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News » Where did it all go wrong?

Where did it all go wrong?

Where did it all go wrong? By Mike McGraw

For those fans preoccupied with getting the local football coach fired, let?s rehash the Bulls ? path through the first 20 games of the NBA season.

They started the season well, going 6-4 while playing consistently excellent defense. The circus trip was a struggle, but after beating Detroit, the Bulls were 7-9 on Dec. 1 after playing the fewest home games in the league.

In one week?s time, how did everything go so wrong?

After a loss in Cleveland last Friday, where the Bulls actually led in the third quarter, they lost by 32 to Toronto, were beaten at home by a New Jersey team off to the worst start in NBA history (1-19), then barely showed up for a 35-point pummeling in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Now everyone is wondering about coach Vinny Del Negro?s job security and asking why the Bulls don?t seem to care anymore.

Del Negro was confident and defiant following Thursday?s practice. His basic message was he?ll focus on preparing for Friday?s home game against Golden State, which is all he can control.

"My thing is, I?m a fighter," Del Negro said. "Pro sports is tough. Guys want to rip your heart out and you?ve just got to be tough enough to continually persevere and find ways to get better."

Before the season, players and management talked about challenging for one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. That goal seems far-fetched now, but stranger things have happened.

"We had our struggles last year and things ended up pretty well," Del Negro said. "Hopefully we can handle this adversity, show some character ... and get better."

Turning things around will depend on overcoming a flawed roster and

rediscovering the strategy that worked during the first three weeks.

Scoring pool shallow

In theory, the Bulls shouldn?t have missed Ben Gordon?s offense all that much, considering Luol Deng returned and is averaging 17.3 points per game.

But Derrick Rose got off to a slow start after injuring his ankle, while Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich missed time with injuries. Other than Rose, Deng, Joakim Noah and rookie Taj Gibson, most everyone has been a disappointment.

John Salmons (14.4 points, .395 field-goal percentage) hasn?t been able to match his career-best numbers from last season. Hinrich (8.3, .341) wasn?t playing well before he got hurt. Bench strength was supposed to come from Brad Miller, Jannero Pargo and rookie James Johnson, but none of those players has made big contributions, which is why the Bulls rank among the league?s worst offensive teams at 90.6 points per game.

If Salmons, Hinrich and Pargo knock down perimeter shots, that could make a big difference. Outside help will be tough to find, though. The Bulls don?t want to make a trade that will eat into their salary-cap space for 2010.

Where?s the defense?

At some point, the Bulls gave up on playing defense the way they did early in the season. They lost confidence during a tough road stretch against the Lakers, Denver, Portland and Utah, and never got it back.

"The beginning of the year, we?re getting stops, getting out and running," 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 haven?t been able to defend the lane, either. Noah has shown improvement, but he hasn?t been getting much help from Miller. Gibson has been fantastic for a No. 26 draft pick, but opponents are jumping over him to grab rebounds.

Defense, though, is about effort. Asked if that?s a head coach?s responsibility, Del Negro said it goes both ways.

"Overall, the key guys, I think the effort?s been there," he 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."

Change to believe in

For now, management plans to give Del Negro a chance to turn things around. If the Bulls beat Golden State and give Boston a competitive game Saturday, he figures to stick around at least until Thomas returns to the lineup.

If the two games this weekend go badly, a change is probably inevitable.

"You guys worry about that stuff more than I do," Del Negro said. "I talk to (GM) Gar (Forman) every day. They understand how hard the staff?s working."

Added Deng: "We could be traded. If things aren?t going well, change is going to happen somehow. It?s just how long it goes on."

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Added: December 12, 2009


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