If Vinny Del Negro hasn't completely lost the Bulls locker room yet, well, he's misplacing bits and pieces every day. The latest example? He was the target of a profanity-laced explosion by one of the team's elder statesmen in full view of the media following yesterday's practice.
Ben Gordon was recently late for a team flight and was angry about being fined. Instead of airing his grievances to Del Negro in private, he did so in front of the prying eyes of the local beat reporters, virtually guaranteeing it would become public news. Was it a deliberate attempt to embarrass the rookie head coach? No one is accusing Gordon of being that conniving, but it's certainly a symptom that everything isn't right in Chicago.
Here's the irony of it all: just a few minutes earlier, one of the questions a reporter asked Del Negro was whether his team respected him. It's a loaded question, and to his credit Del Negro handled it smoothly: "They should. They better. But you ask the players that." Derrick Rose was asked the same question, and his answer was telling:
"I know a lot of us do," Rose said. "The people who are not, coaches are trying to get to them and talk to them and have meetings with them. I'm talking about during the games. Like, following game plans. I'm not saying players are being rebellious or doing it their way. It's just miscommunication on the court."
Rose is young, so I'll cut him some slack (and in fact, applaud him) for speaking honestly instead of slipping into veteran cliches, but this is supposed to be a "yes" or "no" question. Saying "a lot of us do" raises red flags, no matter how much he tried to qualify the statement a few sentences later. That's the soundbite everyone will remember, and that's the litmus test that should tell Jerry Reinsdorf and John Paxson they made a huge mistake.
Do I think Del Negro will be fired? Whether he deserves to be or not, I don't see it happening. Even if he's over his head, it's extremely rare for a guy to get canned midway through his first full season (even if some people think he was brought in to be a fall-guy from the beginning).
Secondly, for as much time and energy that Reinsdorf and Paxson spent interviewing candidates this summer -- and if you recall, they interviewed every last person who's even thought about coaching in the NBA -- firing Del Negro would put the blame squarely on their own shoulders. And no one is ever in a rush to do that.