YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


An ill wind may be blowing in Chicago for Coach Vinny Del Negro

The Bulls are reeling from a shaky start punctuated by three ugly recent losses, prompting rumors that Del Negro's job could be in jeopardy. Of course, they have no one to replace him. . . .

December 13, 2009|Mark Heisler
  • Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro talks to guard Kirk Hinrich during a break in the action against Golden State on Friday night.
Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro talks to guard Kirk Hinrich during a break in… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )

Rumors blowing in the Windy City

Storm clouds began to gather above the head of Chicago Coach Vinny Del Negro after the Bulls' 110-78 home loss to Toronto, which had lost five of six, giving up 117 points a game.

"The last time I remember the Bulls losing like this at home . . . was also on a Saturday night," wrote Sam Smith, "just about two years ago when the Houston Rockets dominated an indifferent Bulls team.

"Two days later Coach Scott Skiles was fired."

That's Sam Smith, the former Chicago Tribune great who now writes for

Smith added he didn't expect Del Negro to be fired, but expectations then plummeted after the home loss to the 1-19 Nets and the 35-point rout in Atlanta, where Derrick Rose said, "Either you want it or you don't," and Joakim Noah noted, "We're not competing together at all."

If Del Negro is stubborn and doesn't exactly lean on his veteran assistants, starting 7-13 six months after they lost that seven-game series with Boston is a thin pretext for a firing.

The real problem is the accidental-tourist nature of his hiring, also on a thin pretext.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf didn't go for then-general manager John Paxson's first choice, mercurial Doug Collins. Reinsdorf is still close to Collins after having already hired and fired him once, and probably did them all a favor.

Unfortunately, Reinsdorf didn't leap at Paxson's second choice, Mike D'Antoni, whose up-tempo style would have been perfect, and the Knicks did.

That was how Del Negro, who hadn't ever coached but got rave reviews from Reinsdorf intimate Jerry Colangelo, got into the picture, quaint as it is.

By Reinsdorf's logic, Spurs and Pacers can pay luxury tax but Bulls don't, despite having made tens of millions of dollars the last decade.

So Del Negro lost Ben Gordon, coming off last spring's 24-point-a-game breakout against the Celtics, now conspicuous by his absence whenever Rose looks for someone to kick it to on the No. 28 team in three-pointers.

With no good idea whom to replace Del Negro with, the Bulls don't want to fire him, so he could still slip off the hook, but one way or another, their commitment runs only so deep.

Counting seats

In a revealing scoop, CBSSportsline's Ken Berger said league documents show gate receipts down 7.4% and attendance down 3.7%.

As an NBA spokesman suggested, this is a smaller loss than the league projected before the season, warning teams that this season's $57.7-million salary cap could shrink 15% to $50 million.

With half-empty lower bowls common, it's also a pointed suggestion that teams pad attendance figures, which the league then uses to announce records annually.

The Warriors and Clippers are claiming attendance drops of 5% and 7%, respectively, but CBSSportsline's documents show both down more than 20% in gate receipts.

Coach Howard speaks

There have been goofier teams but few as good at the same time as the Orlando Magic, whose young players, starting with Dwight Howard, keep volunteering to help Stan Van Gundy coach.

Going for the team's eighth road win in a row, Rashard Lewis refused to go into the game at Utah, saying Ryan Anderson was going well.

Said Lewis of his coach after the Jazz outscored the Magic by 17 in the second half to win: "He wasn't [angry] at the time, but he was [angry] when they started making a run. You got to point the finger at something if that's what you got to point it at. Hey, I don't give a damn."

-- Mark Heisler

Los Angeles Times Articles