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posted: 4/27/2010 12:01 AM

Despite lame-duck status, Del Negro stayed positive

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  • Head coach Vinny Del Negro could be coaching his final game with Bulls Tuesday.

    Head coach Vinny Del Negro could be coaching his final game with Bulls Tuesday.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer


The Bulls headed back to the vacation capital of Northern Ohio - well, it's in the top five, most likely - for Game 5 of their playoff series against Cleveland on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Unless something surprising happens, another loss to the LeBron-aliers will mark the end of the Bulls' season and the end of Vinny Del Negro's two-year run as head coach.

After taking the job with no previous coaching experience, Del Negro is far from the NBA's best head coach. But he deserves credit for the way he handled himself, especially when the atmosphere surrounding the Bulls turned ugly at times in the past few months.

Del Negro went 2 for 2 as far as making the playoffs, but figures to be let go because his relationship with vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has been deteriorating since December. The two had a well-publicized physical confrontation over the minutes given to sore-footed center Joakim Noah on March 30 inside Del Negro's office at the United Center.

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has the ultimate say in what happens and figures to stay loyal to Paxson. Last summer during an interview with Bulls beat writers, he shared his thoughts on the former Bulls guard, who has been in his job since April, 2003.

"He's phenomenal in his dealings with other clubs," Reinsdorf said. "If you could just see what goes on in the draft room, you'd be amazed at how quickly his mind works and how he's able to wheel and deal."

A common axiom used by NBA analysts is once a head coach no longer has the support of management, he has no chance, because the players will tune him out.

The interim-coach tenure of Jim Boylan certainly didn't go well for the Bulls in 2007-08. But Del Negro demonstrated that a coach can still coax a strong effort from his players, even if that coach appears to be on his way out.

The Bulls endured the dregs of December, along with 10 straight losses in March, and still finished the season with a 10-4 surge to earn a spot in the playoffs. This fact also speaks well of the team's young stars, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Del Negro also deserves credit for refusing to complain publicly about his plight. He just kept doing his job and stayed positive.

His attitude makes perfect sense. Even if Del Negro doesn't last with the Bulls, he's still auditioning for his next job. Chances are, Del Negro will be a head coach again in the NBA. If he's willing to work as an assistant for, say, his mentor in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich, or his old college roommate, Portland's Nate McMillan, Del Negro may someday become an excellent head coach.

Back when the altercation with Paxson became public, it was easy to think Del Negro was behind the leak. As time passed, I began to doubt that scenario because the incident doesn't help Del Negro's career prospects. There were several witnesses and plenty of opportunities for the news to be passed around the league.

During the past two seasons, I heard talk that Del Negro worked very hard and was aware of his shortcomings. The Bulls thought he'd communicate well with the players when they hired him, and that has seemed to hold true.

Last year, the coaching staff might have suffered from the "too many cooks" syndrome with both Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff serving as veteran advisers. The departure of Harris could explain why there seemed to be more lapses in game strategy this season.

My biggest complaint with Del Negro was he never seemed very genuine. Friendly, yes. But people still ask me what he's like and my answer is I don't feel I know him very well, even though I've worked with him almost every day for two seasons.

His approach with reporters is to give some bland, familiar answers and move on to his next task. The media is supposed to serve as a conduit to the fans, in theory, so it makes sense to have more of a connection. Scott Skiles and Bill Cartwright did that well.

Del Negro's position seemed tenuous once the Bulls pegged their future on this summer's free-agent chase. Management had hoped an unlikely coaching choice could have a big payoff. Instead, Del Negro hit a couple of singles, which is probably not good enough.

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