Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, even Doc Rivers ... they all had to start somewhere. The Bulls are hoping that Vinny Del Negro can start his coaching career and finish a Chicago rebuilding project that has hit a roadblock.
The team introduced their new coach on Wednesday. Del Negro had been the Phoenix Suns assistant general manager, but he has no coaching experience. He admitted that fact might be a challenge.
"I think that's fair," Del Negro said. "I haven't coached before. ... Winning builds confidence and there's a young team here that needs a confidence boost, I think. I'm not a magician. I just can't create things all of a sudden. It's going to be a daily process. Those are fair questions, I don't have a problem with that."
The Bulls missed out on former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who chose the New York Knicks over Chicago, and Doug Collins, the ex-Bulls coach who threw his name into the ring and then pulled out.
Coming off the courtship of two experienced coaches, the hiring of someone who hasn't roamed the sidelines has created a stir in Chicago, but general manager John Paxson isn't concerned.
"I talked with Vinny in Orlando two weeks ago, and the further along I got in the process, the more I started thinking along the lines that you don't have to look at things in a conventional way or in a way that satisfies the mass of people," Paxson said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "There seemed to be the sense we didn't know what we were doing. At the Berto Center, we never felt that way. We were doing our job and doing it the way we thought it should be done. I have no control over people jumping the gun, but it creates something that becomes real when it's not."
The Bulls were coming off three straight playoff appearances and a 49-win season going into the 2007-08 campaign, but the season quickly unraveled. After only 25 games, the team fired coach Scott Skiles and replaced him with assistant Jim Boylan. The team limped to a 33-49 record and was plagued by player incidents.
Though the search for a coach was long and often confusing, the Bulls did hit the jackpot in the offseason, landing the No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft.
They'll hope they also scored with Del Negro, who unlike D'Antoni, told reporters on Wednesday that he stresses defense. He spent the past two years in the Suns' front office after a three-year stint as a radio analyst. He got promoted to assistant general manager from director of player personnel and was interested in replacing D'Antoni after he left for New York, but a lack of experience kept Del Negro off the list of finalists. The Suns ultimately hired Terry Porter, and Chicago wound up with Del Negro after a seven-week soap opera.
For the record, Phil Jackson coached the Albany Patroons to a CBA title before becoming a Bulls assistant. His first head job in the NBA was replacing Collins on the Chicago bench.
Del Negro played 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.1 points for five teams after playing for Jim Valvano at N.C. State. He also led Benetton Treviso to its first Italian league championship while winning the MVP award in 1992.
Now that Del Negro is in place, Chicago can turn its attention to that No. 1 pick and deciding between Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, assuming there's no trade. Both are scheduled to work out for the Bulls next week, and Paxson and Del Negro insisted no decision has been made.
The lottery was the last place the Bulls expected to be when training camp began, but everything fell apart right when the season started.
The Kobe Bryant trade rumors surfaced and Ben Gordon and Luol Deng turned down five-year contract extensions, leaving Chicago in a haze it could not escape. The unselfishness and tenacity they showed in previous seasons never appeared, and in their place was a bickering group of players who argued with each other and with coaches.
"They lost their spirit last year," Paxson said. "I'm not saying we have a superstar on our roster. I think we've got very good players that last year played down from their ability. A lot of that was their confidence level and all the distractions."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.