At least for now, Vinny Del Negro remains on the Chicago Bulls bench.
However, his tenure as coach could be nearing the end going into a matchup Tuesday night with the Indiana Pacers, who look to avoid a seventh straight loss.
While Chicago (11-17) ended a tumultuous week on a high note, beating the Hornets 96-85 on Saturday, the victory might have done nothing to provide job security for the embattled Del Negro. According to ESPN.com, the Bulls already have decided to fire Del Negro and are just debating on a replacement.
In Del Negro’s first season with Chicago in 2008-09, the Bulls had a mediocre regular season, finishing 41-41. They reached the playoffs, however, and took Boston to a Game 7 before losing the thrilling series.
That led to increased expectations for 2009-10, but Chicago has floundered, and the low point seemed to come last Monday when the team blew a 35-point second-half lead in a loss to Sacramento.
The Bulls are reportedly eager to have an established coach in place for the 2010 offseason when several high-profile free agents will be available.
While Del Negro’s future in Chicago is in doubt, his team put on perhaps its best performance of the season Saturday.
Tyrus Thomas(notes), who was sidelined 22 games with a broken left forearm, had 21 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in his return. He played the entire fourth quarter, scoring 12 points in the second half.
“He got a little winded but … it was tough to take him out because he was so productive,” Del Negro said. “You saw what his athleticism does for us.”
Though it seems unlikely Thomas’ return will help save Del Negro’s job, the Bulls have gone 3-2 when he’s played this season compared to 8-15 without him.
They may have a chance to put together a winning streak over the next two weeks, playing five of the next eight games at home. Six of their opponents during that stretch have losing records.
The Bulls will try to take advantage of a Pacers team which has lost six in a row and 13 of 16.
Indiana (9-20) fell 114-80 at Miami on Sunday, shooting a season-worst 30.7 percent. Troy Murphy(notes) scored 16 points while Tyler Hansbrough(notes) had 10 points and 10 rebounds despite not making a field goal.
“I don’t know if we have enough speed in our starting line,” coach Jim O’Brien told the league’s official Web site. “Clearly we’re not getting it done. The last couple of games we haven’t scored well. … Right now it’s not working.”
The Pacers’ new backcourt of Dahntay Jones(notes) and Earl Watson(notes) certainly doesn’t appear to be working. Both players were inserted into the starting lineup five games ago, a span in which Jones has averaged 4.4 points on 21.4 percent shooting while Watson has shot 35.5 percent and scored 5.8 per game.
The Pacers are averaging 91.0 points during the losing streak and have allowed at least 100 in five of the six games.
This is the first meeting between Indiana and Chicago this season. The two split four games in 2008-09, with each team winning both of its home contests. The Pacers have lost six of seven in Chicago.