Last night, he was there. Scott Skiles. The guy. The one who, out of nowhere, took the Bulls from the truly horrible post-Jordan mess and into sudden, if dubious, contention. The one who melded a bunch of young collegiate guys with limited ceilings into a well-oiled machine. The one who barked and shouted and who even sort of looks like a bulldog, all puggly and gruff.
Scott Skiles is and was all of those things, but he was also stubborn. And unrelenting. And unwilling to change his own philosophy to suit his suddenly not-so-young team. Instead of taking a small frontcourt and a bevy of quick guards and deciding that, you know what -- we're going to run people out of the gym, Skiles stuck to his guns until his guns got him fired.
Enter Vinny Del Negro. Last night was one game, so its underlying "meaning" is minimal at best, but last night Del Negro proved that he is very obviously not going to do the things that were so frustrating about Scott Skiles. He didn't run slogging a half-court offense reliant on undersized guards. He didn't get wishy-washy with minutes or playing time (though the Thabo Sefalosha experiment seemed to end pretty quickly). He didn't worry about Derrick Rose's "readiness," or his ability to play against NBA guards. He just let his team play, for better or worse, and the result was a whole new Bulls team.
The two most entertaining players were Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas. Rose's modest stat line (11 points, nine assists, four turnovers, four rebounds, three steals) was underlied by a basic competency, a certain decisiveness and reaction speed that should give all Bulls fans hope. Never during Rose's minutes did he look out of place, undersized, or overwhelmed. After one game, he looks ready to lead.
Tyrus Thomas was also interesting, in that he was actually allowed to play longer than 20 minutes. One gets the feeling that Del Negro recognizes how important Thomas -- a mini-Amare Stoudamire? -- could be in a Suns-style fast break offense. Thomas had 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 41 minutes.
Overall, the team looks less rigid, looser. There is still an awful lot of improvement to be made, and a win over the Bucks in October means almost nothing. But to a casual observer, the Bulls looked good last night. Really good. Or, at least, much better than when Scott Skiles was last in town which is, for the moment, good enough.