CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls fired coach Vinny Del Negro on Monday in a long anticipated move that comes after a late-season altercation with executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and another first-round playoff exit.
General manager Gar Forman is scheduled to discuss the firing at a news conference on Tuesday morning. He did not return messages seeking comment, nor did Paxson or Del Negro.
The Bulls went 41-41 and made the postseason in each of their two seasons under Del Negro, losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games after pushing Boston to seven games last year.
If the Bulls are looking to hire an experienced coach this time, Doug Collins, Byron Scott, Lawrence Frank, Kevin McHale, Maurice Cheeks would fit that description.
Del Negro reportedly met with the organization's hierarchy over the past few days, including chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, and made an argument to keep his job. He could point to Derrick Rose's development from Rookie of the Year to an All-Star this season and Joakim Noah's improvement, but it was not enough and it's hardly a surprise.
He was given a tepid endorsement from Forman amid widespread speculation in December that he would be fired following a slow start, but the Bulls made a run before struggling down the stretch. They lost 10 straight at one point with Noah sidelined by a left foot injury. How the team handled that injury ultimately fueled a physical confrontation between the coach and Paxson that became public late in the season, when Chicago was struggling to get into the playoffs.
Along with getting to work with Rose, the new coach will be joining a team armed with enough salary-cap space to offer a maximum contract in a star-studded free-agent class that could include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
A fallback choice when he was hired out of Phoenix's front office, Del Negro never seemed to have the backing of management even before his run-in with Paxson.
Forman confirmed there was a dispute and said there would be no disciplinary action until after the season. Del Negro had a year left and was owed about $2 million on the three-year deal he signed when he was hired.
Considering he had no coaching experience, Del Negro was an odd fit when he was hired before the 2008-09 season. He got the job after a prolonged search in which negotiations with high-profile candidates Mike D'Antoni and Collins fell through.
Chicago had just gone from 49 wins to 49 losses during a tumultuous season that saw coach Scott Skiles get fired on Christmas Eve and interim coach Jim Boylan struggle the rest of the way before getting dismissed.
The Bulls hit the lottery jackpot and drafted Rose with the No. 1 pick, but Del Negro never really meshed with management.
His substitution patterns and management of timeouts was questioned, particularly during his first year, when the Bulls made a late run and pushed Boston – without the injured Kevin Garnett – in the playoffs.
Chicago then let leading scorer Ben Gordon leave for Detroit as a free agent, and the early struggles led to rampant speculation that Del Negro would be gone.
One particularly brutal eight-day stretch in the early going saw them get danced on by James during a loss to Cleveland, lose by more than 30 to Toronto and Atlanta, get blown out by Boston and fall to lowly New Jersey. The low point, though, may have been when they coughed up a 35-point lead while losing at home to Sacramento in one of the biggest collapses in an NBA game, after back-to-back comeback wins over New York and Atlanta.
That just increased the speculation about Del Negro. And when Forman didn't give Del Negro a vote of confidence, it became an even bigger deal.
It didn't help that Rose, who averaged 20.8 points, missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury and wasn't his explosive self early on. And just when things were going well, Noah's foot flared up in January and interrupted a breakout season in which he averaged 10.7 points and 11.0 rebounds.
The injury kept him out of 18 games over the final few months and limited his participation down the stretch.