Monday, May 3, 2010

Del Negro gone in Chicago; where do the Bulls go from here?

Today ESPN reports the Chicago Bulls are going to announce tomorrow the firing of their Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. Back in December of 2009 there was rumors that the Bulls were going to fire Del Negro but then the team won 9 of their next eleven games and reached the playoffs for the second straight year. Then on March 30th there was a fierce argument between Del Negro and Bulls’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson. Paxson, who some consider the “de facto” man in charge of the team, has not been happy with Del Negro’s coaching for some time now, even though Del Negro has only been the Bulls Head Coach for two seasons.

Paxson and Del Negro are both former NBA players who played very passionately and that passion translates to their current jobs. Paxson has done a good job rebuilding this Bulls team, stocking it with talented and hard working players. When he hired Del Negro it was viewed as a controversial hire because some viewed Del Negro as too inexperienced to be made a Head Coach. But the problem had nothing to do with Del Negro’s ability to coach; the clashing between Del Negro and Paxson over basketball philosophy was the real issue. Even though some of what Del Negro has done has had good results, Paxson was still unhappy with the fact that he felt that Del Negro was not getting the best out of the players.

The Chicago Bulls have a lot of potential as a team. They have a Point Guard in Derrick Rose who has the ability to be a perennial All-Star, a Center in Joakim Noah who is a great leader, and a talented Forward in Luol Deng who, if motivated enough, can dominate on offense and defense. The problem for the Bulls is that it always seems like they are a player or two short of being a major contender for the NBA championship. They need another Power Forward/Center to play with Noah who can contribute consistently on offense and defense. They also need a player who can play Shooting Guard who can take the scoring burden off of the shoulders of Rose and Deng.

So now, to use a basketball term, the ball is in Paxson’s court. He first needs to hire a Head Coach who works well with young players and can motivate them to play hard. But it needs to be a Head Coach who is well respected and can be used as a draw to bring in free agents. I suggest either Jeff Van Gundy or Avery Johnson. Both men have experience dealing with a variety of players of different ages, skill levels, and personalities. Both also have shown that their teams play hard, solid defense, and they are respected by their players. The Bulls’ players need a coach who can help get them to play to the best of their abilities as a team and these two coaches have experience doing that.

Paxson also needs to take advantage of the free agent market this summer. The Bulls need another star type player to make an impact on this team. They need to sign a player to say to the core players on this team “We believe you guys can win a championship, here’s the final piece” while saying to the fans “We want to win a championship; just making the playoffs isn’t good enough”. If the Bulls could lure superstar Dwayne Wade from resigning with the Miami Heat to come to Chicago that would be huge. Wade, who grew up in Chicago, has been carrying teams by himself for too long and the players on the Bulls team compliment his style of play. Since winning an NBA Championship with the Miami Heat four years ago, Wade’s team has not gotten close to doing so again. Signing Wade would change the dynamics of how opposing teams have to play the Bulls, causing teams to have to focus so much on Wade it opens opportunities for other players to excel. If they cannot get Wade, I think the Bulls should try to sign either Power Forward Chris Bosh or Shooting Guard Joe Johnson. Both players fit in with the type of players the Bulls have built to be the centerpieces of this team while not disrupting chemistry.

Whatever happens in Chicago, Paxson needs to understand that if he wants to enable this team to have a good shot at winning an NBA Championship that he has the opportunity to make it happen now or he might be fired. Paxson has overseen the evolution of this franchise: from a place where reject type players migrate to play at, into a team that has a lot of potential and a superstar player away from being a major contender. But will Paxson pull the trigger to bring in a great coach and great player(s) to make this team a potential great team for the next five years or will he let this opportunity slip away?

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