If that's it, Del Negro went out fighting

CLEVELAND -- Vinny Del Negro's messages may not have always gotten through to his team this season, but his personal mantra certainly did on Tuesday night:

Keep fighting.

That's what the Chicago Bulls did throughout Tuesday night's game, but, as was the case numerous times throughout the season, they didn't have enough talent in the end to get over the hump as the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their season with a 96-94 victory in Game 5.

Over time, nobody will remember that though. The only thing people will remember about Tuesday's game is that it was in all likelihood Vinny Del Negro's last as Bulls head coach. If it was in fact Del Negro's last game, he can hold his head up high knowing that his team hung tough against one of the best teams in the NBA once again.

He didn't seem too concerned about his future when the topic on everyone else's mind popped up shortly after the game ended.

"To be honest with you, I don't even think about that stuff," Del Negro said when asked about his future. "I enjoy the experience, I enjoy the competitiveness. "It's about the players, to me. I'm proud of the guys. I'm proud of the way they stuck together.

"All those things will be dealt with after the season and decisions will be made. I can't worry about that. I don't worry about that, to be honest with you. How anybody wants to judge that, they'll judge it and we'll move on. I've been too fortunate in my career and my life and everything to worry about those things."

Bulls general manager Gar Forman announced after the game that the team wouldn't make a decision on Del Negro's future until at least this weekend once owner Jerry Reinsdorf comes back from vacation.

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That's just delaying the inevitable, though.

While none of the players came right out and said it, there was definitely a feeling in the Bulls locker room that a new coach would be in place sooner rather than later.

"[He] could be back [he] could be not," forward Luol Deng said. "You got to wait til they say coach is back next year, then coach is back next year. If not, he's not. It's just the same as guys getting traded, guys going, it's just a business. And as a player you got to stay out of that. It's up to [exective vice president of basketball operations John Paxson] and Gar."

Whether the players enjoyed playing for Del Negro this season has been a hot topic of conversation all year, but clearly they respected the way he carried himself throughout the ups and downs of this tumultuous season.

"I think he's been through a lot as a coach," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He's done a very good job here. He's somebody who's always been on my side, always supported me. I appreciate everything that he's done for me as a player. He's the one who gave me my opportunity to play on the court. I just really appreciate that."

Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich echoed some of Noah's sentiments.

"The thing about [Del Negro] is he fits well with a lot of the guys we have," he said. "We've got kind of a loose group, and Vinny kind of lets you do your thing and be yourself so we'll see what happens."

Given what has transpired this season within the organization, it's ironic how similar some of those answers are to what we've heard from the organization over the past few months. None of the players wanted to take any shots at Del Negro, but there weren't a lot of any ringing endorsements either.

The only player who has continuously stated over and over that he would like Del Negro to be back is Derrick Rose, and he did that once again on Tuesday night.

"I would vote yes," when asked if he wanted Del Negro to be retained. "That's a guy where we both came in. He let me have my freedom, but still coached me and let me make my mistakes. I watched film with him almost every day. He taught me a lot just on defense and on offense and what I was supposed to do. The decision isn't up to me. It's up to the front office, so I'm just going to let them worry about that and just deal with it."

Even with Rose's support, Del Negro's future appears to be certain. He can take solace in knowing that his players never stopped fighting for him on the floor, even if the people above him within the organization probably did a long time ago.