Will Vinny Del Negro keep his job?

It wasn't all that long ago that everyone felt Vinny Del Negro was going to be fired any day now.   Then a funny thing happened.   The Bulls started to win.   On Dec 22nd, the Bulls lost to the Knicks putting them at 10-17.   They've gone on a 19-9 run since then.
How much credit does Del Negro deserve for the run?  

Like any situation related to coaches, it's hard to determine how much of the play [good or bad] is related to the coach.   We don't get to see how VDN is working with players in practice, we don't know what the players really think of him.   We don't know what portion of the good and bad is related to his direction and what is related to players ability/inability to execute.

We do know the Bulls are presently 6th in the NBA in defensive efficiency on the season.   That's after a point where they were one of the worst in the NBA by the end of the circus trip, so since mid December, the Bulls have likely played the best defense in the NBA.

To me, that shows coaching.   Defense is the one area which can be coached up more so than anything else.   Defense is largely about scheme and effort.   Del Negro has the guys putting forth great effort and has put in place a strong defensive scheme.

The Bulls offense remains poor.  27th in the NBA in offensive efficiency in the NBA, however, it's hard to coach up offense.    The Bulls have little three point shooting, no dominant low post player, and no one who's great at getting to the foul line.   Those are the three legs of offensive efficiency, and the Bulls aren't missing one leg, they're missing all three.

Some will argue that VDN has Derrick Rose and that simply explains everything.   However, I don't think it does.   The Bulls are going to eclipse the preseason predictions of virtually all national writers.   Based on what most people thought, the Bulls are simply playing better.

On top of that, the Bulls are winning with all of their long term players providing the biggest roles.   The team has been led by Derrick, Joakim, and Deng.   The three guys who were most likely to be here in the future.   Say what you want about Tyrus Thomas not getting a fair shake, but Del Negro took Taj Gibson and made him as good or better than Tyrus.   Taj will be here next year, Tyrus wasn't going to be no matter what.  

Also, I think it's fair to give Del Negro some credit for Rose's development.   Since Rose entered the NBA, Del Negro has pushed and pushed more responsibility on him.   He's played Rose a ton of minutes and continually put him in the role as clutch time scorer, even when Rose was 0-7 last year in game winning opportunities at the buzzer, and he had Ben Gordon to go to instead.

Is VDN without flaws?   Of course not.   The way he uses timeouts still drives me wonky at times.   Is he great with plays out of timeouts?   I don't really think so.  

However, he's proven to be smarter with his rotations than the fans following the team.   He's taken every player who has any hope of being important to this franchise in the future and made them play well with the single exception of James Johnson [who may simply have his own problems].  

Can he make the adjustments to have success in the playoffs?   I certainly don't think he was outcoached in the playoffs last year.   The Bulls lost, but it was the most highly contested playoff series in the history of the NBA, and he was going up against the defending champs [even if they were weakened]. 

Will VDN keep his job with the Bulls next year?   I don't know.   I do think it'd be fair to replace him if you can find an upgrade.   However, you need to sell me on who that upgrade is.   You can't throw out someone with no experience, nor can you throw out a retread who's only average.  

Del Negro has done well enough that you need to come up with a high quality candidate that makes me feel confident they'll do a better job.   I don't know who that would be right now.   It's sure not Doug Collins who appears to be the guy the Bulls keep going back to.   It's not Lawrence Frank whom they were doing background info on when VDN was on the hot seat.  

The Bulls don't need to extend Del Negro, in fact, that would likely be a mistake.   He's under contract for another season, let him stay under contract.   If you speak to LeBron, Bosh, Wade on July 1st, and they say "I want blah blah to coach" then you say "sure thing" and fire VDN.   Otherwise, it's hard for me to see how firing him gets better.

One thing is for sure, VDN, if he wants to, will coach in the NBA next year.   If the Bulls fire him for some reason then another team is going to pick him up.   Like anyone doing something for the first time, he's still at the low end of his learning curve as a coach, and even at the low end he's done a fine job.



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  • Good column. Agree that if your defense is playing well the coach needs to get major credit. What has endeared me to VDN is that when he was on the hot seat a couple of months ago he kept his cool. That showed me he was a real "mensch."

    Keys to the Bulls' turnaround IMO- Kirk and Tyrus getting healthy and Salmons and Brad finally getting their games back. Also, putting Fish on the second team helped both the second and the first teams. He is not a starting two IMO, notwithstanding his good start with the Bucks.

  • Vinny deserves credit for being the captain of a ship that just won't sink. When the team was cracking and he was getting fired any day, he showed composure. Now, when we shuffle a third of the roster in one day, the team has reacted with wins (as they did last year). As you point out, there are actually a few real-basketball criteria we can point to that indicate he doesn't totally suck.

    If this team continues to finish strong and shows up in the playoffs, how can you dump him? What works in his favor is that last time they wanted to fire him, they couldn't find someone (who would work cheap enough?). Are we to believe that the magic man just shows up this off season? Maybe someone new becomes available, but just who would that be?

    You've got to give him a chance to keep the job. Outside of a new coach being what takes to secure Lebron, if Vinny keeps up the progress, he deserves to stay. If the team crumbles, he's probably screwed.

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    Nice article. There are lots of ways to evaluate (or eviscerate) a head coach. It's really a matter of perspective. So, here's one to consider. Let's compare Vinny to the coaches in our own division. I think there's a legit argument to be made that he's the best among them. Depends on whether you think Mike Brown is really a coach of the year or just the guy holding Lebron's stopwatch. But if you make the comparison in the Central, there's certainly no good reason to go and just fire the guy with a year left on his contract.

    Btw, this was my opinion at the beginning of the season and even after they Sacramento game. I'm really glad Vinny's Bulls have come around since that mess.

    I see Vinny as kind of a new school Doug Collins. Doug got the Bulls so far and it took Phil to get them over the hump. Let's see how far Vinny can take the team and not make the change until we actually find that next level coach.

  • i mentioned this on a blog a few weeks ago-- at least we know vinny can coach something well. often one cant have that certainty about even seasoned coaches. just look at eddie jordan in philly. but this team absolutely needs some offensive direction, some kind of offensive assistant that vinny will listen to. too often theres no productive movement at all and bad shot selection as a team. and derrick is far too inconsistent with his going to the hoop and getting to the line. its not spacing either-- deng is showing that-- its just mentality and direction. apparenty vinny's "attack!" is too vague for derrick.

  • oh, i should also say we have some evidence that vinny can coach something without being an overbearing personality. his players play hard for him-- ive never felt like they werent trying.

  • While I see improvement with the team I am not sure if this is due to Noah, Gibson and Rose playing better or if this is due to VDN. However, if you criticize VDN when we lose we have to give credit to him when we win.

    I will say I have 0 confidence in VDN setting up a play to win the game.

    Our best last second play is to let Rose drive down the middle of the lane jump stop to the right throw up a shot that has a 10% chance of going in and then hope that Noah or Gibson can get the put back dunk.

    Maybe I am being to harsh but, I haven't seen execution on last second plays.

  • In reply to cuillini:

    That kind of goes back to what Redwhitenblack said above, VDN is sort of our modern day Doug Collins. He's looking to be a good fundamentals coach, which is exactly what we need we need right now, and probably for 2 more years. But, and this might change as he continues to learn, I doubt he's going to be the guy who coaches a team to a championship.

  • In reply to cuillini:

    I think you're overlooking the offensive improvement during our 19-9 stretch when you just say the Bulls are 27th in offensive efficiency. During the 19-9 run the Bulls have been around league average offensively (~107 points per 100). The offense was god awful for the first couple of months, so we're still only sitting in 27th overall, but it's been pretty good recently.

    Given the Bulls are one of the top defensive teams and at least average offensively during this stretch this is a pretty good team. Don't let our overall record fool you, we're playing as well as any team outside the Cavs in the East right now. If Noah comes back healthy I really think we're a good shot to cause an upset in the first round. If we do that, I don't even think it's a question whether Vinny keeps his job.

  • In reply to cuillini:

    So Doug,

    Do you think there is no hope for JJ. I think if given the time and maybe a summer to focus, he can come back determined and in shape. We seen it with Noah after his rookie year, why cant JJ do the same?

  • In reply to cuillini:

    I remember Mike Brown getting the flak for his set plays, running out of time outs and his rotation. Hopefully, Vinny will improve also.

  • In reply to cuillini:

    Has anyone used "Klank Hinbrick" yet? If not, I got dibs.

  • In reply to evilhoban:

    ive never heard klank before...but my friends and I call him hinbrick all the time.

  • In reply to evilhoban:

    So I get the combo? :)

  • In reply to evilhoban:

    I am a big Vinny fan & I certainly want him back. I hope that he's around for awhile.

    Remember: when the media was firing Vinny, his players began to step up and play harder. They easily could have arranged for him to get the ax. Instead, they did the opposite & played harder..

    It shows that the players like Vinny and will play for him.

  • In reply to evilhoban:

    I think Vinny is a lot like Doc Rivers. He will do a good job developing the young talent he has, but he is only going to take his team as far as the talent will allow him.

    I would give Vinny the opportunity to coach the team next year with their free agent acquisition. He looks like he will have earned it.

    Avery Johnson is probably the one exception I would make in firing Del Negro. But he's the coach with the best win percentage in NBA history, so it's not like we'd be firing Vinny for Doug Collins.

  • Vinny overall has shown a lot more maturity then a guy like Scott Skiles. You never see him going, "Oh man, I can't believe he did that!" cursing and talking to himself. That's the calm, cool demeanor you need in good coaches like a Riley, Phil, or Rick Adelman. Sure you see them chew out players occasionally during a timeout, but almost never while they are playing. Part of keeping players hearts/effort is not making negative comments to the media and throwing players under the bus. He's criticized effort of the team, but not singled individuals out. That right there is huge.

    I don't think Vinny knew jack about coaching coming in. Duh! But it's true. He's learning. But amidst the chaos and mob storming the Bastille calling for his head, he had to act like he did. It drove me crazy because it was so obvious he didn't. But it takes fortitude and an ability to see the big picture to stick to your guns. And that's what Vinny has done. He's stuck to his guns.

    The more things have fallen into place, the more you see a likable persona that people would/will want to play hard for. Minus x's and o's, which is a huge minus, that's still huge. Now Vinny has the same likable grin you see in his college picture sitting in Jim Valvano's office.

    There's a reason he's had access to all these high profile NBA franchise jobs. He's a likable guy who commands respect. I'd venture to say the jury is out on whether Vinny is or will ever be an x's and o's guy who will make it to the upper echelon of coaching. But he does have a certain wisdom/fortitude/likability, and is a person because of his fortitude who I believe does command respect. I don't know how much defensive credit should go to Bobby Oceipka and Pete, but Vinny is a big reason for the consistent effort and enthusiasm. No question. I'd like to see him succeed. But if he's really capable of finding in series and in game solutions over the long haul and in the playoffs, he's still got to prove it. This playoffs would be a good place to start(is critical).

    I can't believe I'm saying this, but good luck Vinny. And on fostering player unity and effort, a job well done. And by the way some credit to Gar/Pax for bringing in gritty guys like Joakim and Taj to help lead the charge.

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    In reply to SamS:

    Yeah, ditto to all that. He's not an x's and o's guy is a good way of putting it. More of an organization guy who's starting to show real skill at handling players and press.

  • In reply to SamS:

    I think if we fired VDN, it will be Jerry Sloan type all over again. I think VDN has the chance to be a really good coach

  • In reply to SamS:

    VDN Growing on the Job

    Credit where credit is due.

    VDN wasn't much in his 1st year, but he has grown in his 2nd year.

    I'll leave others to discuss the x's and o's of offense and defense. But I will say, how many of us in the constant spotlight of managing an under talented team would have remained so positive?

    Vinnie didn't complain about the lack of off-season trades to improve the Bulls. And you won't hear Vinnie boasting that now he has better talent to coach, but he does.

    Best wishes to Tyrus Thomas and Salmons, may they both do well on new teams.

    But all of a sudden, the Bulls that I have avoided watching are now starting to look like a basketball team. Fast breaks, defensive box outs and rotations, power forwards that work hard in the paint. Better spacing, easier buckets.

    Vinnie has a long way to go as a coach, but he's growing on the job. I believe other GM's are noticing that Vinnie has a positive attitude that goes beyond his glib interview cliches. This could get interesting.

  • In reply to SamS:

    I don't know if Vinnie is the difference in the defense this season vs last, however, I agree that coaching, simply getting everybody to execute and expend effort on every possession is more than half the battle and likely a result of the coaches efforts.

    However, I think getting rid of Gordon has been the catalyst for the turnaround, and if he was still here the turnaround likely would not have happened. When one guy, or several guys simply cannot, or will not make any effort to play defense, eventually, even the guys who buy in will begin to give up just enough to wreck the entire teams defense. This is how Gordon was a team cancer. Playing defense is mostly about effort and IQ, Gordon certainly had the "ability" to put effort into shooting/scoring, however, he apparently could not be bothered with putting any effort into defense. This attitude sucked the spirit and life out of the team.

    What I like about the new additions, especially Warrick(I think he is a keeper long term, on the right contract), is that they seem to fit into the Bulls defensive personality seemlessly, which is why I think that we are better today than we were before the break. While I am not in love with Murray, if nothing else, he seems to be more active than Salmons, on both sides of the ball.

    We will find out in the playoffs is we have enough offense, but you can create a lot of extra offense with defensive energy, hustle, and offensive rebounding.

  • I hate to say it, but I also think that JJ is someone, right now at least, with his exaggerated, self-important demeanor who you can't count on. Not at this point. I have little doubt he has the talent and offensive skills to be at least a decent player in this league. It'll be a shame if he can't turn it(his attitude and maturity) around. I don't think at least he's in the Tyrus jackass realm.

  • Im not really sure what to do with VDN...you got to give him credit though...he made the playoffs last year and then this year with Ben Gordon (leading scorer of the last 5 years) gone as well and we are still doing good. He is definetly getting better but i would still have him work on some better in bound plays and plays out of a timeout. He seems to be doing better with the rotations and timeouts as well.

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