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updated: 2/1/2010 6:32 AM

New to coaching, but Del Negro might be a wiz at player relations

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  • Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro

      Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro
    Associated Press

 
 

Generally, just the hard-core regulars show up to cover a Sunday practice at the Berto Center.

This time a full contingent of cameras and reporters were on hand to welcome the Bulls home, fresh off a stunning 5 straight road wins over Western Conference playoff contenders.

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Coach Vinny Del Negro could have spent the interview session pointing out how far the Bulls have progressed over the last month without the coaching change so many expected. Instead, he acted as though he knew all along this was how things would work out.

"I'm a competitive guy. I expect to win when we step on the court," Del Negro said. "It doesn't always work out like that. So you learn from it, you make your adjustments. It's a long season, lot of ups and down, lot of peaks and valleys."

Derrick Rose, whose ascent to all-star status is the biggest reason the Bulls have gone 13-5 since Dec. 26, had a good perspective on the winning streak.

"The city is happy, and that's what it needs to be about," Rose said. "We just need to keep it going."

When the Bulls' coaching search landed on Del Negro in the summer of 2008, there was talk about hiring someone who would relate well to the players. At this point, it appears management hit all net on that call.

Two years in a row, Del Negro has been able to lead the Bulls from a miserable situation to relative prosperity in a matter of weeks.

Last season's lull was the home loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 10, when the Bulls botched three fastbreak opportunities because someone (Larry Hughes twice, Ben Gordon once) refused to pass to an open Rose.

Not long after, the Bulls went 4-3 during the ice-show road trip on the way to a playoff berth.

That one seems like a voyage to the bottom of the kiddie pool compared to what happened before this season's 5-2 trip: a 35-point blown lead, a home loss to New Jersey and two miserable 30-point shellackings.

It has been easy to document how this season's turnaround occurred: Tyrus Thomas returned from a broken arm, Kirk Hinrich joined the starting lineup, and Rose met his destiny as one of the league's brightest young stars.

But building the confidence to switch from the NBA's laughingstock to the second-hottest team in the East (behind Cleveland) in less than a month - that can't be easy.

"You probably know better than I do," Rose said with a laugh. "We just changed things around. It seems like we're more focused now. Everybody knows their role on the team. Everything's been going good for us."

Del Negro doesn't reveal much about himself during media interviews. It's clear, though, that he was strongly influenced by his college coach at North Carolina State, Jim Valvano, renowned for his outgoing personality.

Del Negro's NBA role model is San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, one of the more laid-back coaches in the league. Having Tim Duncan on your side will help any coach relax.

When asked about those rumors that he was nearly fired last month, Del Negro basically shrugs his shoulders and claims not to worry about what he can't control.

What he can do, though, is influence a positive atmosphere when things go bad and spend extra time understanding how to get the most from his players.

"I think so much of the NBA now is managing people," Del Negro said. "So the relationship with the players is very important. Sometimes you have to put your arm around them. Sometimes you have to kick them and get them going a little bit.

"So there's some tough love once in awhile, but I think if you gain their respect, that goes a long way because they know that everything I do and the staff does is to better them individually, which helps us as a group become stronger."

That might be one reason the Bulls refused to fall apart in December. Rose gave credit to veterans Lindsey Hunter and Jannero Pargo for dispensing sound advice to their younger teammates.

Staying positive with his comments to the media is another area Del Negro feels is important. He even deflected his happiness onto others when asked about the winning streak.

"I'm thrilled about it, no question," he said. "I'm more thrilled about the development of the players. I'm more thrilled about the work they're putting in, the younger guys learning what it takes to win on the road."

Spoken like someone who cares about getting along with his players. So far, the Bulls have responded.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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