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.