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Sun sets on Bulls' search: It's Del Negro
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Vinny Del Negro

 

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Published: 6/9/2008 11:43 AM | Updated: 6/9/2008 8:12 PM

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Chicago has several "sister cities" around the world. Maybe it's time for the Phoenix Suns to officially become Chicago's sister NBA team.

During general manager John Paxson's long coaching search, he first wanted to offer the Bulls' job to former Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, who chose instead to join the New York Knicks.

After a flirtation with Scottsdale, Ariz., resident Doug Collins, Paxson went back to the Suns organization and tabbed Vinny Del Negro to become the 17th head coach in Bulls history.

The news was first reported Monday morning on dailyherald.com. League sources confirmed the Bulls have targeted Del Negro, and an official announcement is expected to come soon, after contract terms are finalized.

One question now is whether Del Negro will try to replicate D'Antoni's fast-paced offense when he officially joins the Bulls and begins working with probable No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose, the dynamic point guard from Memphis.

The answer is unknown, because Del Negro has no formal coaching experience. He spent last season as an assistant to Suns general manager Steve Kerr. Prior to that, Del Negro was director of player personnel in Phoenix for a year and worked as a broadcaster for the Suns and Spurs.

The lack of coaching experience makes Del Negro a surprising choice, though he surfaced as a leading candidate in recent days. He was a late arrival to the search process and impressed Paxson during a two-day visit to Deerfield late last week.

Del Negro, 41, interviewed for the Suns' coaching vacancy but was not a finalist for the job, which went to former Pistons assistant Terry Porter.

"(Coaching) has always been tugging at me," Del Negro told the Arizona Republic after meeting with Kerr about the Suns' coaching job. "I enjoy the business part of it, but this process has opened my eyes to the passion I have for coaching."

The Springfield, Mass., native beat out former Minnesota coach Dwane Casey and Sacramento assistant Chuck Person. The Bulls also bypassed ex-Detroit coach Flip Saunders, who has been to the conference finals four times in the last five years, and former Dallas coach Avery Johnson, who has the best winning percentage in league history.

Paxson also could have waited for the NBA Finals to end and taken a closer look at Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, who helped turn the Celtics into the league's top defensive team.

Though never officially an NBA coach, Del Negro has a history of working directly with players and will be expected to hire experienced assistants to fill his staff.

Suns broadcaster Al McCoy, who worked with Del Negro for three years, suggested during an appearance on WSCR 670-AM that Del Negro has already thought about building a veteran coaching staff.

"I said, 'Vinny, it's going to be tough,' " McCoy said. "He said, 'What isn't?' And I said, 'Well, how about the lack of experience will keep haunting you?' And he said, 'I already have a couple of the top assistants, veteran assistants in the league that want to come with me.' So maybe that could be the answer to the experience factor."

Del Negro will be the third straight former point guard to serve as Bulls head coach, following Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan. Del Negro averaged 9.1 points and 3.2 assists while playing for five NBA teams over 12 seasons.

Originally a second-round pick of Sacramento in 1988, Del Negro spent six years with San Antonio, but he jumped to Milwaukee as a free agent the year before the Spurs won their first championship in 1999. He played for Skiles in Phoenix during portions of two seasons.

Del Negro also logged three seasons in the Italian league and was once a teammate of former Bulls star Toni Kukoc with Benetton Treviso. He spent his college years playing for the late Jim Valvano at North Carolina State.

The Bulls' coaching search began April 17 when Boylan was dismissed the day after the regular season ended. Favored by many to be a top contender in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls stumbled to a disappointing 33-49 record.

The Bulls have chosen Vinny Del Negro to be their new head coach, according to league sources. The deal should be finalized within the next 24 hours.

Del Negro was a late arrival to the search process and has no formal coaching experience. He spent last season as an assistant to Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr. Prior to that, he was a broadcaster for the Suns and San Antonio Spurs.

Though never officially an NBA coach, Del Negro has a history of working directly with players and will be expected to hire experienced assistants to fill his staff. He impressed Bulls general manager John Paxson during a two-day visit to Deerfield last week.

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Though his name surfaced in recent days as a leading candidate, Del Negro is a surprising choice for the job. The Springfield, Mass., native beat out former Minnesota coach Dwane Casey and Sacramento assistant Chuck Person.

The Bulls also bypassed ex-Detroit coach Flip Saunders, who has been to the conference finals four times in the last five years, and former Dallas coach Avery Johnson, who has the best winning percentage in league history.

Paxson also could have waited for the NBA Finals to end and taken a closer look at Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, who helped turn the Celtics into the league's top defensive team.

Del Negro, 41, spent 12 seasons playing point guard for five NBA teams, mostly with the Spurs. He averaged 9.1 points and 3.2 assists over his career. Del Negro also logged three seasons in the Italian league and was once a teammate of former Bulls star Toni Kukoc with Benetton Treviso.

The Bulls' coaching position has been vacant since interim coach Jim Boylan was dismissed on April 17.