Chicago Sun-Times

December 2009 Archives

Del Negro tries to move forward

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The buzz over his job status still can be heard, but coach Vinny Del Negro vowed to simply focus in on doing his job.

He didn't answer directly when asked if he was satisfied general manager Gar Forman's comments Tuesday would put the issue to rest for a while.

"It's been beat up so much, I just really want to focus in on the game and what my job is with this team," Del Negro said. "I think all that stuff will play itself out. I think we just have to try to move forward a little bit and see what direction things go."

When asked if he felt he should stay on, Del Negro said:

"That's not my decision. It's easy for me to make that decision, but that's not my decision to make. I have a lot of confidence, not only in myself but my staff. My staff, I think, has done a tremendous job. They're very experienced, they've been around. I'm just gonna keep on making sure we're prepared as best we can, get these young guys continually developing and moving in the right direction."

Forman addresses Del Negro situation

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General manager Gar Forman tried to lessen some of the media frenzy about the job status of coach Vinny Del Negro sparked by an inaccurate report that circulated Monday by addressing the media before the Bulls game against the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night.

"Vinny is our coach," Forman said. "Our goal is to get better each and every day. We as a management team are exploring all options to get better. We expect our coaches to work each and every day to get this team better."

When asked if he would commit to Del Negro finishing the season, Forman said:

"I feel we shouldn't talk about evaluations with any personnel that we do internally. We are all being evaluated at all times. That goes from me to our management staff to our coaching staff to our players, and those are things that we keep internally."

Forman then was asked if management was behind Del Negro.

"Our organization is behind what we're doing," Forman said. "We're still optimistic of where we're going. Like I said, I don't think anybody is happy where we're at today and our goal is to get better each day."

Del Negro believes he has management's backing

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Following the latest report of his impending firing, coach Vinny Del Negro was asked if he still has the support of Bulls' management.

"Oh, yeah. Absolutely," he said. "I talk to them every day.

"When you ask those questions, you know, it's easy for me to say that, but go ask those guys. Go ask them. Those are questions for them to answer, but it's really just a waste of time because I know we're on the same page."

OK, so I asked.

"He's right," general manager Gar Forman said. "We do talk every day and we are on the same page."

Del Negro reacts to report, but management declines

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Because general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson declined to comment on Monday, Vinny Del Negro was left to address - again - an Internet report saying his days as Bulls coach are numbered.

"It's just funny to me," Del Negro said following practice Monday. "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 every day; they're at practice every day."

According to the report citing NBA sources familiar with the "thinking" of Bulls management, the decision has been made that Del Negro isn't the man for the job long-term.

The report, citing the same sources, said the Bulls don't want to promote an assistant coach on an interim basis and that Paxson coaching has been ruled out as a possibility. It also said TNT analyst Doug Collins -- who was close to taking the job before Del Negro was hired -- was contacted and declined to take over during the season. hedged its report by saying Del Negro could last the season if the Bulls can't get the guy they want until after the season.

"You have to deal with those things," Del Negro said. "It's unfortunate, but everyone has their source, but no one's source so far has been very accurate. 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."

The truth is, the only thing new in the report is that the Bulls have reached a conclusion on Del Negro and contacted Collins. Del Negro's future beyond this season was an issue even before the season. He had to prove himself this season to return for the final year of his contract.

The team's 11-17 record and haggard play since a 6-4 start has made his job status an issue right now, but pulling the trigger now doesn't make a lot of sense - unless you can get someone who want on the job next season to take the reins of the team immediately.

That eliminates Collins - who is close with Del Negro and never would agree to that - and probably all of the former coaches currently biding time on television, including Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and even Byron Scott, who was fired by the New Orleans Hornets earlier in the season and now is working for ESPN.

It also eliminates assistant coaches with other NBA teams as candidates because no team is going to allow a top assistant to leave during the season.

So the best bet for the Bulls - who are finally healthy with the return of Tyrus Thomas on Saturday and could be primed for a run -- is to allow Del Negro to finish the season and then make a quick decision afterward. That way, if a change is made, the Bulls could have the new coach in place before the free-agent period begins in July.

Bulls move into top eight in East

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As bad as the Bulls have been for much of the last six weeks, it's amazing that Saturday's win over the New Orleans Hornets moved them into a tie for eighth-place (with the Charlotte Bobcats) in the Eastern Conference.

That's right, an 11-17 record is good enough for eighth place in the East. If the Bulls could get close to the .500 mark, they likely would move up to sixth.

The top four teams in the East -- the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks -- are among the NBA's best, but after that it's a crap shoot with mostly crappy teams.

Thomas a go for Saturday

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Unless there's an 11th hour setback, Tyrus Thomas is a go for Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets.

Thomas, who has been sidelined nearly seven weeks with a fractured left forearm, participated in a full practice session today and coach Vinny Del Negro was convinced the 6-9 forward is ready for the active roster.

"He got his first practice in today with contact and things," Del Negro said. "There didn't seem to be any side effects.

"Obviously, it's gonna take him awhile to get comfortable with the wrap he has on there and stuff, but he practiced today and was running the court."

Thomas has been running for weeks and returned to non-contact practice drills more than a week ago, so he's anticipating it won't take him long to adjustment to game speed.

"I practiced well today," he said. "I don't see me needing much of an adjustment period."

Del Negro will use Thomas off the bench initially, with rookie Taj Gibson starting at power forward.

"We'll get him in there on Saturday and see how it goes," The coach said of Thomas. "The better he plays, the more minutes and things. Really, it's just getting him back to playing at the speed of the game and the physicality of it. He's been out awhile and he's really only had one real practice, today. So it'll be a little bit of a process.

"It'll be good to have another body out there and his athleticism obviously can help us."

Del Negro must take a lot of blame for collapse

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When something goes wrong, the coach usually is blamed. I generally try to resist that easy urge and look for other reasons, but I can't get past the coaching of Vinny Del Negro in the Bulls' ridiculous collapse Monday night.

Although the players certainly are culpable for gagging like a toddler eating solid food for the first time, Del Negro didn't do enough to stop freefall in the fourth quarter.

He called timeouts to stop Sacramento's momentum and properly instructed his players to move the ball and run the offense, but mostly his approach was to let the players on the court work their way out of it.

And while we're dishing out blame, management has to accept some for the roster they gave Del Negro -- with few options if the main guys are struggling.

Normally, I'd be in favor of having as many 7-footers as possible, but Aaron Gray is taking up a roster spot and money that would be better used on a player that Del Negro might actually want to use occasionally.

It never happened.

When it became obviously about midway through the fourth quarter that they were tighter than spandex pants and no one was capable of making a shot, I would have inserted Jannero Pargo into the game.

Sure, Pargo hadn't played to that point - hadn't played in a couple of games, in fact - but he has a gunner's mentality and would have shot the ball with confidence -- something no one on the court was doing at that point.

If the Bulls could have made a couple of shots in the middle of the quarter, disaster probably could have been avoided.

I might have also inserted veteran Lindsey Hunter for some leadership. When things are going so wrong, sometimes you have to shake things up and try something bold. You can't sit back and let disaster happen.

Deng playing with fractured thumb on left hand

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The Bulls revealed before Monday night's game with the Sacramento Kings that forward Luol Deng has been playing with a fractured thumb on his left hand for about a week.

"He hurt it in practice I think right before the Lakers game [on Dec. 15]," Del Negro said. "It's been bothering him a little bit, but he's been able to fight through it. It's something that will heal on its on, it's his left hand, so we just have to be cautious with it."

Thomas workout goes smoothly

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Tyrus Thomas, who's missed the last six weeks with a fractured left forearm, took another step toward returning to game action when he participated in a full contact workout Sunday at the Berto Center.

The Bulls didn't have a regular practice; they watched film, walked through some plays and did some shooting. But Thomas stayed after with three other players - Jannero Pargo, James Johnson and Aaron Gray - for a series of one-on-one challenges. Although it was one-on-one, the play was rough, with a lot of banging and a lot of fouls being let go.

"I felt good," Thomas said afterward. "Just a little sore, but it's not in the area where I had my break. Just a little soreness in the muscles and tendons, getting them back activated."

The hope is that Thomas will be ready to return to game action when the Bulls host the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday.

Thomas cleared for full contact practice on Sunday

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Tyrus Thomas is scheduled to return to full contact practice on Sunday and could return to game action as soon as next Saturday against the New Orleans Hornets.

With their busy schedule and limited bodies because of injury, the Bulls won't have a regular practice session, but likely will match Thomas against rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson and other bench players.

"Maybe a little two-on-two and see how he feels," coach Vinny Del Negro said of Thomas. "He's been doing some non-contact shooting stuff and moving around, but some contact and see how he feels. After that I'll have a better gauge of what we're thinking."

The Bulls play Monday and Tuesday, but it's unlikely Thomas - who's been sidelined with a fracture left forearm for six weeks - will play in either game.

"I don't think so," Del Negro said. "I probably wouldn't want to do that even if he feels great tomorrow just because he hasn't practiced. I want to make sure that's healed up, let him get hit a few times, let him be fatigued a little bit and let's be smart about it.

"In a perfect world, would I like that? Of course, but it's a long season and after Monday and Tuesday we have a few days before we play the day after Christmas, so that'll give him a couple of practices and just kind of get the soreness out and get him some conditioning."

Thomas participating in non-contact drills

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The Bulls haven't been at full strength yet this season, but are getting closer. Tyrus Thomas, who has been sidelined five weeks with a fracture left forearm, is participating in non-contract drills.

"Just practicing a little bit, no contact yet," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said of Thomas following after Thursday morning's shootaround. "He's still just trying to get in condition all week, and then, hopefully, his contact will start next week."

Because the Bulls have games Saturday, Monday and Tuesday next week, they probably will just have a light workout on Sunday. Their first full practice probably won't come until Thursday. How long it will be before Thomas is ready to play in games is unclear at this point.

Rose received two shots during Lakers game

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Before returning to the court in the second quarter Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose received two shots to treat the muscle strain in his right ribcage.

"I didn't want to get them," Rose said following Wednesday's practice. "They had to put an ice pack on my back and freeze and numb my skin. And I still felt it. They lied and told me I was only going to get one. But I felt two pinches."

Rose said he suffered the injury about three weeks ago and aggravated it during a layup in the first quarter. He returned midway through the second quarter after getting the shots and appeared fine.

He also said the injury doesn't affect him nearly as much as the ankle injury that slowed him at the start of the season and he will continue to play through it.

I'll just play," he said. "I'm definitely going to play. They had to force me to get the shots. If [assistant] Randy [Brown] wasn't back there, I wasn't going to get the shots. I was just going to play hurt."

Scoring still the issue for Bulls

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The Bulls' hard work Tuesday night was apparent all over the stat sheet.

They had a 51-37 rebounding edge, a 14-5 edge in blocked shots and attempted 17 more field goals than the Los Anegles Lakers.

"Yeah," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said, "but the biggest statistic is they scored more than us."

The difference in the Lakers' 96-87 win was the Bulls being outscored 24-14 in the fourth quarter.

Tough week ahead

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The good news: The Bulls are home all week.

The bad news: They still have a difficult week ahead, starting with Tuesday's game with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The last thing a struggling team like the Bulls needs is a visit from the NBA's best. A loss to the Lakers back on Nov. 19 in Los Angeles began the stretch of 10 losses in 12 games. In that game, the Bulls were overwhelmed by the size and athleticism of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

"It gives everybody problems; that's why they're one of the better teams in the league," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said of the Lakers' size. "They're not only big, they're skilled, and that makes it even harder."

The New York Knicks are in town Thursday, and that usually is a soft spot in the schedule. But the Knicks have played well of late and will come in confident. The Atlanta Hawks, who routed the Bulls last week, close out the week on Saturday.

Rivers offers support for Del Negro

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With Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro facing intense criticism and calls for his job, it was perhaps fitting that the Boston Celtics were in town Saturday night. No one knows what Del Negro is going through more than Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

A year before Boston won its 17th NBA title in 2008, Rivers was under fire and there were numerous calls for him to be fired after the Celtics went 24-58, including an 18-game losing streak.

"I've been there; I know how that feels," Rivers said. "When you don't win, you get criticism. Unfortunately, that's the way it is. The younger you are as a coach the more it is. If it was a veteran coach, he probably would get a grace period.

"Unfortunately, Vinny's not getting that and he should but he's not. He'll weather the storm, hopefully."

Rivers and Del Negro are former teammates and friends, so Rivers isn't exactly an objective observer, but he believes the criticism of Del Negro is unwarranted.

"I believe this will work out for him," Rivers said. "I know what he can do. I coached against him last year in the playoffs. I just hope he gets the chance to do it."

Del Negro takes aim at the media

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News flash from the Berto Center: It's all the media's fault.

At least, that's my interpretation of comments following Thursday's practice by a defiant Vinny Del Negro, who essentially said he was an easy target and understanding what ails the Bulls is above our pay grade.

"It's easy to sit back on the sidelines and everyone has these great ideas and people think they know what they're talking about," Del Negro said. "But until you live it and do it, no one has an idea.

"All you guys have to write and do your jobs and come up with stories and things, and that's all great and you have to do that. But you guys really don't know what it's like. You know what I mean, because you never done it."

I'm confused. Was that quote Del Negro or Spiro Agnew? Well, at least he didn't refer to us as nattering nabobs of negativity.

When asked if he's been subjected to unfair criticism, Del Negro said:

"Oh yeah, absolutely. But that's part of the deal. You can't take a position like this and not think you're gonna get criticized. That's part of the deal. If you can't live with the criticism and the heat, then you shouldn't take the job. You shouldn't be in pro sports. You have to be able to suck it up sometimes and understand it.

"I get frustrated, too, when we're not playing well and you're trying to find things that work. But you just have to keep on pounding the pavement and go to work."

Hinrich to play tonight vs. Hawks

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Kirk Hinrich just finished testing his sprained left thumb on the Philips Arena court and declared himself good to go for tonight's game with the Atlanta Hawks.

"I can handle the ball and catch it," he said. "Shooting's fine, that was never a problem."

Hinrich, who has missed the last six games, hit the court about two hours before tip-off. He went through some drills testing his ability to handle the ball with both hands and he caught passes from assistant Randy Brown with his left hand.

The only issue now is how the injury will react if it gets bumped hard during the game.

"I'm not worrying about contact," Hinrich said. "I'm not going to be thinking about not getting my thumb hit."

Toronto coach takes shot at Bulls players

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For an odd play that had zero impact on the game, Toronto's Jarrett Jack stopping to tie his show while holding the ball during the third quarter of the Raptors' 110-78 victory at the United Center Saturday night is being talked about an awful lot.

That much was assured with Raptors coach Jay Triano took a shot at the Bulls players when he said this to the Toronto media on Monday:

"If it was one of our guys guarding their guy and the guy tied his shoe, I would expect our guy to go over and knock him on his [butt]."

As you might suspect, that quote didn't sit well with Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

"Someone was telling me about that," Del Negro said Tuesday. "I don't talk about other teams' coaches or players. I don't think that's right. I have enough concerns in [his locker room]. I think everyone should just stick their comments to their team."

Del Negro also was asked about the play on Monday and explained it this way:

"After watching the film, Luol [Deng] and Jannero Pargo were trying to make an exchange there so they could match up. Luol had his head turned.

"That's not acceptable, but that also was a unique situation where we where in a mismatch situation and [Deng] really didn't see it. Otherwise, we would have been on the ball."

Of the list of things that went wrong for the Bulls in the game, that play was way down on the list.

Noah fined $15,000

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Center Joakim Noah was fined $15,000 Monday by the NBA office for throwing the ball into the stands and striking a photographer during the Bulls' 110-78 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.

The incident came with 7:19 left in the third quarter. Noah had the ball under the basket near the Bulls' bench and slapped at it out of frustration, hitting the photographer.

That's an automatic technical foul and Noah was ejected because it was his second of the game.

"He has to control his emotions," coach Vinny Del Negro said before the fine was announced.

Hinrich out until at least end of week

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If the Bulls are gonna snap out of their recent funk soon, they'll have to do it without Kirk Hinrich.

The veteran guard's sprained left thumb hasn't healed enough to allow him to play and he's out Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets and Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.

"Not until the end of the week or something like that," coach Vinny Del Negro said when asked about Hinrich's possible return. "But that's a day-to-day thing. Depending on how he feels, we'll make adjustments."

Hinrich out all weekend

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Barring a miraculous improvement in his sprained left thumb overnight, Kirk Hinrich won't play against the Toronto Raptors Saturday night at the United Center.

The injury really hasn't gotten any better in the last few days.

"I can shoot, but I can't do anything other than that," Hinrich said before the Bulls played the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night. "Just spreading [his hand] hurts and I can't catch the ball or handle it.

"I'm going to see the doctor [Saturday] to see if there's anything he can do for me."

Pargo back, but problem unresolved

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After being examined by a specialist in Philadelphia, Jannero Pargo rejoined the Bulls in time for Friday morning's shootaround in Cleveland.

The exam didn't lead to any breakthroughs as to why the 6-1 guard has been bothered by tightness in the hip and back since training camp.

"We're just gonna get him on a more strenuous therapy program and try to loosen it up a little bit, but he's a go tonight," coach Vinny Del Negro said of Pargo.

Pargo sent to a specialist

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Jannero Pargo wasn't at practice on Thursday. The backup guard continues to be bothered by a back/hip problem and the team is hoping to find out precisely what the issue is. It was believed the problem was related to a hernia surgery in the summer.

"It's been bothering him since the beginning," coach Vinny Del Negro said of Pargo. "He's in Philadelphia seeing a specialist and trying to figure out exactly what it is so we can do the correct therapy."

Pargo has played in 15 games off the bench and is averaging five points on 38 percent shooting. But regardless of his numbers, he just hasn't been the same explosive scorer everyone remembers from his first stint with the Bulls.

"He's been fighting through it because of the lack of bodies we have - and I appreciate that - but we need to get him healthy and feeling better when he gets out there," Del Negro said. "When he starts to run, it just locks up on him. If we can find a way to help that, he'll feel better and he'll be more productive."

Pargo was scheduled to meet the team in Cleveland, but whether he is able to play against the Cavaliers Friday night depends on the diagnosis he will receive in Philadelphia.

Gordon to play against Bulls tonight

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After testing his sprained left ankle, Ben Gordon will try to play tonight against the Bulls in the United Center.

Gordon, who missed the previous two games, will come off the bench for the Detroit Pistons. It's the second time Gordon has come off the bench for the Pistons this season. He has made 14 starts.

Gordon game-time decision

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Whether Ben Gordon is able to play in his homecoming will be a game-time decision.

Following the Detroit Pistons' shootaround this morning at the United Center, Gordon wasn't sure if he'd be able to play against the Bulls tonight because of a sprained left ankle.

"I don't know," he said. "I was able to do a little more in shootaround today than I was [Tuesday]. I'm just gonna come back tonight, see how it feels and see if I can make some game-time cuts and things like that and go from there."

After spending the first five seasons of his career playing for the Bulls in the UC, Gordon admitted it was strange walking into the building with the Pistons.

"It's different," he said. "It's a new experience for me. I'm sure it'll be exciting here tonight. But right now, I'm just focused on getting healthy and seeing if I can play tonight."

Gordon was mostly diplomatic when asked if he was upset the Bulls didn't make a harder push to keep him. But he did answer candidly when asked if he feels the Bulls have filled his former role with the team.

"I don't think so," he said. "I've watched a few games. At the end, especially with the addition of [Derrick Rose] a year ago, there were two guys who could make big, big shots. And now, it looks like it's only him. John [Salmons] can make big shots and Luol [Deng] can make big shots.

"But last year, the team relied on me and D-Rose to make plays down the stretch. It looks like it's only him right now. But I'm sure they'll be fine with the guys they have."

Rose brings sexy title back

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The Bulls haven't won a game in two weeks, but they scored a victory of sorts Tuesday when Derrick Rose was named the winner of Victoria Secret's sexiest Chicago athlete contest.

Hey, with the way things have gone of late, the Bulls are in no position to look down on any victory.

"I'm thankful for my fans that voted," Rose said following practice at the Berto Center. "It was a fun thing to be apart of."

Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks was leading the vote before the final tally, so Rose might have to keep his guard up in the bowels of the United Center.

"I hope not," Rose said. "He's a hockey player."

Besides the title, Rose will get to hang out with another supermodel - Allesandro Ambrosio - at an event Tuesday night at Underground.

Rose, though, said he was bringing his "girl" to the event. Probably a smart move on his part.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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