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Bulls Tue Dec 16 2008
So far so good for Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro. While other NBA coaches have been falling like teenage girls at a Jonas Brothers concert (the latest was former Bull Reggie Theus who was fired by Sacramento Monday, the sixth firing of the season), Del Negro not only has managed to survive but thrive.
In his first season of head coaching... EVER! ... Del Negro has the Bulls a mere one game under .500, a situation that could improve tonight when they take on the Charlotte Bobcats in North Carolina. That complete lack of experience was big question mark hanging over his head, placed there by nearly every writer and fan in town. Granted, it's only basketball, but even there, experience has to count for something. Were he Vinny Del Negro the cardiac surgeon or Vinny Del Negro the periodontist, he'd be eating soup for dinner and probably still waiting for his first patient.
But thanks to a big gamble by general manager John Paxson, Del Negro has the bulls in third place in the Eastern Conference's Central Division and with a better record (11-12) than 13 other NBA teams.
Of course, he had a little help this year. OK, a lot of help in the form of Derrick Rose, who is as expected to win the Rookie of the Year award as Heath Ledger is expected to carry an Oscar into the afterlife. It's kinda scary to think where the Bulls would be right now with only a neophyte head coach and a bunch of disgruntled vets twiddling their thumbs until free agency. Not only has Rose (18.2 ppg, 6.3 apg) burst onto the scene with a veteran's poise, but he's managed to invigorate the rest of the team, with four other players averaging in double digits. OK, there was that whole eating-in-bed thing, but we'll chalk that up to Stupid Rookie Tricks.
If there is a soft spot with the Bulls it's under the boards. Granted forward Drew Gooden has been trying to carry the load with nine rebounds per game, but anytime Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas want to show up is OK by us. They both average about five rebounds per game but those games are few and far between. Indeed, it took sharp words from Del Negro to snap them out of their sleepwalking and push the two of them to their best performances of the season against New Jersey (16 points for Thomas, seven points, eight rebounds for Noah). Hopefully, the return of power forward Michael Ruffin will solidify things.
Now that defenses are adjusting to Rose's game, Del Negro is counting on the rest of the team to step up their game and continue to rebound and hustle to get the ball in the hands of Rose (who leads the team in shooting with 49 percent). The team could be entering a crucial phase in their development that makes this almost-.500 thing all the more intriguing.