Posted on: April 29, 2010 10:29 pm
As Bulls management continues muddling through end-of-season evaluations with Vinny Del Negro’s status still unresolved, sources close to the process told CBSSports.com that one aspect of the decision on the coach’s future has been decided: Del Negro won’t be needing a lawyer, because the team has decided not to dismiss him for cause over a late-season confrontation with executive John Paxson.
The matter has gone all the way to the top of the organizational chain of command, with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf weighing in with assurances to Del Negro that he will not be fired for cause, one of the people involved said. Reinsdorf is said to be pleased with the way Del Negro has handled the fallout from the incident, in which Paxson confronted the coach after he allegedly ignored a minute-limit on injured center Joakim Noah.
A second source confirmed that the confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson would have no bearing on a potential coaching change, which would instead hinge on the idea that the team would have a better chance of improving with a new coach.
Exit interviews and internal evaluations are expected to reach a climax next week, when Reinsdorf will weigh in on all aspects of the offseason plan. Del Negro, who has presided over two first-round exits in two years on the job, is said to be quietly pushing for a quick and graceful exit if the team decides to make a change.
People close to the process are wondering how the fallout will affect the combatant who will be staying with the team – Paxson. Sources say the confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson did not mark the first time things got heated between them, a pattern that ultimately could begin to erode support for Paxson within the organization. Bulls officials are not publicly speculating on how Paxson’s status will be affected, saying only that the matter has been “handled internally.”
Long-running friction between Del Negro and Paxson reached a tipping point after a Feb. 26 game against Portland in which Del Negro allegedly ignored an agreement among management and the medical staff to limit Noah’s minutes to the 15-18 range as he recovered from plantar fasciitis. Del Negro played Noah 27 minutes that night, and he missed the next 10 games – all losses.
The situation became even more heated after Noah’s sixth game back against Phoenix on March 30. Del Negro again played Noah 27 minutes that night, another violation of the minute-limit.
While animosity continues to fester from the incident, it is a stretch of labor law to say the least that the Bulls would be able to successfully fire Del Negro and withhold the money owed to him on the last year of his contract. So while a coaching change is fully expected, it won’t be as messy as Del Negro’s second year on the Bulls bench has been.
If and when the Bulls make a change, it is anticipated that Dallas assistant Dwane Casey would receive serious consideration. Casey was a finalist for the job when Del Negro was hired and has more of a defensive background – an area that Del Negro didn’t develop as thoroughly as management had hoped when he was hired.
Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:12 pm
As I watched the Bulls force LeBron James to score 40 points to beat them in Cleveland Monday night, they reminded me of the team that kept playing and kept pushing the Celtics in the first round last spring – all the way to a nail-biting defeat in seven games.
This year’s Cavs are not last year’s Celtics, but this year’s Bulls aren’t last year’s Bulls, either. Every time Jamario Moon hit a 3-pointer or LeBron did whatever he wanted to do, the Bulls’ answer in Game 2 was, increasingly, nothing. A year ago, it was Ben Gordon.
Next year at this time, it’ll be _____.
The Bulls will be scary next year. That will be little consolation when they eventually lose this series to the Cavs – whether they win one or two games in Chicago or not. There was nothing to be ashamed of in their 112-102 loss to the LeBrons in Game 2, nor is there anything wrong with heading back to Chicago down 0-2 in the best-of-7 series. That was to be expected. This is what LeBron does, and it’s what the best team in the NBA is supposed to do.
But a year from now? With news Friday from David Stern that the salary cap could be $56.1 million next season – anywhere from $3 million to $6 million more than projected last summer – the Bulls will be able to bring this same team back to the playoffs with one exception. They’ll have someone to go shot-for-shot with LeBron.
That is, assuming it’s not LeBron; there’s no reason to believe it will be, and I hope it isn’t. Remember a few weeks ago, when LeBron lamented the lack of rivalries in today’s NBA? He’d go a long way toward bringing rivalries back by staying in Cleveland and standing toe-to-toe with whoever receives Chicago’s max money. Dwyane Wade, the ideal rival to LeBron, would be perfect – except he handles the ball too much to play with Derrick Rose and will have a hard time turning his back on South Beach once the Heat flex their salary-cap muscles to put more talent around him. Joe Johnson? Possible; he’d be a good complement to Rose and would’ve had something to say Monday night when LeBron started doing to the Bulls what Michael Jordan used to do to the Cavs in the playoffs.
However it works out, the Bulls will have an answer to LeBron next spring. They won’t need to resort to Joakim Noah’s made-for-headline quotes. With a lineup of Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Rose, a max player to be named later, Kirk Hinrich off the bench, and a moderately priced big man who can block shots, the Bulls won’t be facing the Cavs in the first round. They’ll be squaring off in the conference semifinals or finals.
That’ll be a rivalry – one worthy of a bigger, later playoff stage.
Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:45 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2010 3:33 pm
NEW YORK -- At the end of a typically mundane summary of the NBA's two-day Board of Governors meeting, commissioner David Stern dropped a bombshell of sorts Friday. And it means that teams chasing 2010 free agents will have considerably more money to spend than they thought.
Based on a more optimistic revenue picture than the league was projecting as recently as All-Star weekend, Stern said the revised projection for the 2010-11 salary cap is $56.1 million. That's significantly higher than last summer's estimate of between $50.4 million and $53.6 million -- figures that were floated last summer in a doomsday memo to teams that warned of a league-wide revenue decline of between 2.5 percent and 5 percent.
Teams that have been clearing cap space to pursue marquee free agents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this summer -- such as the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Heat and Clippers -- have spent much of the season budgeting on a $52 million cap in '10-'11, which would've been a nearly $6 million drop from this season's payroll limit of $57.7 million. The reason for the healthier figure was what Stern called a "Herculean effort" by teams to prop up ticket and sponsorship sales that were hit by the recession.
Stern said "it's pretty clear" that although revenue will still be down from last season, the drop will "not be as much as we feared at the beginning of the season."
One of the people most affected by the revised financial picture, Knicks president Donnie Walsh, was sitting in the second row of Stern's news conference when the announcement was made. Walsh, who already was figuring on having enough cap space to sign two max free agents for about $32 million, now has more flexibility.
Walsh, who was on hand to learn the result of a draft-pick tiebreaker, merely smiled when I dropped this line on him after Stern's news conference broke up: "Now you have enough money for two max players and Jerome James."
But the news was far more significant than that for an organization like the Knicks, which has hitched its future to the hope of landing at least one major free agent this summer when numerous NBA stars will be on the market. In addition to courting LeBron, Walsh also will be exploring sign-and-trades to revamp the roster and will be simultaneously juggling his desire to retain unrestricted free agent David Lee. For every dollar the cap exceeds Walsh's $52-$53 million projection, it helps his efforts on all fronts.
Similarly, the Heat now don't have to sweat losing Wade nearly as much, as they'll get $2-3 million more space on top of the $18-$19 million they were already projecting -- money that can be used to sign a star and a second-tier player to placate Wade and persuade him to stay. The Bulls now will have enough room to sign a max player and add another piece without doing a salary-dump trade beforehand.
So what changed?
The precipitous decline in the cap that teams were warned about last summer was based on a doomsday projection of an 11 percent collapse in gate (or ticket) revenues, a person with knowledge of league finances told CBSSports.com. As the league closes the books on the regular season, the person said gate revenue actually declined only 7 percent. Based on league-wide gate receipts of $1.1 billion last season, an 11 percent decline would've amounted to a loss of $120 million in ticket revenue. A 7 percent decline at the gate would result in a loss of only $77 million.
Whereas league officials were projecting a decline in overall league revenue of between 2.5 and 5 percent last summer, the revised figure now calls for only a 0.5 percent decline, said the person familiar with league finances, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Basketball-related income, or BRI, determines the salary cap and luxury tax threshold, which is now estimated to be $68 million next season -- down only slightly $69.9 million this season.
Stern was less specific about a controversial number related to the ongoing negotiations aimed at achieving a new collective bargaining agreement and avoiding a lockout after the '10-'11 season. Despite the rosier revenue picture he painted, Stern didn't back off much from the $400 million in league-wide losses he projected for this season during his All-Star address in Dallas two months ago. He placed the new figure at between $380 million and $400 million. Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, already has disputed the $400 million figure, telling CBSSports.com last month that it was "overstated."
On the labor front, Stern said the league continues to furnish financial data to the union and that negotiations are taking place on the "staff meeting" level. League owners and executives will meet again during Summer League in Las Vegas, but no high-level CBA talks are expected to occur until after the players submit their counterproposal to the league. Hunter told CBSSports.com last month that the players intend to do that sometime between May 1 and July 1.
Posted on: April 14, 2010 6:53 pm
If Vinny Del Negro wasn’t doomed already in his effort to keep his job as the Bulls’ coach, it’s hard to imagine him surviving this.
Del Negro is at the center of a firestorm over allegedly ignoring an agreement among the medical staff, coaches and management to limit Joakim Noah’s minutes late in the season while the team’s center was struggling with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The tipping point was a Feb. 26 game against Portland, when Del Negro played Noah 27 minutes despite an agreement to limit his minutes to 15-18, a person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com. That was the last game Noah played before missing 10 games with a flare-up of the injury. The Bulls lost all 10 games, putting their playoff hopes – and Del Negro’s job status – in a precarious state.
According to an account published first by Yahoo! Sports, the long-running friction between Del Negro and management accelerated into a physical confrontation between Del Negro and executive vice president John Paxson after a game against Phoenix on March 30. After playing between nine and 17 minutes in his first five games back from the 10-game absence, Noah again played 27 minutes in that loss to the Suns – another violation of the agreed-upon limit, sources said. Conflicting accounts have followed as to whether Del Negro or Paxson was the aggressor, but they miss the point: If Del Negro ignored team orders to limit minutes for an injured player, he could be fired for insubordination – bringing an end to his rocky, two-year tenure.
When asked Tuesday night about the report of an altercation with Paxson, Del Negro referred to the matter as “internal.” Team spokesman Tim Hallam called it “an organizational issue.” A person familiar with the situation declined to comment on whether lawyers have been retained on either side.
Noah’s limit was gradually increased, and Del Negro was involved in the decision as well as the medical staff, assistant coaches, Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, according to sources. Yet the issue surfaced again Friday night in New Jersey, when Del Negro apparently didn’t know whether he had permission to extend Noah’s minutes late in a game that was critical to the Bulls’ playoff chances. Previously, he was permitted to make an exception if he needed to use Noah beyond his limit for one possession to win a game. According to sources, Del Negro sent assistant coach Lindsey Hunter to personally ask team officials if he was allowed to play Noah any more that night against the Nets. But the request didn’t come until after regulation and before the first overtime, a person familiar with the matter said. The Bulls lost in two overtimes to the worst team in the NBA. Now, Chicago has come down to the last night of the regular season in its bid to make the playoffs. A win by the Bulls Wednesday night in Charlotte, or a loss by the Raptors at home against the Knicks, would clinch the eighth playoff spot in the East for the Bulls – and extend Del Negro’s nightmare a little longer.
Did Del Negro put his own self-interest before the health of one of the team’s core players? Is someone looking for an excuse to fire Del Negro for cause, and thus save the Bulls from having to pay Del Negro the final year of his contract – since it’s widely assumed the Bulls will be looking for a new coach anyway as a way to lure potential free agents?
I’m not a lawyer, and it appears that’s what’s going to be needed to sort this out. A warning to both sides: Lawyers don’t put limits on billable hours.
Posted on: March 12, 2010 2:39 pm
The Bulls got welcome news on All-Star point guard Derrick Rose's left wrist Friday when MRI results came back negative, according to a source. Rose will be re-evaluated further, but the original diagnosis of a sprained left wrist turned out to be accurate.
Losing Rose for an extended time would've all but crushed Chicago's playoff hopes. The Bulls, in a fight for the eighth playoff spot in the East, saw Rose go down hard after colliding with Orlando's Dwight Howard on a drive to the basket in a 111-82 loss to the Magic on Thursday night. It was the second time this season that Rose was injured in a collision with Howard.
Posted on: February 16, 2010 5:57 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2010 12:35 am
The Knicks' negotiations with the Rockets on a blockbuster deal that would send Tracy McGrady to New York continued to progress early Thursday as a key piece of Houston's leverage faded from the picture: the Chicago Bulls.
While New York and Houston continued negotiating the level of protection the Knicks would place on two first-round picks involved in the discussion, the Bulls were having trouble finding a third team -- preferably one with extra first-round picks to offer -- as a way to sweeten their proposal, sources said.
Though nothing was resolved over the draft pick issue, it appeared that the Rockets and Knicks were confident enough in the framework of their deal that the Bulls dropped out of the discussions, a high-level source involved in the process said. The situation was described Wednesday night as strictly between the Rockets and Knicks, with the key issue remaining how much protection the Knicks would require on two first-round picks involved in the trade.
In a sign of the Bulls' retreat, John Salmons did not play against the Knicks Wednesday night after management told him to stay at the team hotel in New York while they finalized a trade. Later, the Bulls engaged the Bucks in discussions that would send Salmons to Milwaukee for a package of expiring contracts -- perhaps Kurt Thomas and Francisco Elson, sources said. That deal would pave the way for the Knicks and Bulls to finally orchestrate their long-discussed swap centered around Al Harrington and Tyrus Thomas.
"It's still in play," a person with knowledge of the talks said.
New York officials reported back to the Rockets earlier Wednesday with their protection parameters, and the Rockets were pushing hard for less protection, two people familiar with the talks said. Sources have indicated that once the Rockets received New York's final determination on pick protection, they would choose between offers from the Knicks and Bulls for McGrady, whose $23 million expiring contract is one of the most coveted assets before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
The Knicks, having been burned under previous regimes for giving away draft picks with little or no protection, were seeking to adequately protect a 2011 first-round pick that Houston would have the option of swapping with New York and a 2012 first-round pick that could go to the Rockets based on where it falls in the draft. Before word came Wednesday night of the Bulls' withdrawal from the talks, one person familiar with the negotiations said Houston was "asking for too much," while a second person with a stake in the deal continued to say the Knicks continued to have the leading proposal to extract McGrady.
The Knicks would get a package centered around McGrady in exchange for Jared Jeffries, Larry Hughes, Jordan Hill and the draft pick considerations. Shedding Jeffries, owed $6.9 million in 2010-11, comes at a high price -- one that Knicks president Donnie Walsh was having trouble getting comfortable accepting, sources said. The Rockets were asking for so much because they'd face little in the way of negative implications by keeping McGrady and simply letting his contract fall off the books.
Moving Jeffries is crucial to the Knicks' 2010 free agency plan because it would get New York within striking distance of its stated goal of clearing maximum cap space and flexibility heading into the crucial free-agent class that begins July 1. The Rockets, who are getting nothing from McGrady this season, would benefit from an approximately $7 million swing in luxury tax payments -- but that issue was described by one source as "not material" compared to the pick protection.
If the Knicks were successful in shedding Jeffries' $6.9 million contract for next season -- along with Hill, their No. 8 pick in 2009, and Hughes -- they'd be within about $2 million of their elusive goal of clearing space for two max free agents this summer. By completing the McGrady deal as currently constructed, New York would be able to get to the approximately $33 million needed for two straight-up max signings by buying out Eddy Curry's $11.3 million contract for next season. Curry's agent, Leon Rose, also represents the No. 1 potential catch in the 2010 sweepstakes, LeBron James.
Emboldened by the uncertainty surrounding the draft pick issue, the Bulls intensified their research on McGrady late Tuesday night and into Wednesday, a source said. The framework of the Bulls' offer was believed to have included Brad Miller, Thomas, and either Kirk Hinrich or Salmons. If Hinrich were involved, the deal likely would've had another player going to Chicago with McGrady; the Bulls are believed to have wanted either Luis Scola or Carl Landry. The Bulls' interest in one of those players -- combined with their desire to move either Hinrich or Salmons, both owed significant money next season -- appeared to have hurt Chicago's proposal. Hinrich has two years and $17 million remaining, and Salmons is owed $5.8 million next season.
The Knicks completed a minor deal Wednesday, sending Darko Milicic to Minnesota for Brian Cardinal in an exchange of expiring contracts that did not directly impact the McGrady discussions. Walsh told reporters at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night that the NBA had awarded the team cap relief on Cuttino Mobley's $9.5 million, insurance-protected contract -- another step in getting the team's books in order. Also on Wednesday, the Knicks became deeply involved in talks that would send Nate Robinson to Boston as part of a package that would yield 3-point specialist Eddie House.
Posted on: February 11, 2010 2:02 am
Edited on: February 11, 2010 1:17 pm
DALLAS -- Chris Paul and Brandon Roy already have been knocked out of the All-Star Game with injuries. Kobe Bryant is suffering with finger, ankle, and hip ailments, and Allen Iverson is tending to his sick daughter. But it appears that Derrick Rose has dodged the All-Star injury bug.
An MRI on Rose's hip and back revealed "no significant injury," the Bulls said Thursday, and Rose will make the trip to Dallas for All-Star weekend. He will be re-evaluated here Saturday by team physician Dr. Brian Cole.
Rose left Wednesday night's 107-87 loss to Orlando with a bruised right hip, putting his status for Sunday's All-Star Game in doubt. The team was "hopeful" that the injury was limited to soft tissue damage and wouldn't keep Rose out of Sunday's game. Bulls fans might wonder why Rose would risk his health for the stretch run just to participate in an exhibition game. But given the positive MRI results and Rose's level of enthusiasm for making his first All-Star appearance, it appears to be a non-issue.
If Rose were to suffer a setback, the Hawks' Josh Smith and the Knicks' David Lee would be the most likely candidates to be named as the injury replacement. My pick would be Smith; he was a more deserving All-Star than Al Horford in the first place.
Posted on: February 7, 2010 6:32 pm
Few grand conclusions can be drawn from February NBA games. But in this case, the Celtics' latest disappointing loss only underscored what has been a poorly kept secret among NBA executives for weeks: Ray Allen's time in Boston is likely coming to an end.
If the Celtics kept Allen and let his contract come off the books, they'd still be over the cap this summer with no avenues besides sign-and-trades to acquire a starting shooting guard. That's why Boston also has expressed interest in the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, an excellent defender and ball-handler who would give the Celtics a starting two guard next season at $9 million and in 2011-12 at $8 million. The Bulls' motivation would be cap relief.
The Kings, who are not planning to be big free-agent shoppers this summer, aren't seeking to acquire cap space alone. They want assets -- and the Celtics don't have a young big man to offer. The Bulls, who almost certainly will move Tyrus Thomas, might need to be invited into that conversation to satisfy everyone's needs.
Whatever avenue they pursue, the Celtics don't want to go into this summer with no cap flexibility and no assets that could be used to keep them among the elite. Before Ainge struck the 2007 draft-related deal for Allen and then plucked Garnett from Minnesota with the help of former teammate Kevin McHale, the Celtics had just endured a 24-win season and hadn't been out of the first round since 2002-03. Ainge and Doc Rivers were on the brink of getting fired until the perfect remedy presented itself -- and the Celtics parlayed the Allen and Garnett deals into their 17th NBA title.
"Kevin McHale's out of the league," one rival executive said, only half-joking. "So they're not going to be able to recreate that deal again."
The period leading up to that was so grim that nobody in the organization wants to revisit it. The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to part ways with Allen. It wouldn't be starting over. Instead, it would be a bold attempt to have a chance against Cleveland, Orlando, and Atlanta in the playoffs and avoid going back to the depths of rebuilding.