Del Negro still the Bulls coach despite reports


Dec 28

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

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…

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