Jerry trying to line up his successor, which, I guess, eventually happened.
I suspect the Bulls want to avoid this parade of candidates they had last time, so maybe they’ll edit their list down to four or five, maybe check out a few more, cut it again and maybe interview three or four and make a recommendation to managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf, who always said he holds only veto power.
People ask me about the organization structure and I see it as sort of a bicameral legislature, theories that went back to ancient Greece and like the U.S. government. To my thinking, Forman, the guy who worked up the scouting ranks, is the House and John Paxson, the former Finals hero, is the Senate, and they try to come together in conference. Reinsdorf is the president and has veto power. I see each with sort of a line to the president, but having to come together before presenting something.
Forman left open the time frame, and, certainly, there are unique situations which could lead to an extended time period. After all, this is draft/trade/free agent time, and the coach has minimal involvement. Phil Jackson used to go home after the season and skip the draft.
I don’t believe the coach is a make or break for a free agent, but, I’d guess, you wouldn’t want to have P.J. Carlesimo if you were going after Latrell Sprewell. Just hypothetically, of course. Maybe you’d take LeBron’s uncle if LeBron would commit, but you wouldn’t know that until July.
So what would I do?
Factoring in what I believe the Bulls wouldn’t do and what seems feasible and I could be excited about, I’d go with Mo Cheeks.
He has head coaching experience, and won 49 and 50 games in consecutive seasons in Portland. He’s a Chicago native from DuSable High School. He’s one of the great point guards ever, ranking in the top 10 alltime in steals and assists, a perfect guy to tutor Derrick Rose with his biggest weakness. He started for a championship team, the great ’83 Philadelphia 76ers, and is one of the alltime good guys ever in the NBA. Any doubt, check out the YouTube video of Cheeks with the girl stumbling over the national anthem.
He’s not regarded as great in so-called accountability, as he’s more the good guy, but I can see Cheeks with tough assistants, like Larry Bird had at Indiana, particularly close friend Ron Adams, who transformed the Thunder defense.
But I’m not sure Cheeks, who is now on the Thunder staff, is even on the Bulls’ list. So here’s a rundown of all the possibilities I can think of. And I’m sure the Bulls have a secret one or two. The hope is the Bulls don’t have to interview them all.
— Doug Collins: The former Bulls coach is a great turnaround specialist whom I think will get the 76ers job, assuming he wants it. I’ve heard he had a knock-your-socks-off interview. The Bulls passed on him two years ago and usually one veto is all you get.
— Larry Brown: The other great turnaround specialist, though the Bulls don’t exactly need turning around. Brown’s play-the-right-way defensive philosophy, though, would make a difference, at least in the short term. But Larry also wants a front office role and no one is giving theirs up. Plus, it’s one thing for Michael Jordan to let him go to Philadelphia, but back to Chicago? I see Brown getting the Clippers job as he also owns a home in Malibu and is close with Clippers owner Donald Sterling and with a high draft pick and Blake Griffin presumably healthy that could be a great job.
— Kevin McHale: The former Wolves executive did interim stints twice and actually did well. He’s good working with players; they respect and like him. But Kevin’s never liked the grind of coaching with travel and all the film work. Perhaps he’s ready. I’ve heard he’s very interested.
— Lawrence Frank: Same with him. Actually same with a lot of guys as far as interest. There was all this media talk about front office issues, but I’ve heard coaches and agents inquiring for months about the job. With Rose and Joakim Noah, the cap room and a major market, the Bulls job is considered perhaps the best open one. Frank is regarded as hard working and well prepared and excellent with X’s and O’s and strategy. But he had a losing record with the Nets, played a slow game heavy on coaching control  and never was regarded as very demanding of the players, especially the stars. You always worry about those control oriented coaches like Frank who don’t allow assistants to speak to anyone.
— Byron Scott: He’s had two jobs and also a losing career record, though not by much. He’s expressed open interest in the Bulls, but there’s some talk he’s also waiting to see what happens with the Lakers, as he’s close with Kobe Bryant. He’s had a rap as not a very hard worker with players and preparation with Eddie Jordan getting behind the scenes credit when he took the Nets to two Finals. Though that seemed unfair.
— Avery Johnson: The “Little General” was not necessarily always a term of endearment as he’s been regarded by some teammates as somewhat overbearing. He’s supposedly pushing hard for the New Orleans job and may be trying to leverage himself in by pushing for Philadelphia.
— Jeff Van Gundy: He seems satisfied to stay in TV for awhile, but it would be hard to see the Bulls going for him the way he went on ABC and ripped the organization for two hours during one playoff game with the Cavs. At least you have to credit him for not pandering for the job. Little known fact: His brother, Stan, played against Forman when they were growing up in California with Jeff at the games.
— Tom Thibodeau: The perennial runnerup. The Celtics’ defensive guy should get a look, but he’s probably at a disadvantage without having had a head job. There always are vague questions about relating to players, but I know him and find him good to get along with and have asked players and they seem to like him.
— Ron Adams: Another longtime assistant and regarded with Thibodeau as one of the best defensive minds in the league. He was on Scott Skiles’ staff as the defensive guy when Skiles was Bulls coach. There are a lot of latest hot assistant names you hear in these searches like Monty Williams, John Shumate, Mike Budenholzer, Elston Turner, Mike Malone, Tyrone Corbin and Brian Shaw. I’d go with Adams before any of them, but it’s uncertain if the Bulls will go the assistant route.
— Phil Johnson: The one-time, long time ago Bulls interim has basically been Jerry Sloan’s co-coach for years. He was coach of the year in 1975 for the old Kansas City/Omaha Kings and who knows if he wants his own team anymore. But he’s a good one.
— Mike Dunleavy: He was fired from the Clippers this season, but has more than 600 career wins for four teams and a Finals loss to the Bulls in 1991. He’s been close with Reinsdorf as a fellow Brooklynite.
— Eric Musselman: His name popped up in rumors several months back when there was talk about Del Negro’s job. He’s a hard driving guy like his late dad and had a rough go in one lamentable season coaching the Kings. Who knows if he’s mellowed with time away.
— Reggie Theus: The one-time popular Bull is on the bench with the Timberwolves after doing a decent job with the Kings for a few seasons. He’s popular in Chicago and a great ambassador, though he got rejected for the DePaul job. He’s got some connections with Forman as both worked at New Mexico State, where Theus had a nice NCAA run. The question at times has been his work ethic.
— Dwane Casey: He was close two years ago when Del Negro got the job. He had a good start at Minnesota, where he was replaced midway into the season and the team collapsed. He’s been on the bench at Dallas and has been a respected, if low key guy.
— Mark Jackson: The ABC broadcaster and former top point guard has been fishing around for an NBA job the last few years, though he’s had difficulties after having developed, fairly or not, something of a clubhouse lawyer reputation during his playing days.
— Mike Woodson: If the Hawks go out as expected and quickly after barely getting by the Bucks and having coached into his final season without an extension, he seems like the next to be available. But he’s way too much one-on-one coach and for all the criticism Del Negro got for his offense, Woodson’s and Mike Brown’s in Cleveland were way less complex or interesting. For some reason, the national media had it in for Vinny.
— Isiah Thomas: Just kidding, though he never had a losing season coaching the Pacers.
— Tony Barone: The Chicago native and former Creighton coach had an interim stint with Memphis, where he now is personnel director. He ran an uptempo, open game the Bulls need to play, though the defensive identity was questionable.
— Mark Price: The great Cavs point guard of the late 1980s was a head coach in Australia and has been a top shooting coach for several teams and working with a number of players. He’s also involved with a basketball teaching academy and specializes innwork with point guards. He’s also been a prep coach and coached Atlanta’s Josh Smith.
— Mike Fratello: The famed “Czar” from Marv Albert’s broadcasts would like to get another shot. He got something of a bad rap as a slowdown coach in Cleveland after having an uptempo Atlanta team with Dominique. He’s been away for a while and has been regarded as a bit too controlling of point guards and the offense, like Van Gundy and Avery Johnson.
— Sam Mitchell: He’s a name I like. Definitely a hold accountable, demanding tough guy. He was to be replaced when Bryan Colangelo came to Toronto, but then won coach of the year. Oops. Colangelo finally dumped him and the team has tanked since. He’s got some rough edges which seem to worry teams.
— Dick Versace: He’s also been out awhile but trying to break back in. He had a head stint with the Pacers and did front office work for the Grizzlies before Jerry West took over. He’s been popular and well known in Chicago, but away from the game and even tried a congressional run a few years back.
— Rudy Tomjanovich: He’s one of the great guys, but the game finally became too much when he was the guy between the two Phil Jackson runs in L.A. He quietly reverted to scouting and personnel work and has seemed much happier.
— Jim Cleamons: The longtime Jackson assistant had one run with the Mavs before Don Nelson added him to his list of guys he undercut. He’s a triangle guy, and I don’t see that offense very good for this Bulls personnel.
— Brian Hill: He had a couple of runs with the Magic and got to a Finals, though he’s mostly settled into assistant work, lately with the Pistons.
— Darrell Walker: Also an assistant with the Pistons after working under Scott with the Hornets. If Brown leaves the Bobcats, I can see Michael Jordan making a run at Walker, a Chicago guy who’s an old school type demanding coach who once had a run with the Raptors as Jordan likes guys he knows.
— Patrick Ewing: Also a Jordan guy. He’s the assistant most passed over of late, sort of like the best golfer never to win a major. He’s a bit on the quiet side, which has hurt his chances, though he’d be a good tutor for Joakim Noah given the way he developed from a defender into an offensive player. He’s been working under a terrific coach in Orlando in Stan Van Gundy.
— Tom Izzo: I don’t see the Bulls going the college way with the likes of ego maniacs like Pitino, who apparently pursued the New Jersey job earlier this season, or John Calipari. They’d be insufferable to work with and having been in college so long know little of the NBA even though both previously coached in the NBA. Izzo is the one guy I can see making the transition given his defensive style and the way he’s trained coaches like Skiles.
— Mike Kyzyzewski: No, he’s not going to the NBA. He’s got the Olympic team and he’s fine with that, plus his health wouldn’t permit an NBA lifestyle after the time he took off a few years back. He’s already turned down the Lakers and Kobe a few years back and I’ve heard the financial overtures from the Nets would make Phil Jackson’s $12 million annually not even close to being the highest paid coach.
— Bill Cartwright: I’d hope the longtime Bull and former Bulls coach would get another shot, as he’s done great things with the Suns defense as an assistant, but his voice issues might preclude that.
— P.J. Carlesimo: A bit more the college guy even though he had several jobs and a nice run on the bench with the Spurs. He was with the Sonics when they moved and fired after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.  He’d mellowed some over the years, but just a bit too terse with this era’s players and never with enough results to justify.
— Paul Silas: A guy who fell off the radar and probably has left the game a bit behind. He was LeBron’s first coach and had a few celebrated runins and seems to have settled quietly in North Carolina.
— Dan Issel: The Batavia native had a great run with the Nuggets, was popular and effective until one of those politically correct days got him. He’s been in the horse business in Kentucky and pretty much stayed away from the NBA in recent years.
— Bill Laimbeer: He’s on the bench in Minnesota, and you ask why. Perhaps the most disliked, detested player in the history of pro sports, an arrogant, condescending, cheap shot artist. Yeah, he should be high on a lot of lists.
— Bob Hill: He was a 60-game winner when he was replaced by Popovich in San Antonio, and the rest is history. Though lucking into David Robinson and Tim Duncan helped. He also had a good run as Pacers coach, but I always was suspicious as he wore loafers and no socks in winter, was always tanned and highlighted Pat Riley’s books.
— Dave Cowens: He finished up as a Pistons assistant after the WNBA in Chicago. He had a good run with the Hornets and Warriors as an old school, hustle guy, though wasn’t great with the subtleties of dealing with today’s youth. He once left the Celts in the middle of his career to clear his head and took a job as a cab driver. You don’t find guys like that anymore.
— John Lucas: There was talk the Houston rehab guy to the stars now on the Clippers bench would replace Dunleavy as interim. Lucas had head coaching runs with the Spurs, 76ers and Cavs and players train with him often in the summer, but probably has passed his coaching prime.
— Doc Rivers: He’s under contract another year with the Celts and I cannot see the Celts letting him go to join another team, especially without major compensation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did take a year away and I think he’d love to get in with the young Bulls back in his hometown and he certainly is a guy with that coaching presence.
— Erik Spoelstra: Pat Riley left a big enchilada out there with that tease the other day about coaching again if some free agent demanded it. Spoelstra has gained a lot of credence for his work as a defensive leader for the Heat the last two years, but as many coaches find out, the jobs aren’t guaranteed and life isn’t always fair.
— Brendan Malone: He’s Stan Van Gundy’s top guy with the Magic and was the Raptors first coach and had an interim stint with the Cavs. He’s a solid pro while his son is a rising star assistant with the Cavs now.
— Chris Ford: He’s an old school hold accountable guy who had jobs with the Celts, Bucks and Clippers before running afoul trying to actually get Allen Iverson to practice in Philadelphia. He knows the game and is credited with the first three pointer ever in the NBA. So he started it.
— Phil Jackson: This is the fantasy choice and would be a bit too complicated. If the Lakers win, Phil says he’s coming back. The Lakers want him back, but not at so much money. I’ve long thought life was too good in L.A. living on the beach, wearing his sandals to work every day and dating the Playboy posing daughter of the owner who has a crazy crush on him. If he were to leave, I could see him taking that huge payday with the Nets new owner as they could get the No. 1 pick and Phil started his coaching career there. But if LeBron would come to Chicago….The problem is that couldn’t be until July and if the Bulls wait and Phil stays or goes elsewhere there may be no one left. Is it worth playing for the jackpot? And only the jackpot?
So whom do you like?

Del Negro out as Bulls coach and here is why

It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was close. They’d gone through one date after another and nothing really was mutual. Until one day, John Paxson ran into Vinny Del Negro at the Chicago draft camp and they began talking hoops. And things seemed to click between the two former court rivals. This seemed different.
So Paxson and Gar Forman brought Vinny home, or, more precisely, to the home of their professional dad, Jerry Reinsdorf. And Jerry gave his blessing.
But once they started living together, it just wasn’t the same. It happens. It happens all the time in life, and it happens in basketball.
So Tuesday, the Bulls and coach Del Negro are expected to announce their official divorce.
The Bulls get the kids, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Vinny gets the settlement, about $2 million from his three-year contract to get on with his basketball life.
There’s no great explanation.
Each side has its own story.
Irreconcilable differences, as the explanation generally goes
It’s like when the movie stars announce a divorce and you are shocked that he/she could walk away from someone who looks like that.
But, hey, you didn’t have to live with them.
And that’s pretty much how I see the conclusion of the relationship between the Bulls and Del Negro. The Bulls sent out a notice late Monday night that general manager Forman Tuesday morning will address “the organization’s head coaching change.”
They did give it one last gasp at some counseling over the weekend with Del Negro meeting with Bulls chairman Reinsdorf Sunday and Forman Monday. It was too late. Too much had occurred already.
No, it wasn’t the altercation in March between Paxson and Del Negro, once close, and who actually was the one who plucked Del Negro out of candidate obscurity to give him a chance at the job. Del Negro certainly wasn’t on any list Reinsdorf had prepared.
There really was no one overplayed incident.
Vinny wasn’t who they thought he was, which is something Chicago teams run into with Phoenix guys. For his part, Vinny was on the NBA hamster wheel, running as fast as he could to catch up with the NBA game going at light speed, doing all he could and feeling he’d make big progress.
It was Vinny’s first ever coaching job, and it was a risk for the Bulls.
It was well chronicled they didn’t want a deal with Doug Collins. But I’m convinced has Mike D’Antoni waited a few days instead of running to the Knicks within hours of his first meeting with the Bulls he would have been hired. D’Antoni has since told friends he regretted his decision.
The Bulls will begin a search with the usual suspects for now, though nothing is imminent as there only has been the kind of vague discussion that goes on in all organizations.
Sure, Del Negro played and was a team executive and personnel guru. But like those rookies always say, the thing that surprises you is how fast the game is compared to watching it. It’s the same with coaching. It goes by a lot faster than you think, and millions of eyes are ready to second guess: Why didn’t you foul? You had one to give. Foul to play the free throw game down the stretch or let them shoot the three? When do you sub and who? When do you take them out and how long do you leave them in? Call a timeout? How many timeouts to keep for the end? What’s your offense? What’s your defense? Trap? Zone? Switch?
OK, bring in some veteran coaches to help. So Del Negro got Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff. Too bad they had different philosophies on the game, Del in one ear and Bernie in the other. Foul, don’t foul? Time out, no timeout. Shoot the three, drive.
The Bulls were hoping—fantasizing, really, though they knew that was unrealistic–they might strike gold, a new millennium version of the next Phil Jackson, who’d replaced the popular Doug Collins. But Vinny wasn’t ready.
So there were disputes. Why was Rose left out of games at crucial times? Why wasn’t Noah getting more time to develop? What’s with those big minutes? What’s with the tight rotation? Where’s the defense?
Del Negro said it was coming, and it was. The defense was improving, the rebounding was getting better. The young guys, Rose and Noah, were better. Taj Gibson, the rookie, had come on fast. The team played hard and finished strong for the second consecutive season.
So what’s the problem?
Yet, Rose’s defense had gone nowhere. The offense remained simplistic and predictable, the pick and rolls constantly using a poor shooter. There was too much standing around. Sure, Gibson had contributed, but where was James Johnson? How come guys played 20 minutes then two?
And then there was the minutes limitation for Noah.  Was it even necessary? Del Negro was endangering the future. Or was Noah always ready to play and showed it in the playoffs?
But life, as we all know, is not always fair.
It wasn’t about only those things.
The sides had dug in.
The Bulls didn’t feel the man they hired was the man who came to work. Del Negro believed despite the changes and priorities toward the future, the present had developed as well as could be expected.
The Bulls gave Vinny a chance when no one else would or did. His own Suns passed on him and hired Terry Porter.
The average life of a coach, especially in the Eastern Conference, is about two years. Of the 15 teams in the East, only five have coaches hired in seasons before the Bulls hired Del Negro.
This has happened before with the Bulls as well. Collins was fired after making it to the conference finals. Stan Albeck took the team to the playoffs the year Michael Jordan missed 64 games with a broken foot, and Albeck was then fired.
But it also happens all over basketball.
Sam Mitchell, Hubie Brown, Avery Johnson, Byron Scott and Rick Carlisle were fired or left within two seasons of being named coach of the year. Carlisle was fired in Detroit after two 50-win seasons and second round playoff appearances. For Hubie Brown, ostensibly for health reasons, it was 12 games into the season after he won the award. Larry Brown was fired in Detroit after taking the team to the Finals for the second straight season. Del Harris was fired by the Lakers 12 games into the season after he won 61 games. Mike Fratello was fired by the Cavs after six straight winning seasons and never a losing season.
Del Negro, by the way, was the fifth coach fired this season. The coaches of Atlanta, Toronto, Miami and Golden State are hardly secure.
These jobs are as much about results as they are communication and relationships.
Plus, their priorities are at variance.
The coach’s job is to win today’s game and win as many games as he can. The GM’s job is to develop a team for the long term and, if necessary, sacrifice the present. So there was that, Del Negro playing to win every game to assure his return or status, thus limiting one rookie and the bench, relying on the starters for big minutes, perhaps playing Noah more than recommended. And there was the organization hoping to see more of Johnson, preferring players like Luol Deng coming off serious injury not playing the second most minutes in his career, hoping to see defensive advancement from Rose and some more care for Noah.
Each had a point. But the relationship began to deteriorate.
From the outside, it appeared Vinny had done what he could given trades and Ben Gordon leaving in free agency. From the inside, there seemed perhaps a different agenda.
Vinny no longer was the right guy for this time.
It was no one’s fault. It happens. It happens all the time in pro sports.
Vinny gets his contract fulfilled, which was all he was promised. After all, it wasn’t like when he was hired anyone said this was coach for life, that this was the next Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach. The Bulls get the benefit of two years development, which has enhanced the status of Rose and Noah and with a good summer of work, the Bulls could be in an excellent position to move forward and become a true contender. Vinny gets the asterisk taken off his name. He’s a coach with experience now, which moves him to the head of the line and opens up the future if he wants to coach again.
Win/win? Perhaps not, but it is the way of life in the NBA. The game moves on. So will Vinny and the Bulls.

Bulls overcome Celts with Pax and Vinny a sidebar

This wasn’t Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich Tuesday who combined for 69 points, including 27 of the team’s 34 in the fourth quarter, to beat the Boston Celtics 101-93 before a raucous, playoff like crowd at the United Center.
No, it was more like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Like Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. Like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Like Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.
This was a backcourt duo for the ages as the Bulls now will make the playoffs if they defeat Charlotte Wednesday or if the Toronto Raptors lose to the Knicks.
“We’re just having trust and confidence in one another and we’ve been playing good basketball,” said Rose, who scored a career high 39 points and drove All Star and top defender Rajon Rondo from the game late. “It was one of those days. Some days it’s a whole bunch of turnovers. It was one of those days I hit almost everything. It’s my teammates who give me the confidence. I love playing here and being in tough situations, which makes me go out and perform. Kirk was huge knocking down shots, stepping up and making big plays. He’s one of our leaders. Everyone, the younger guys, look up to him.”
And the Bulls are a game from not having to look up at the eight playoff teams. Their destiny, as it were, is in their hands again after a second playoff style effort in which they outworked a Boston team playing its regulars with Paul Pierce with 28 points and Ray Allen with 25.
The Celtics now fall to fourth in the Eastern Conference and are likely to open the playoffs against the hot Miami Heat and potentially face Cleveland in the second round. The Celtics were hoping to avoid both, so it was no late season, Cavs like team.
But the Bulls dominated the boards 49-40 with Joakim Noah with nine points, 16 rebounds and three blocks (Rose was all over the place and also had three blocks) and Luol Deng with seven points and 12 rebounds. The Bulls committed just eight turnovers and shot 56.4 percent after halftime with Hinrich and Rose combining to shoot 26 for 42 overall.
With Boston relentlessly closing to within 90-86 with 1:48 left, Hinrich knocked in a big three from on top, sending the Celtics into a timeout and Noah running to Hinrich and rubbing his head.
“I don’t play with his pony tail when he make shots,” joked Hinrich. “He should leave my hair alone.”
Pierce then drove and was fouled for a pair of free throws. The Celtics cut off Rose and he found Hinrich in the left corner. Nate Robinson, who’d replaced Rondo with six minutes left, flew by Hinrich. Hinrich coolly stepped in for a 17 footer and 95-88 lead.
Allen then missed. Kevin Garnett got the ball, but Hinrich ripped it away and got it to Rose who ran ahead for what looked to be his second spectacular dunk of the game.
Earlier, Rose had a reverse two handed over the head tomahawk on a breakaway that would have had Stacey King making another commercial if the game wasn’t on TNT nationally.
“I’ve been planning that one for about three months,” Rose admitted. “I didn’t have the opportunity. I got it and tried. I did it to try and help my teammates get the edge. We’re playing in our building and the crowd likes to see exciting plays, so why not try.”
So on the way to another one of those—Rose said he was planning a one handed jam with his arm cocked back—his leg gave out and he was just able to get the ball over the rim and in to essentially end the game with the Bulls ahead 97-88 with 26.6 seconds left.
“I was happy I made it,” said Rose. “Or I would have been on TV somewhere with everyone making fun of me.”
The Celtics weren’t laughing, falling to 50-31 after giving it their best shot with the starters all playing big minutes and Garnett a reasonable 28.
“You saw Derrick Rose, you saw Kirk Hinrich. They really caught fire,” said Pierce. “That’s pretty much what it was. Those are the two leaders, the two scorers. They stepped up when it was needed.”
It should have been a heck of an uplifting night, and it was, especially in the wake of the equally big win in Toronto Sunday.
But just prior to the game YahooSports published a story detailing an altercation between executive vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negro, allegedly over Noah’s limited minutes schedule from his plantar fasciitis.
That line of questioning occupied much of the post game discussion, though it didn’t seem to bother the players much.
I get the feeling they have seen this before and know management and Del Negro have been an odds and no one will be surprised if Del Negro is relieved of his duties after this season.
The Bulls officially responded it was “an organizational issue” and it would be handled internally.
Though I write on the Bulls web site, that’s really all they tell me as well.
But players generally don’t worry about what they say and seemed pretty buoyant about the results of the game and even the line of questioning.
“Honestly, I didn’t hear anything about it,” said Deng, smiling. “I don’t think it’s affecting us at all. There’s always going to be news and that’s great for you (media) guys. It’s something to write about us.
“How did you hear about that?” Deng asked. “I stay away from all that. I’m sure those guys will solve it. It’s nothing more than guys being competitive. I’m sure it happens more in this league. I don’t think every team has snitches like we do.
“What happened, happened,” said Deng with a shrug.
So what did happen?
I’d heard some stuff about a dispute, but didn’t think much of it as there have been plenty over the years. Scott Skiles and Paxson used to have them. Jerry Krause had them all the time with Doug Collins and later Phil Jackson.
But I guess this got a bit physical, though it sounded a bit like one of those pushing scenes you sometimes see on the court when guys look like they want to fight but don’t.
I wish it wouldn’t have happened as I like Paxson and I like Vinny.
And they both were pretty fiery players in their time.
There’s obviously been some uneasiness throughout Del Negro’s tenure with rumors he’d be fired when the Bulls were nine games under .500 last year. Then after those blowout losses and 35-point lead lost to the Kings in December, there was a spate of national stories Vinny was to be fired any day. He obviously wasn’t, though he wanted a vote of confidence from management and mostly those are stupid as coaches generally get fired right after them. So management didn’t say much other than he was the coach.
Then Noah’s plantar fasciitis began to become serious and he had to stop playing. Noah went out Feb. 5 and missed seven games and the All Star break.
The medical opinion, as is known with plantar fasciitis, is you have to be careful and work back slowly or you can go back to ground zero and have to start over again.
So Noah was put on a very limited schedule. The next three games he played seven, 12 and seven minutes with his limitation increasing to 15 to 20 minutes.
Then came the Feb. 26 game with Portland with the Bulls facing a tough month in March. The Bulls were up to 30-27 and Vinny sensed some momentum he wanted to keep going. The Bulls got into a tough game with Portland and Noah came off the bench and was huge. Vinny got greedy going for the win in the overtime game and played Noah 27 minutes, almost double his time.
The next day was a disaster as Noah had that huge setback and was ordered out by the doctors at least three weeks, or 10 games.
The Bulls without Noah lost them all.
Things were edgy with Del Negro after that as Noah came back to a schedule of increasing minutes. By March 30 it was up to 25 minutes and the Bulls were monitoring it closely feeling they still had a shot at the playoffs if they could keep Noah playing.
So here were the Bulls again in a tough game against a good team, and Vinny’s former team, the Suns. Vinny went two minutes over with 27.
It didn’t seem like much, but he had been instructed.
I heard various versions of the story and only one staffer and no coach was witness. As far as I can tell, Paxson loudly challenged Del Negro about going over the limit again. These kinds of post game discussions are frequent, and I know even mild mannered Steve Kerr said one he had early with Mike D’Antoni led to bad feeling and D’Antoni’s eventual departure.
Now all of this stuff is subject to he said/she said as there really were no witnesses.
So supposedly Del Negro got up from his chair to come at Paxson. Or Del Negro got up and Paxson got in his face and pushed him. Paxson supposedly challenged Vinny. I also heard that Vinny welcomed it and said something like c’mon. I really don’t know whom to believe and what happened and didn’t talk to either Vinny or Paxson about it.
Here was Vinny after the game:
“All those things are internal. I have no comment. Whatever happens between the organization and myself…is internal. I focus on what I can control, preparation for the game and getting players ready. We’ve been battling a lot of adversity all season. Guys stayed together, showed great character and kept on fighting for eachother. I go about my job every day no matter what happens. I’m a competitor and love competing and the challenge and all the other things that happen stay internal.
“Of course (I wish it would not come out). That’s the NBA and things happen, practice or different situations things are going to come out. It’s part of the deal. You handle it and move forward and show leadership toward the team and go about your business. Things happen. There’s a lot of emotion involved in this game. A lot of things happen on a daily basis.
“The focus is on the game. I don’t waste my time with that stuff. I focus on the playoffs and getting ready to play. Now, we’ll focus on Charlotte. All that other stuff is irrelevant.”
Del Negro said the dispute didn’t enter into his thinking at all regarding not playing Noah but 12 seconds in the New Jersey overtime game. He credited the team doctor, Brian Cole, and trainer Fred Tedeschi with getting Noah ready to play at the level he’s at now (46 minutes Tuesday) and acknowledged sometimes with a competitor like Noah you have to protect him from himself and Del Negro said he feels “we’ve handled that right.”
I can see both sides. Vinny, like all coaches, works essentially day to day, and he was likely trying to sneak out a few minutes here and there for a win and hoping no one would notice. Noah having the relapse was a disaster. The Bulls view Noah, as we’ve seen from extraordinary performances of late, as a key part of their future and don’t want to risk injury and felt they knew best how to use him to push for the playoffs. Del Negro apparently saw it differently in trying to pile up wins when he could.
Not one person I spoke with said anything about anyone being punched or there being a fight. There seemed to be a lot of yelling, though it didn’t seem to faze Rose.
“What happened?” said Rose in a veteran response.
“I never heard about it. If it did happen it slipped past me,” he said. “I really don’t watch that stuff. When are around us, they’re always kidding around, joking around, talking. I guess they’re doing it behind closed doors. When they’re around us, they’re professionals.”
Noah was a bit annoyed, though made the point that whomever was leaking the story was more trying to distract the Bulls and perhaps cost them a playoff chance. Maybe it was Jay Triano.
“I think that that’s none of your guys’ business,” said Noah. “Things happen in a team and an organization. But that has nothing to do with you guys. We deserve not to have these problems talked about right now. We’re fighting as players. We’re giving everything we got. I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing.”
And it did take away from a brilliant Bulls game in which they outworked and were tougher than the Boston bullies.
Garnett screamed obscenities, as he generally does, and Kendrick Perkins lumbered around yelling at everyone, even drawing a technical foul after he was awarded a three point play. It’s not just age now for the Celtics as they added Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson and when you start to add dogs you can find fleas. Too big Glen “Baby” Davis wallowed around and got a few shots blocked as he leads the league by far in that dubious category and classy guys like Ray Allen and Doc Rivers have to be wondering what the heck is going on.
It was a brutal start with the Celtics ahead 20-17 after one as the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 28.6 percent on free throws. It was not looking good.
The Bulls got it going in the second quarter with Hinrich on the way to his season high finding his shooting almost unerring.
“I feel I’m doing a better job of staying in the flow of the offense,” said Hinrich. “There are stretches of the game I don’t feel like I’m getting opportunities, but I’ve stayed patient. Derrick’s been drawing so much attention I’m getting good opportunities and have been able to knock down some shots.”
Quietly, Hinrich has three games of at least 23 in the last six games.
The Bulls went ahead 37-29, but Garnett and Pierce combined on a late surge to bring Boston within 44-41 at halftime.
The Celtics looked like they were taking control behind Pierce, going ahead 57-50. But Noah hit a jumper and a hard drive faking Garnett and going over Perkins and responding to the three-point chance with a bold fist pump. He was again bringing the life back to the Bulls.
“The intensity was there,” said Hinrich. “We knew we had to win in Toronto. We had to win tonight. Our mindset was refuse to lose.”
Still, the Celtics held on 68-67 after three.
Yes, it was winning time, and it went to the Bulls this time.
The Bulls opened the fourth with six straight, the last two on a Brad Miller miss that Rasheed Wallace grabbed and somehow pushed back into the basket that got a good laugh except on the Celtics bench. Miller then got a layup on a pass from Jannero Pargo, and then they turned it over to Rose and Hinrich, who were absolutely brilliant.
Rondo is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and a likely first or second team all-defensive player. Rose made him look silly and Rivers had to bench him.
Like all teams, the Celtics were doubling, leaving a man behind the primary defender to put up a wall, trapping on occasion. Nothing worked as Rose got anywhere he wanted and made jump shots, tear drops, leaners, layups and when he didn’t Hinrich was there for a pair of threes down the stretch, the Bulls with the Celtics answering almost every time scoring in their last seven possessions and nine of their last 11.
Yes, and this is a pretty good Celtics defensive team, if not the one of a few years ago, and Garnett played down the stretch.
“It’s a tough back to back,” said Hinrich of Game 82. “We’ve got one game to determine our fate.”

Del Negro still the Bulls coach despite reports

So Vinny finally rose up in his own defense after Bulls practice Monday in the wake of another internet report that he was about to be fired unless he isn’t.
The latest one came from ESPN, which is dangerous because they are the Monster That Ate Sports, and are brilliant in promoting themselves. They do some good stuff and I do watch. Who doesn’t? But as Spiderman knows, With great power comes great responsibility.
Who says you don’t learn the classics if you read Bulls.com?
I’m not saying journalism ever has been much better, especially since as close as I can figure a couple of newspapers started the Spanish-American War in 1898 to boost circulation with the battle cry of “Remember the Maine,” which was a battle ship blown up off Cuba. Though initially since President McKinley wasn’t actually a genius, I believe the U.S. was planning to attack Bangor.
In any case, I digress.
The demands of internet journalism these days call for immediate news which can scroll across the TV for a few hours until something else comes along. So ESPN reported breathlessly Del Negro was to be fired. Unless there was no alternative and the Bulls decide to keep him. But, really, he’ll be fired after that. There’s also this little trick in journalism, if you can call it that anymore, where you take something written a few weeks before as there was oodles of speculation that Del Negro’s firing was imminent and agreed upon and you offer a version of it later after things have cooled down.
It reminds me of the bit the old Saturday Night Live did reporting each week that “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.” The TV networks then went for weeks every night reporting Franco near death and sometimes would report he was alive. SNL picked it up after he died and confirmed his continuing death for months. Yes, Vinny still is coach, but dying the death of 1,000 headlines.
Is Del Negro on thin ice, as it were? Sure. That’s been obvious with the team’s stumbling start. But everyone in sports knows coaches are hired to be fired, and it can happen any time. How quickly did 2007 Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell go last season at 8-9? Byron Scott, the 2008 Coach of the Year, was fired barely into this season, making it three of the last four named Coach of the Year fired within two years afterward. And Vinny never even coached before.
Vinny’s put up with it all pretty well. But asked again Monday in this fourth round of firing reports (After the blowouts on the Western trip, after the Dec 5-9 losses at home to Toronto and New Jersey, and after the 235-point blown lead against Sacramento. Was it just 35?), Del Negro told reporters, at the Berto Center:
“It’s just funny to me. There’s really nothing to say. You have all these people that have rumors and everyone has their sources. It’s just not accurate. I don’t have time to deal with rumors. I talk to Gar and Pax (Gar Forman and John Paxson) every day. They’re at practice every day. It’s unfortunate, but everyone has their source. But no one’s source so far has been very accurate. All these people that come out just trying to fill space. It’s just part of the way people are going to jump on the bandwagon and all these sources and everything. When people are down they’re going to jump on you. That’s just the way it is. My focus is getting the team ready for tomorrow against Indiana. We had a good practice today and I was pleased with the effort and energy.”
Indiana’s coach Jim O’Brien got himself a vote of confidence Monday from general manager Larry Bird despite six straight losses and a give-up blowout loss to the Heat Sunday. The Pacers, who play the Bulls at the United Center Tuesday, have led for less than a minute in the last two games, though are without their injured star, Danny Granger.
So Vinny might have made this case for himself:
“So which one of you had us picked in the top five in the East and in the second round of the playoffs. Over just whom? OK, our record isn’t what we’d like and we certainly gave away some games we shouldn’t have. And I didn’t help then. But we’re tied for eighth in the East and that’s without having one starter, Tyrus Thomas, all season, another, Derrick Rose, basically playing at half speed in November after missing all of training camp with an ankle injury, and our sixth man and now a starter Kirk Hinrich missing six games with another thumb injury.
“And it’s my fault he can’t hit a shot anymore? The guy’s not a great shooter, 41.4 percent in his career. But he’s shooting 36 percent. Can Phil Jackson make him shoot better? How about John Salmons? Hey, I gave him all the rope and time anyone would. He hasn’t made shots all season and I left him out there to get himself right. The guy’s a career 44 percent shooter and shooting under 38 percent and 32 percent on threes. OK, maybe I’m not the greatest at drawing up plays. But I run 10,000 pick and rolls a game. You telling me these guys can’t get a couple of good shots up off those mismatches?
“And what about Joakim Noah? You’ve got to mention him as a possible All Star. He’s developed. Since he’s gotten back to full health, Rose is scoring and averaging more than he did last season. Luol Deng is back to where he was two years ago averaging 18 and 8 when people were saying he might be an All Star. And here’s a No. 26 pick, Taj Gibson, who’s getting everyone’s respect around the league as a legitimate starter. So you’ve got several guys having career years or close and young players developing. So maybe I’m not Jerry Sloan or Gregg Popovich, but has it been that bad that I deserve my job attacked every week?
“OK. If that’s what you want, go ahead! I’m a man! I’m 43! I can take it!”
Now, let’s be clear. Vinny never said any of this, at least not to me. Not to anyone familiar with his thinking, I’m guessing. And all this said, it’s not like he’s going to threaten even any of Dick Motta’s Bulls coaching records. Look, things could go badly and if the Bulls begin to fall into a deeper hole, which in NBA standards is generally when you begin to get 10 games under .500 and more, you could see a change this season. Coaches change in the NBA at a rate of about half every three years. If someone great is available and wants to coach now, well, it can happen in any business.
It’s part of the job to take the heat and speculation about your future. Every coach does when his team isn’t doing well. I read reports last week Mike Dunleavy was to be fired in November, but then the Clippers won two games. If Eddie Jordan and Flip Saunders, the two most respected, veteran coaches hired in the offseason, weren’t just hired they’d probably by the subjects of similar speculation given the dysfunction with their teams. Toronto’s Jay Triano has heard plenty of “fire him” talk this season. It comes with the job description. But you’d think Vinny shouldn’t have to respond to the same question every week when nothing new has happened.
Of course, if the Bulls lose to Indiana…

Bulls shake 35-point doldrums but lose to Knicks

The Bulls lost still another, this time Tuesday in New York, 88-81 to the Knicks, in a game in which the Bulls had the ball and a chance for a three to tie with 30 seconds left.
So they recovered, at least somewhat, from the shock of Monday’s staggering 35-point lost lead against the Sacramento Kings which left the Bulls in perhaps their worst shape in a disappointing season, as a national joke and object of ridicule.
There’s nowhere worse to be, and with a desolate, dispirited first half in which the Bulls trailed 54-31, coach Vinny Del Negro seemingly declared his independence from it all.
Conservative and cautious, always seemingly fearful of upsetting the veterans, Del Negro, instead, began the second half by benching both John Salmons and Brad Miller to go with a faster, more energetic team.
The result was an awakening that carried the Bulls back into the game behind Derrick Rose’s 16 third quarter points and the Bulls within 80-79 with 1:41 remaining.
It’s as close as they would come.
Chris Duhon then came out of a timeout and beat Rose, but shot too hard. the ball was rebounded by David Lee, who had 18 points and 21 rebounds. He was fouled and made both free throws.
Rose then short armed a jumper at the free throw line. Al Harrington, who led the Knicks with 20 points off the bench, missed a three. Rose penetrated and kicked back to Luol Deng, who missed a long two. Jared Jeffries was fouled, but missed both to give the Bulls a chance trailing 82-79 with 33.2 seconds left.
Del Negro said they were supposed to go on top for an isolation with Rose and back pick from Noah, who finished with 10 points and also 21 rebounds. But Kirk Hinrich lobbed, instead, at the rim, and the ball was deflected out of bounds. Taj Gibson snuck inside on the inbounds, but missed the pass in from Rose as he took a bad angle and the ball went out of bounds.
The Bulls elected not to foul with 28.3 seconds left. But Duhon found Lee open on a pick and pop and Lee made the deciding shot and the game ended in a welter of unnecessary free throws that artificially enlarged the final margin.
“It’s tough when you lose, especially the way we did last night,” said Del Negro. “I thought our energy in the second half was much better. When you make baskets and get after it defensively and guys are feeding off it, that’s a good sign.”
The sign I took out of the game, otherwise, is Del Negro, though not betraying a hint of anxiety, signed his personal declaration of independence.
And perhaps, finally, it’s what he needs to do to get this Bulls team on track.
Hold players accountable.
Play badly and you sit. Don’t defend and you sit. Take those crappy, quick jumpers and you sit. Who cares if you are a veteran or if you are playing for a new contract or what you did before.
“I thought Taj came with good energy, Kirk played with thrust,” said Del Negro explaining his decision to open the second half with Hinrich and Gibson. “I felt we needed a jump start. I liked the way we started the third quarter.”
Salmons said afterward he was surprised by the move, though perhaps that reflects more on Del Negro’s handling of the team thus far given Salmons is shooting 38 percent and 31 percent on threes. Salmons also committed a crucial turnover on a lazy pass with 3:16 left and the Bulls down seven and fighting to get back in and didn’t chase down court. Instead, Rose took off immediately and forced the breaking Wilson Chandler to lose the ball.
“John’s got to play through it, play with confidence and aggressiveness and make plays, not always settle for jump shots,” said Del Negro. “Not always try to score but make plays for teammates. He’s got to get back on track.”
Del Negro to start the second half also sat Miller, who put up another 0-fer Tuesday, though in just 13 minutes with three shots. Miller now has made just one shot in the last four games and is one for 15 in that stretch in 79 minutes played.
Which makes you wonder if the Bulls want to make a move with Miller. That’s because the hard luck Trailblazers, the Frailblazers as Mike from Queens suggested to me, lost center Joel Przybilla for the season Tuesday with Greg Oden already out. They have to have a big guy now. Would Portland go for a package around Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw, both free agents? You assume Philadelphia would be in there right away offering Samuel Dalembert. Something to watch.
“Instead of being passive we were attacking the basket and putting pressure on them,” said Del Negro. “Derrick was attacking, Lu was attacking. We got a few easy baskets, which got us back in. We had good shots. We did not get down. Our energy did pick up in the second half, especially defensively and we started making more shots. We got some easy shots instead of settling for jump shots.”
Now, no one is saying this season has been Salmons’ fault or Miller’s fault or any player in particular. That’s something to be shared.
As Noah said afterward, “We definitely have a lot of soul searching to do.”
If someone has to answer for it in the short term, though, it seemingly would be Del Negro. And he knows about that even if he doesn’t follow the standings or read about it. He’s asked about it now routinely and always said it’s out of his control.
Which for the most part it is.
Del Negro, though I’ve never fully discussed this with him, has coached like he’s a former player who always said if he ever got to be a coach he’d handle players the way he wanted to be treated: Give him his minutes and don’t change things around all the time. It doesn’t work. You’re brought in to coach them, not appease them. Hold them accountable and demand the best they have.
And so that appears to be what Vinny finally decided Tuesday. Enough of this standing around and shooting long jumpers when the urge hits you, not concentrating on either end.
Del Negro did address some of the meltdown from Monday’s Kings loss by playing both James Johnson and Jannero Pargo in the first quarter Tuesday, going nine deep after playing just seven Monday and seeing the shots come up short at the end Monday, a sign of tired legs.
After Monday’s game, Del Negro denied fatigue was a factor, but reconsidered and said before Tuesday’s game he could have done a better job getting other players in sooner with a big lead. Though Del Negro also said the team has had a tendency to blow leads, so he wanted to have his better players in.
It’s not uncommon with inexperienced coaches. They tend not to trust the lesser talents and while you’ll see someone like Phil Jackson sit even Michael Jordan and now Kobe Bryant when it his time to open the fourth quarter even if the team is losing, less confident and inexperienced coaches tend to ride their best players as a security blanket. It can backfire, and apparently did against the Kings.
But it was a brutal first quarter Tuesday, though Johnson had a poster slam late in the quarter. Yes, he can be spectacular, but his defense is poor and the Knicks led 22-12 after one and steadily extended the lead to 36-19 with Johnson and Pargo in. Johnson did get another stretch after halftime, but Pargo did not.
It looked over as the Knicks closed the first half to lead 53-31 on a Duhon back door layup, a driving layup and dunk from Wilson Chandler and then Lee rebounding a Chandler miss and finding Harrington for a closing 22 footer. Meanwhile, Deng and Salmons were firing wildly on long threes.
The Bulls were a different team to open the second half. They started off slowly, but their defense was more active as the Knicks missed five of their first six shots. Then Rose took over, pushing the ball for layups and fouls, and throwing in that Olajuwon-like dream shake move he’s picked up when he goes into the lane, though it was the one he came up short on with that last shot against the Kings Monday.
“I had to give it my all,” said Rose. “There’s really is no point in playing the game if you’re not going to go out there and give it your all. In the first half, we were tired from last night. But there are no excuses in the N.B.A.. You still have to go out there and ball. That’s what I tried to do in the second half but we didn’t get the victory.”
Rose would finish with 26 points and he seemed to rouse Deng, who ended with 23 and began again to collect loose balls around the basket for scores. Rose tossed in a fancy drive and Savard spin-o-rama and then ended the third with a full court burst against the clock for a pullup three, just his second three of the season.
The Bulls were within 68-56. And then after the Knicks seemed to regain control to open the fourth even without Nate Robinson (the Knicks are now 6-3 since they stopped playing him and 11-17 to 10-17 for the Bulls), the Bulls defense tightened again with Salmons back in and hitting a big three.
Noah’s half hook following a Rose set up after a Rose hanging drive for a score and another driving layup brought the Bulls within one with under two minutes left. They couldn’t finish, but perhaps it’s a start with Tyrus Thomas’ return from injury expected in the next game Saturday.
“We’re definitely capable of winning and I think that we’re just going through a tough stretch right now,” said Noah. “We’re not playing our best basketball mentally. As a team we’re not very good. So I’m hoping that we can get better and hopefully just find a way to play with high energy for a whole game, not just periods.”

Bulls feel better about this loss to Lakers

You have to hope what happened Tuesday in a hustling, determined Bulls effort, in the end a 96-87 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant’s 42 points, doesn’t become a habit.
Not the playing hard and competing, finally.
The being satisfied with it.
“We’ve just got to learn from this one and get better, improve,” said Joakim Noah, who was a hustling force with 11 points and 20 rebounds, 14 on the offensive boards, the most for a Bulls player in 12 years. “You’re getting blown out by 30 points how can you say we’re improving? Tonight we can look at ourselves and say we gave everything we had (and) put ourselves in position where we had a chance. We can’t get down just missing open shots and some layups. If we bring that energy we should be happy with ourselves.”
Not too happy as it was another loss, the 11th in 13 games to fall to 8-15, three games poorer than last season this time when the Bulls were playing Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes.
It was a lost opportunity, in some sense, as the Bulls got 96 shots to 79 for the Lakers, outrebounded them 51-37, had 14 blocks to five for the Lakers and had more points in the paint, fast break points and second chance points.
The biggest statistic is they scored more than us,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.
Noah was terrific. Derrick Rose, who suffered a strained rib and left the game for a time, and Luol Deng each had 21 points in a promising sign the way the team in the first three quarters opened the floor more for Rose and speeded up the game with fast breaks.
It helped that Bryant, who scored 20 points in the first quarter playing with a splint on his right broken index finger to show he could, also made eight turnovers and effectively took the Lakers out of their dominant offense by shooting so much.
The Lakers crushed the Bulls in Los Angeles last month going inside repeatedly to their big guys, seven footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who combined for just 18 shots to 26 for Kobe and 20 threes for the Lakers, 18 through the first three quarters which ended with the Bulls ahead 73-72.
I asked Noah about the difference Tuesday, and he looked up like I’d just landed from France with the Coneheads.
“I think Kobe Bryant taking 30 shots, that makes a difference,” Noah said. “They (big guys) didn’t get the ball maybe as much as they wanted to.”
Then realizing you don’t spit into the wind or question Bad Bad Kobe, Noah added: “When Kobe is hot like that you cannot really be upset.”
Kobe was hot, oooh and aaah hot as he blitzed John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich with jumper after jumper in the first quarter, eight straight in one stretch. Though at the end of the quarter, it was 31-31 in one of the Bulls best quarters of the season.
Actually, I thought the Bulls strategy of not double teaming Bryant was sound. First of all, the Bulls are not a great team at doubling and recovering. They bring the double along the baseline a lot, and then opponents have learned to turn middle on it for an easier shot. Plus, the more Bryant looks to shoot, the more it levels the field with the huge advantage the Lakers have inside.
“They’re a load,” agreed Brad Miller, who seems finally to be coming on as he started to match the big guys and had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
I can hear Bill Walton demanding: Throw it down! Big guy.
“Aaron Gray made a comment one time that Bynum with one of his flatfooted shots was still six inches above me,” said Miller. “They’re long and they’re big, but Jo and Taj (Gibson, who added three offensive rebounds) really played hard.”
It came down to the end, as it often has this season for the Bulls, and there was no one there again, the Bulls outscored in the fourth quarter 24-14 (seven from briefly-a-Bull Shannon Brown) as the Lakers pulled away.
“There isn’t the outside threat (Ben) Gordon presents or the streak scorer that he was,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson earlier had offered in assessing his onetime franchise.
But it’s more than that as the Bulls still can’t seem to find someone to rely on consistently down the stretch in games. It got complicated, I thought, Tuesday when after opening the floor more with isolations, fast breaks and some dribble weave actions, the Bulls reverted to that side to side high pick and roll which gets Salmons standing around in one corner and Deng in another as the defense forms a wall against Rose and the Bulls stop moving.
“You want to get into that role (of closer),” said Deng. “Every competitor in the league wants to be in that role for his team. We’ve got to commit to that guy whoever that guy is.”
But the Bulls don’t seem close to figuring that out.
Deng and Rose divided 13 fourth quarter shots Tuesday, but were a combined four for 13. Noah even took five and was scoreless, though all tips and layup attempts. The Bulls were six of 27 in the fourth quarter while the Lakers were 10 of 18 to take the game. Brown, the Proviso East product, was terrific to open the quarter with a three and one of his highlight dunks. And then Bynum got deep for a three-point play and Bryant added a jumper to put the Lakers ahead 86-77 with 6:53 left. This Bulls team doesn’t make up nine-point deficits in six minutes.
“We kind of addressed it after the game,” said Hinrich, rounding back into shape with 11 points and three blocks.  “If we give this kind of effort night in and night out, good things are going to happen for us. On offense as a team. I thought we got off to a good start.  Then we started missing some shots in the fourth.  We probably got some good looks, but we just couldn’t knock them down.  They might have worn us down a bit. Tonight everyone played hard.  There was some urgency there.  Now we’ve got to build on it.  Even a loss, we’ve got to build on how we competed.”
The Bulls got off to a good start, and Hinrich replaced Salmons five minutes into the game as Salmons kept biting for Bryant pump fakes and fouling. Hinrich ended up playing 31 minutes to 29 for Salmons.
Del Negro probably has a decision to make before long.
This Bulls team with its lack of scoring can’t afford to ease into games, as it often does. It didn’t Tuesday, and the effort was contagious until they wore down or slowed down at the end. But they were scoring, moving the ball, making steals and disrupting the Lakers and even got eight fast break points in the first quarter.
“It was really fortunate for us that (Bryant) was shooting so well,” said Jackson.  “We won’t win many games playing like we did tonight.  We gave up about a gazillion offensive rebounds.  Noah just did a great job tonight.  He’s one of the most talented rebounders in the league.”
Noah even had four of his six blocks in the first quarter. Bryant was on the way to 80 points, but the Bulls were there and looking good.
While Salmons has continued to founder, shooting one of five for two points and zero for three on threes. He cannot seem to find a spot in the offense, and now seems to have settled on hoisting up jumpers after he hasn’t shot for awhile.
The Bulls seemed to operate better pairing Hinrich with Rose. Though a smaller backcourt, Hinrich came out shooting aggressively, making five of 11, competed energetically on Bryant, though without great success, and could take pressure off Rose as an additional ballhandler. It allowed Rose at times to attack from the wing after getting the ball back running through the offense instead of having the defense line him up.
In the perimeter game the NBA has become, you see more teams using two point guards in the backcourt, and it’s been successful for teams like Milwaukee, Houston and Sacramento to help open the court. Del Negro probably is going to have to face at some point soon benching the slumping Salmons and giving him a chance to find his shot against the opponents’ reserves. Del Negro has been resistant to such moves for the way a player might react, though this Bulls team doesn’t have much more time to straighten out this season.
The first quarter was a joy with Bryant going off like that and the Bulls coming out blazing fast with even Miller blowing by Bynum on a drive. The Bulls led 18-9 after Hinrich stripped Bynum and passed ahead to a streaking Rose. The Bulls got a scare then as Rose grabbed his side and left the game with a note from the team saying he wouldn’t return with a rib injury.
“He hurt his rib last week,” Del Negro revealed. “He went for a layin and turned the wrong way and stretched it out again. He kind of aggravated a muscle in the sib cage. He went back in and it felt better when it got loose. We’ll see what the doctor says.”
It was the Bryant Show then, offset by Hinrich shooting and Noah beating the Lakers to the boards.
“He was just making shots,” said Hinrich. There weren’t many times I thought I could’ve done something different. There was handful of times I felt like ‘I should have done this or that,’ but for the most part he made shots.”
“I just wanted to get a rhythm going,” said Bryant, who termed the broken finger the most troublesome injury of his career.  “I got here early and got some shots up.  I felt pretty good.  This is the most challenging one.  I’ve played with sore ankles, broken knuckles and things like that. It’s tough. It affects my follow through.  I’m still having a little trouble handling the basketball.  I have trouble dribbling through traps, but close to the basket I was pretty effective.”
That was at the left elbow, where Bryant went for quick postups and fadeaways, but he wasn’t beating the Bulls.
Rose returned midway through the second quarter with the Bulls down five as Jannaro Pargo and James Johnson were off again, missing all six attempts combined. It may be the chicken-and-egg thing for Johnson, who hasn’t played much. But he hasn’t played well when he has been in, generally making one nice play and then following that with several mistakes and misses.
The Lakers moved ahead 54-48 at halftime, but the Bulls put in a strong third with Deng willing himself to the basket and Rose providing the highlight by splitting a double on top and flashing to the basket for a layup past Pau Gasol, who had 10 points while Bynum had 11, the only other Lakers in double figures.
The Bulls bogged down again to open the fourth and couldn’t recover as no one could get much going. With Bryant sitting the first five minutes when the Lakers went from trailing by one to leading by seven, would it have made a difference to start Rose and Noah in the fourth quarter? Rose did come in with three minutes gone and the Bulls trailing by four, but you have to rest sometime and the Bulls seem fixed on a seven-player rotation until Tyrus Thomas returns, perhaps early next week. But nobody really was effective.
“We’ve got to take a positive out of this one,” said Deng. I’ve thought the last three games, even the Celtics game where we lost by a lot–maybe fatigue set in–we’ve played harder. If we play this way every time, I think we’ll definitely turn this around.”
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