Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t do very many interviews. Not with the Chicago White Sox, certainly not with the Chicago Bulls. Jerry Reinsdorf woke up early this morning and gave Mike North and Dan Jiggets an interview on their Comcast Sports “Monsters In The Morning” TV show. It seems to have been a bit of a disaster, at least for Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro.
Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro wipes his face as he watches his team play. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
In the interview, North gets into the meat of the conversation with Reinsdorf
Mike North: Where would you rate this season?
Jerry Reinsdorf: You want the grade up till today? What’s the lowest grade you can give? This has been a disaster. It’s embarrassing. But it will get better.
Nearly 200 miles away, the Bulls were getting ready for their matchup against the Sacramento Kings. After their shoot around, Del Negro was asked about Reinsdorf’s assessment. Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter John Jackson writes in his article in today’s Sun-Times:
“That’s just Jerry trying to motivate and trying to get guys going,” Del Negro said. “Jerry wants to win just like every owner, every coach. It’s not easy. Managing expectations and developing and all those things are very easy to talk about, but they’re hard to do and they take time. Some people are more patient than others.”
I think Vinny got about three quarters of that comment correct. It is very difficult to manage expectations. Yes, Jerry Reinsdorf does want to win, and yes, some people are more patient than others. The motivation part of the statement I absolutely don’t buy one bit. Honesty is what it is. Motivation is definitely what it’s not. It certainly isn’t easy to manage the average ego of an NBA player. It definitely isn’t easy to manage that ego if you’re a rookie head coach who supposedly carries the label of a “players coach”. Jerry isn’t the guy that is going to motivate players. DelNegro is that guy and if he needs Reinsdorf to motivate, that’s an indictment of Del Negro not getting the job done. It isn’t an easy job, ask Scott Skiles.
The next part of the conversation is what really disturbed me. Jackson’s transcript of the interview continues with this exchange:
Dan Jiggetts: How comfortable are you with John at the helm?
Jerry Reinsdorf: When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization. But if there’s one person that is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know. He’s a great general manager and a great judge of talent. I just worry that he not be too hard on himself. He takes all of this very, very seriously.
Mike North: To say that he’s not at all responsible … he brought in the players. So are the players not being coached up?
Jerry Reinsdorf: I have a lot of thoughts about that but they’re not thoughts that I really can say publicly. All I know is what we have right now is not good and we have to get it better. They are playing hard in the last half-dozen or so games. We had some games where…
Mike North: You knew they were mailing it in.
Jerry Reinsdorf: They were mailing it in and I felt like standing up and booing along with everybody else. They’re not mailing it in anymore.
This exchange to me, shows how ridiculous Reinsdorf can be sometimes. The organizations win and lose mantra starts from the top on down. I didn’t hear Reinsdorf say it starts with him. He definitely doesn’t hold Bulls GM John Paxson accountable. It all ends right there with Del Negro holding the bag of stink. North tried to take it right back at Reinsdorf, suggesting that it might be coaching and Reinsdorf, with the eloquent defense for his general manager, offered no such grace for his head coach.
This whole exchange reminds me of the end of the movie, Titanic. The ship has hit the iceberg and everyone in charge realizes the ship will eventually sink. The ship’s captain (Del Negro), doing the honorable thing, locks himself in the bridge, planning to go down with his ship. The ship’s archtect (Paxson) is last seen standing on the slanted deck of the first class lounge adjusting a clock that stopped, his fate sealed by the iceberg. It is implied that he too, goes down with the ship. The ship’s owner (Reinsdorf), who gave the order to speed through the oceans dotted with the icebergs, sheepishly jumps in a lifeboat and saves his life as the ship goes under. See the parallels? Accountability starts at the top. Reinsdorf hired Paxson. Paxson hired Del Negro. Reinsdorf signed off on Del Negro. Reinsdorf is as much a cause of the “disaster” as Paxson and Del Negro. If he says that instead of that jibberish he said this morning, I would have more faith in his management skills, but alas, it’s yet another example of a lack of leadership and accountability at the top of organizations. By the way, Bulls analysts Norm Van Lier and Kendall Gill both agree with me. They said it themselves on tonight’s Bulls Postgame show.
Finally, do you think for a single moment that anyone wearing a red and black uniform really gives a damn about what Jerry Reinsdorf says? Do you think that Ben Gordon read that interview and suddenly got motivated to drop 50 on the Kings, or to play a little defense? Do you think Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah, or Derrick Rose watched that interview and felt the need to break down the doors to the hotel to sprint to the ARCO Arena to pound the Kings into submission tonight? Only in your sweetest of dreams.
This has not been the best of weeks for a beleagured Chicago Bulls basketball franchise. This week may be, perhaps the most trying and challenging week in the last 10 years since the drama filled Bulls championship run ended in 1998. With tonight’s 109-108 OT loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls end the week with a five game losing streak. The Bulls have looked unprepared, disjointed, and uninspired. And now, G Ben Gordon airs his dirty laundry out on a rookie head coach in a profanity laced tirade over his objections to a fine for being late for the team flight. The argument just happened to occur in plain sight of the local Chicago sportswriting media. It may be an inflection point for a franchise that has seen more turmoil of late than championship caliber basketball.
Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha (2), guard Kirk Hinrich (12), and forward Tyrus Thomas (24) look on from the bench in the final seconds of their 109-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)
Where did it all go wrong for the Chicago Bulls? The Bulls ended the 2006-2007 season with a record of 49-33, one win away from the magical 50 win mark, an acheivement the Bulls have not accomplished since 1998, the year of the 6th and final NBA Championship. In the 2006-07 playoffs, the Bulls swept the defending NBA Champions, the Miami Heat decisively in 4 games. In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Bulls ran into a buzzsaw, losing the first three games of the series to the Detroit Pistons, but showed great heart and fight by coming back to win the next two games, including a game in Detroit, before bowing out of the playoffs in a 95-85 Game 6 loss. These Bulls were positioned to skyrocket back to prominence in the Eastern Conference, with some experts picking the Bulls as a favorite to win the conference in 2007-08.
The Bulls took three steps back in 2007 and continue to take yet another step back this season, and it clearly shows when looking at the performance over the last season and a half. There are three reasons why the Bulls are in a free-fall. They are:
1. Lack of growth and development from the core players of this team.F Luol Deng eventually received his long term contract, signing a 6 year, $71 million contract in July 2008. He’s proceeded to become oft injured and his improvement has stalled as his missed time increased.scoring, rebounding and assist totals have decreased three years in a row. G Ben Gordon signed the one year tender again, after initially stating he would not play for the Bulls again, and remains a perfect 6th man that demands to be a starter, a scorer extreme, and defensive liability. C Joakim Noah has made virtually no progress in improving his game, irking veteran teammates with untimely, unwise criticism, while averaging 5.8 pts and 5.8 rebounds in his very short, very unenergetic career. F Tyrus Thomas is one of the most athletic players in the NBA, but after 2/12 seasons, 187 games, he is shown only incremental improvement. Add in the inconsistent play of G Thabo Sefolosha, the young core of the Bulls team has shown a clear lack of development.
2. When the Bulls fired Scott Skiles, management removed one of the only legitimate symbols of a winning mindset. Coaching in the NBA is part knowledge of the game and part psychologist, and Skiles had a history of taking talented teams and getting them to buy into his program of selfless sharing on offense and hustling, all out play on defense, which ultimately leads to winning. He lifted a struggling Phoenix Suns team to the playoffs, but was fired after the team stopped responding to his demanding, hard-charging style and started to tune him out. The same thing happened in Chicago. Now Skiles is the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and he has the Bucks in the 8th and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today. The Bucks appear to be responding to Skiles coaching style quite nicely. After Skiles, the Bulls needed to either reshape the roster, or hire a coach to take them from Point A to Point B. What they did was whiff badly on their first to choices for coach (Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins) ultimately taking a chance on a rookie coach (Vinny Del Negro) who has never coachedbasketball on any level, who has a reputation for being a communicative “players coach”, the philosophical opposite of Skiles. To date, that risk appears to have not panned out, with speculation of DelNegro losing the team already and rumors that he may not be around to finish the season.
3. Management has failed to acquire one superstar who can carry a team and provide leadership on the floor. Bulls General Manager John Paxson has tried to bring an atmosphere of winning back the Bulls organization. He has focused on drafting and acquiring players that have played for high profile, winning collegiate basketball programs such as Duke Blue Devils (Deng and G Chris Duhon), Connecticut Huskies (Gordon), national championship runner up Kansas Jayhawks (G Kirk Hinrich and F Drew Gooden), and the national champion Florida Gators (Noah). While the group of players Paxson acquired are solid basketball players, they are all role players of a supporting cast lacking a true superstar caliber player. Paxson, like his predecessor, Jerry Krause, has whiffed on acquiring ultratalented superstars such as G Kobe Bryant and F Kevin Garnett, instead, opting for a past his prime C Ben Wallace, who signed such an albatross contract, that Paxson had to take on the equally bad contract of G Larry Hughes to move Wallace. The Bulls did luck out in winning the 2008 NBA Draft lottery, yielding Chicago-native G Derrick Rose from University of Memphis. Rose is young and an up and coming superstar, but is not there yet. Until he gets there, the Bulls will struggle with the roster they have today.
The remainder of this Bulls season should be focused on finding out if Vinny DelNegro is the right coach, identifying players on the current roster who can play with Derrick Rose, and positioning themselves as far under the salary cap as they can get in 2010, when they can grab any one of a host of superstars from a free agent class headed by F LeBron James, F Chris Bosh, F Dirk Nowitzki, G Dwayne Wade, amongst others. Anything outside of this may signal the end of the John Paxson era in Chicago.
Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson knew he was taking a huge risk by hiring rookie coach Vinny Del Negro as his next coach of the Bulls. We all know how well rookie coaches have fared in Chicago since Phil Jackson left town after the 1997-98 season.
Chicago Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, left, talks with Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Chicago won the game 99-94. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Names like Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright, Jim Boylan (interim after the Scott Skiles firing) and now Del Negro have all walked the hallowed halls of the Berto Center with the unofficial title of “rookie head coach.” All have failed miserably, some setting the team back years in what feels like year 10 or 11 of the rebuilding project.
Now there’s rumblings behind the scenes that current Bulls rookie coach Vinny Del Negro may be losing the team:
Are these signs that Vinny Del Negro is losing his team? I would have to say that these are definitely not signs that Del Negro has a firm grasp on the team, the way Scott Skiles had a grasp on the team when he was named Bulls coach.
The Bulls are definitely in a rebuilding mode around Del Negro and rookie point guard Derrick Rose. A .500 record is not out of the question for this Bulls team, but losing to the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves doesn’t help the cause. More to come on this issue as the season progresses…
The NBA playoffs started this weekend and noticeably absent are the Chicago Bulls. While the best teams in the NBA begin the “money” season, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks hire disciplinarian coaches like Scott Skiles. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls are holding their off season team meetings and wondering what to make of the mess of a wrecked season.
In the NBA, like other major professional sports leagues, teams win with a combination of athleticism/talent and desire. With talent and desire, you are the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics. With lack of athleticism/talent, but an abundance of desire, you can be teams like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers and in the past, teams like the Chicago Bulls. Teams with neither talent or desire become the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks.
What exactly happened with the Chicago Bulls this season? The Bulls were a team with little talent but with great desire. They worked, hustled, played defense according to the gospel of John Paxson and Scott Skiles. It brought the Bulls 49 wins last season, a playoff series win against the rapidly aging Miami Heat, and a heated playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Entering this season, the Chicago Bulls had a high draft pick, compliments of the New York Knicks and all their starters returning from last season’s successful run. Many picked the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.
Then, two things happened that led to the downfall of this year’s team. First, Bulls GM John Paxson knew that he needed a superstar talent to lead this team. Every successful team in the NBA, short of the Detroit Pistons, have a superstar player, a team leader, the guy that will take over in crunch time of a game and impose the will to win on his teammates. Paxson missed badly on acquiring C Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and whiffed a couple of times on trades for C Pau Gasol. Paxson had drafted some very nice complementary players from solid, winning college programs after cleaning up the mess left by previous Bulls GM Jerry Krause, but none had proven to be the superstar, athletic talent that teams require to compete in the upper echelon of NBA championship contenders. Paxson correctly determined that he needed to acquire that superstar player, and as timing would have it, during the NBA pre-season, Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was vocally unhappy with his situation and publicly stated he desire to get out of Los Angeles. To his credit, Paxson inquired about the availability of Kobe Bryant and rumors ran rampant over the airwaves. Bryant was sure to be traded, as there has been no love lost between Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, supposedly Jackson had enough with his moody star player. The table was set for a blockbuster deal with prime players identified from the Bulls being some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Ben Wallace. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were also offered what each player considered lowball contract offers going into the preseason, but combined with the trade talks, led to a bad taste in every player’s mouths. In the end, the teams never came to terms on players and the deal fell through as the season began.
The second thing that happened was most likely residual from the events above, for some reason, most every player on the Bulls had stopped responding to the playing and coaching style that brought great success to the Bulls. The Bulls stopped hustling for loose balls, stopped playing hard nosed defense, lacked hustle, with team play virtually non-existent. Both Deng and Gordon admitted that the Kobe Bryant trade rumors plus the perceived lowball contract offers affected their play. Each played as through they had to individually prove they were worth not only bigger contracts, but to justify not being traded for Bryant. Their play dropped off dramatically, along with the other potential players in the trade, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, and Tyrus Thomas and the fate of Coach Scott Skiles and the Chicago Bulls was sealed.
So where does that leave the Bulls now? John Paxson had two of the most difficult tasks to complete in last year’s off-season. He needed to find a superstar, talented player and needed to move Ben Wallace and his albatross contract. Paxson was successful in unloading Wallace to the Cleveland Cavaliers after this season was lost, but has been glaringly unsuccessful in getting that superstar athletic stud talent, and without the high draft picks that can yield that player in the NBA draft. If the Bulls get lucky to land one of the top 2 picks and be in a position to get C Michael Beasley or G Derrick Rose, they can still leverage a combination of Larry Hughes, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Drew Gooden to land a second superstar type player to fuel their rebuilding process. The Bulls need athletic, talented players that have the desire to compete and win every night and need to complement those players with a supporting cast of complimentary players. Right now, they have the complimentary players, but they still lack the superstar.
The Bulls also need a coach that will bring the team spirit back, a coach that can get the players to buy into the team concept once again. Rick Carlisle is available, as is Larry Brown as well as a slew of other ex-NBA coaches that work for ESPN, TNT, or any other network that employs ex-basketball coaches. This offseason is mission critical for GM John Paxson. If he doesn’t get it right, his next moves will be as ex-GM of the Chicago Bulls.
Watching the Chicago Bulls play the Golden State Warriors tonight in a 119-111 home loss, it occurred to me that the Bulls are flat out, not a very good team. And that’s about as polite as I can get about a team that really lacks game-breaking talent or any semblance of leadership, organization, or passion. The Bulls also lack a clear identity and that’s been a long running problem for this team and organization. The Bulls have somehow figured out a way to take two and a half steps back on the path to reclaiming their glory days of the Michael Jordan years.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
It appeared that the Bulls were assembling good, solid, fairly skilled players that are fundamentally sound and would be great complementary pieces to a marquee free agent signing. The Bulls then signed F/C Ben Wallace and paid him a boat load of money, but I’m still not exactly sure WHY they signed him. He was a high profile name, coming from a successful, NBA Champion pedigreed team in the Detroit Pistons, and seemed to be high energy with the heart of a gamer. A closer look at Ben Wallace shows an undersized F/C that was clearly on the downside of his career, a defensive stopper with no offensive game, a free throw shooter on par with Shaquille O’Neal, in short, not the marquee name to slide into the star role the Bulls sorely lack and need.
Future drafts and free agents signings brought in good, talented players from successful college programs. The Bulls were assembling more complementary talent, that I was sure was earmarked for a trade to bring a game-breaker or two. Then the Tyrus Thomas pick….GM John Paxson moved off the playbook and drafted for potential, bypassing C LaMarcus Aldridge for a more athletic, less fundamental, sky high potential of a freak athlete with only two years of college basketball under his belt. Then the whole thing blew up under the weight of high expectations following a 49 win season in 2006-2007.
After tonight’s home loss the Bulls record stands at 14-22, 8 games under .500 and having a very Chicago Bears-like season. The Bulls, owners of a win streak no longer than two games, are a mess. The Joakim Noah farce was the latest in a turbulent season that has seen gross underachievement, the firing of very successful head coach, Scott Skiles, on Christmas Eve, nonetheless, the two day pause in naming Jim Boylan as interim head coach (as if Skiles was fired with no plan for a replacement in mind) and now G JamesOn Curry developing a urination problem that required resisting arrest and an overnight stay in a Boise, ID jail cell.
The record and poor play would have been more than enough to dislodge the faithful. Add in the endless public relations nightmares, repeated over and over again, the lack of any clear direction or vision for this team, and the lack of any action to forge an identity (pointing out lack of pulling triggers on trades for Memphis C Pau Gasol, C Kevin Garnett, SG Kobe Bryant, or any other playmaker that can make a difference). Now there is talk that the Bulls may be interested in Tracy McGrady. Please. The Bulls are turning into the New York Knicks, and doing it so well, that people are forgetting about the real New York Knicks. Only in the NBA Eastern Conference, would a team like the Bulls be sniffing a playoff spot with this kind of karma……Note to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng: you should have signed those contracts.