The Bulls’ Vinny Del Negro’s job isn’t jeopardy. Yet.
The Bulls have taken a number of ugly losses this month as they were spanked 110-78 by the Raptors, 118-83 by the Hawks and 106-80 by the Celtics. Perhaps just as galling was 103-101 defeat at the hands of the Nets, who have won two games all season.
Management is being patient with Del Negro because injuries have kept him from playing with a full complement of players for most of the season. At the same time, the Bulls were expected to get back to the playoffs this season but are instead 8-14 and last in the Central Division. Thus, Del Negro is likely to be placed on the hot seat if the losses continue to mount.
Del Negro said speculation about his job security does not bother him.
“My thing is, I'm a fighter,” he said. “We fight as a team. We stick together as a team. The NBA is tough. Pro sports are tough. Guys want to rip your heart out of you and you've just got to be tough enough to continually persevere and find ways to get better. We had our struggles last year and things ended up pretty well.”
The Bulls have given up at least 100 points in nine of their last 12 games, going 2-10 in that span. During their 6-4 start, they allowed triple digits only once.
“The beginning of the year, we were getting stops, getting out and running,” Bulls forward Luol Deng said. “We were playing hard. When you get stops, your confidence is up and you get more stops. But right now we're fighting for that stop and when we don't get it, it seems like it's affecting both ends.”
The Bulls have also felt the loss of guard Ben Gordon, who left for the Pistons as a free agent at the end of last season. The Bulls are 28th in the NBA in three-point field goal shooting with a .295 percentage and last in three-pointers attempted per game with an 11.7 average. Their 98.0 Offensive Rating is 28th.
“We don’t take a lot of threes,” Del Negro said. “It’s not the way we're built right now. It doesn't stretch the defense when you're not able to make some threes and open up some lanes and things. It makes it harder but you just try to do things to compensate for that by being more efficient. It puts a lot more pressure on your ball handling, your decision-making.”
Some observers have accused the Bulls of not giving their best effort for Del Negro and he has been criticized for being too passive. However, he dismisses that talk.
“Overall, the key guys, I think the effort's been there,” Del Negro said. “If they feel like they're not putting in the effort, then that's their responsibility. They're pros, they get paid to do their job. If it takes a coach to yell at them or whatever, it doesn't make a lot of sense.”
Jordan, Sixers Can't Catch a Break During Streak
Eddie Jordan has experienced losing in large quantities before as a coach.
His 1997-98 Kings lost 55 games and his 2003-04 Wizards were losers 57 times. He was fired last season after the Wizards got off to a 1-10 start and has a 236-306 record in seven seasons as an NBA coach.
However, Jordan has never been through anything like he has in his first season with the 76ers. They lost 12 in a row before beating the Warriors 117-101 on Monday night to raise their record to 6-18.
“It's interesting,” Jordan said. “I saw (the Pittsburgh Steelers') Hines Ward being interviewed and he said he's never lost five straight before. He said it didn't seem like they caught a break, a bounce or a fumble. The same thing is in my mind. I know you have to make your break, but it wears on you.”
The 76ers are playing without starting point guard Lou Williams (broken jaw) and sixth man Marreese Speights (partially torn medial collateral knee ligament). However, injuries haven’t kept Jordan from drawing heat in Philadelphia for continually shuffling his rotation and distancing himself from any blame for the poor start.
While the fans may be calling for Jordan’s head, 76ers president Ed Stefanski is not looking to make a change.
“From top to bottom, we all have to get better,” Stefanski said. “We've been in games. We've got to learn how to win them. We've got to stay positive. Negativity is not going to help anyone.”
Andre Iguodala thinks the 76ers need to pick up their intensity.
“I don’t think we’re mad enough,” the swingman said. “We've got to go out there and be angry. There comes a point where we've got to get down to the nitty-gritty and just go out there and win.”
Grunfeld Disappointed with Wizards' Start
Jordan’s old team, the Wizards, expected to be considerably better after going 19-63 last season then bringing in Flip Saunders as coach during the offseason. However, they are 7-15 and last in the Southeast Division, leaving general manager Ernie Grunfeld disappointed, though he is still hopeful.
“I don't think anybody is happy with where we are at this time,” Grunfield said. “I think it's going to take a little time. We've had injuries to Antawn Jamison, Mike Miller, Randy Foye and Caron Butler. We still have time to come together. It's not something that's just going to happen. Let's face it, not having our players together for any consistent amount of time is hurting us.”
However, there is no getting around the Wizards’ record.
“Right now we’re a bottom-feeding team,” guard Gilbert Arenas said.
“We’re just not getting it done,” center Brendan Haywood said. “We are a better team than we have shown but I'm sure people are tired of hearing that. We've got to show it on the floor. So far this year we haven't done that.”
Wallace Feels Vindicated
Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace has already been fined $30,000 this season by the NBA for criticizing officials but doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. If anything, the single-season record holder for technical fouls has more ammunition now that disgraced official Tim Donaghy told ESPN during a recent interview to promote his new book that Wallace has been a target of the refs.
“Everybody thought I was a liar and a militant but now the truth is coming out,” Wallace said. “It’s what I’ve been saying for years.”
While Wallace said he does not know if any other officials have bet on NBA games as Donaghy admitted to doing, he does feel potential wagering is part of a bigger problem.
“I always had the thing that there's no way that the things that he did he could do by himself,” Wallace said. “I always said that. It's virtually impossible. The things that he's been accused of, there's no way, to me, he could have done those things by himself.”
Wallace also said he will not be surprised if the NBA winds up with a full-blown betting scandal that will rival the ones that put a black mark on college basketball in the 1950s.
“When it hits, it’s going to hit hard,” Wallace said. “I'm just glad that I'm not (Donaghy) or none of these execs in the league.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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