June 10, 2008
It's been nearly a full day since he was more or less confirmed as Chicago's newest head coach (for reals this time, yo), about four days since he became the front-runner, and I've no idea what to take from the news that Vinny Del Negro will run the Bulls. Worse (or, perhaps, best), I've no idea what to expect from the guy.
That, in and of itself, might be the best thing to work off of. After all, as a Bulls fan, preconceived notions and a sound remembrance of what once was nearly had me running for the hills when Doug Collins was announced as the hire-to-be.
Nothing against Doug, he's a fine man and a good coach for the right team, but it just wasn't going to work. You can't ask what will be the youngest team in the NBA to walk it up court at every given opportunity.
Will Del Negro do the same? No clue. The guy hasn't even assisted somewhere, much less run a pro team before. His previous job was as Suns GM Steve Kerr's top front office assistant, which smacks of "run, kids run" until you remember that Steve wanted the Suns to hold up a bit this year, while easing Mike D'Antoni (pictured, smelling of rich mahogany, on the left) out of town. Will Del Negro have them running like D'Antoni, or holding back like Kerr wanted? No clue.
One thing scares the crap out of me - the idea that Bob Hill will become Del Negro's lead assistant. There's nothing wrong, especially as a coaching neophyte, to have a veteran hand behind you.
But Hill's veteran hand has had no shame in stabbing his bosses in the back in the past as he tries to move up in the food chain. He's the ultimate NBA usurper, and has been for over two decades. With Del Negro working with one of the league's cheapest coaching contracts and with only two years guaranteed, I can't think of a coach I'd look less fondly on to take over should things go to pot, say, by December of 2009. I'd be looking fondly on the truncated Doug Collins era by that point.
I'm going to try and keep this short - the real list probably numbers in the hundreds - but here are a few things I'd like VDN to keep in mind as he takes the reins of the hometown basketball club.
1. Play the kids.
You have tons of them. Your rotation will be incredibly young; it's going to be around for a while, so your best bet is establishing some sort of chemistry within a batch of youngsters that might be four or five seasons away from hitting their primes all at once. No point in playing Drew Gooden 38 minutes if he's not going to be on the team in 2009-2010.
2. Money shouldn't equal minutes
Larry Hughes is making a ton of money. Drew Gooden and Andres Nocioni are making a little less. The second pair can help you, if used the right way. Larry Hughes cannot. All he can do is shoot, poorly. Have the guts to sit him, almost outright, even though his contract numbers in the eight-figure range.
Hughes is a good guy who doesn't have near the bad reputation as, say, one of the giant contracts on the Knicks. But he contributes far, far less. The league is littered with once-solid players making obscene amounts of money that just can't cut it anymore, and most of them are at the end of the bench. It's time for Larry (who started 25 games with Chicago last year, how sick is that?) to move on down.
3. Production matters
Andres Nocioni will eat fiberglass if it means his team could go on an 8-2 run. He'll try to guard every guy on the court, all at once. He'll take every charge he can. He'll try to contest every jump shot. All of these are admirable, in their own way.
None of these things help a team win.
Noc leaves his man far too often to try and take a charge, and even if his mean doesn't score, the defensive possession is shot once the opposing team moves the ball a bit. Those contested jumpers often mean Andres is trying to block a jump shot, which means an easy drive or easy foul call for the shooter in question. And Nocioni continues to go against the defensive game plan, double-teaming on a whim and throwing his team off-kilter.
All of this looks great, I concede, but it kills his team in the end. Meanwhile, and I'm not sure if you noticed, but Tyrus Thomas just gave you 11 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, three assists, and a steal in 21 minutes. It may have looked out of control, but it was actual production.
Notice it. The point of the game is to score more than the opponent, not to take the most charges and show the most moxie.
This could be a special team. Thomas, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Thabo Sefolosha, Aaron Gray, and Derrick Rose (assuming, hoping, he's the first selection) are all 25 or much younger. Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden are 27 and prime trade bait in their prime. This could be the East's next beast without having to package a series of those guys for a star making maximum money.
It could be an easy gig. Let's hope Del Negro makes it just that.