The Bulls' time is now… or never


Dec 25

The clock is ticking for Vinny Del Negro and the Bulls.

Because it’s time.

The team will be as close to completely healthy as it has been all season Saturday when the New Orleans Hornets are at the United Center with Tyrus Thomas expected to return from a fractured left arm.

Del Negro seems done with worrying about feelings as he’s replaced John Salmons with Kirk Hinrich and likely will start rookie Taj Gibson for Brad Miller only until Thomas is ready to take his old starting job, which should be by next week.

The Bulls are committing to what seems like their best starting lineup by putting more so called energy players on the floor, especially with Hinrich, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. Thomas should eventually add to that, assuming, of course, he commits to run with that team.

This Bulls team, without a classic postup scorer and weak on three point shooting, has to play fast to score more, relying on easy points, which means offensive rebounds, free throws and fast breaks.

You do that best with your highest energy players in the lineup.

The general feeling coming into this season was the Bulls, even with the loss of Ben Gordon, would have improved depth. They should now with Salmons, Miller, James Johnson, soon Gibson, Jannero Pargo and Aaron Gray available off the bench. It’s been obvious Del Negro has coached uncertainly by not employing the bench more. It’s not unusual among inexperienced coaches as they tend to trust the best players.

Most fans, at least those with families, have coached or been involved with youth sports. What’s the biggest problem? Other than parents. It’s coaches who play the best kids at the exclusion of the others. Of course, it’s moronic and pathetic on that level given the games mean nothing.

It’s an indication of coaching inexperience and the inability to put players in position to help your team. Though Gray has been foul prone, Pargo has shot poorly and Johnson has been a defensive liability and turnover happy, there not only has to be situations where they can help, but they can help by giving some rest to the energy players.

It’s always seemed to me you can tell a guy he’s playing four minutes. So go out there and give it four minutes of heck and you’ve done your job. In any case, with Thomas back and Rose healthy, the bench strength should be better.

I like the moves because Salmons hasn’t performed. It happens. It’s no big deal. Guys are benched all the time. Good teams always are benching guys. It’s not personal. You should have to earn your time, and I’m glad to see Del Negro finally send that message.

It was easy for Del Negro last season with Deng out and after the trades a generally short rotation. So he could play everyone big minutes down the stretch of the season. It happened they were producing.

It hasn’t been that way this season. Salmons has been better before, but he’s slumping and pressing now. So give him some time against second line guys and more spot minutes. Same with Miller until they come on.

Give Gray a run. At least let him bang someone. It takes a toll down the stretch. Make sure Pargo is just in catch and shoot situations. He’s handled the ball too much this season and shot off the dribble. That’s not his game. I can see him wanting to have a big game against his former Hornets team.

Johnson clearly is better on the perimeter. Maybe have him play some small forward or point power forward. Let him bring up the ball and if he’s got a mismatch, let him attack. And can’t someone teach him to lower that arc on his shot. You can’t be consistent that way. Someone also tell Gibson to concentrate on that first free throw. He’s been the most pleasant surprise this season, but did you ever notice how many first free throws he misses? He’s too good to shot 51 percent overall. Heck, Noah shoots 71 percent. A team that has so much trouble scoring cannot afford to miss so many free throws. The Bulls are 18th in the NBA after being seventh last season.

A third of the season has been completed. It’s not feeling out and adjustment time anymore. There’s a brutal road stretch starting in three weeks, nine of 10 on the road into early February.

The season is now. There are no more excuses with Thomas now available, a full complement of players and the message being sent by the coach it’s finally time for accountability.

We’ll find out soon whether they all received it or whether it’s just too much for this group.

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