It was business as usual at the Bulls' practice facility in Deerfield, Ill., Wednesday -- as usual as business can be when you're about to fire your coach.
Despite informing reporters that the team would not practice again until Thursday during a three-day break before the next game, some players were on the practice floor Wednesday afternoon, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. And guess who was running the practice? Vinny Del Negro.
At the time those basketballs were bouncing, no decision on Del Negro's fate had been made. But don't read too much into that; the writing is on the wall for an imminent end to Del Negro's tenure as the latest Bulls coach who flamed out around Christmastime.
"It's not a matter of if they fire Vinny," a second person familiar with the Bulls' thinking said, "but when they do it."
After the much maligned Christmas Eve firings of Tim Floyd and Scott Skiles, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf perhaps has become sensitive to playing Scrooge. That, coupled with the typical paralyzing indecision within certain factions of the organization, has conspired to leave Del Negro twisting in the wind off Lake Michigan. If Reinsdorf resists the urge to fire Del Negro during this three-day Christmas break, the next sensible window for installing an interim coach would be a two-day break between road games (Jan. 6-7) or a two-day break between a home game against Detroit and a road game at Boston (Jan. 12-13).
The way the Bulls are playing -- or not playing -- for Del Negro, that's a long time to go on like this.
That's what happens in the NBA when you try to do your coaching hire on the cheap. Del Negro is in the final year of a two-year deal that pays him less than $2 million annually. He was the consolation prize after Reinsdorf's well orchestrated interview with Mike D'Antoni when he had no intention of paying the former Suns coach the above-market rate he was about to get from the Knicks. So it goes.
In addition to having to pay off Del Negro once they fire him, the Bulls are still paying Skiles about $750,000 this season -- the result of a needless settlement with the current Bucks coach.
Multiple sources have corroborated that Del Negro's likely successor would be assistant coach Pete Myers, the ultimate company guy. In addition to replacing Michael Jordan at shooting guard after Jordan's first retirement, Myers was named interim coach in 2003 after the Bulls fired Bill Cartwright three days before Thanksgiving. Gobble gobble.
Del Negro made it past Thanksgiving, and he might even make it past Christmas. But not by much.