The decision to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro has already been made, according to sources with knowledge of the Chicago Bulls' thinking. The fact that the Bulls' front office has not been able to settle on a replacement is the main thing keeping the embattled Del Negro employed, the sources said.
There were discussions recently within the organization about having John Paxson, Chicago's executive vice president of basketball operations, take over the team, but Paxson ultimately decided against it. Then, according to sources, Chicago contacted former Bulls coach Doug Collins, a candidate for the job two years ago when Del Negro was hired, but Collins was not interested in coaching the club.
Phone messages left for Paxson and Bulls general manager Gar Forman were not returned on Sunday, but in text messages Sunday night, Paxson neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Chicago, which will have approximately $15 million in cap space next summer, would like to have a permanent coach in place well before the long-awaited free-agent bonanza of 2010 begins.
The Bulls would prefer not to promote an assistant coach, either Bernie Bickerstaff or Pete Myers, to interim status, but if they can't settle on a permanent replacement for Del Negro, they may have to go that route.
A strong run by the Bulls, who beat New Orleans Saturday night after the return of Tyrus Thomas from a broken arm, could delay Del Negro's eventual firing, but there is practically no chance he would coach the team beyond this season.
Del Negro's first season in Chicago was largely viewed as disappointing until the Bulls stunned the Boston Celtics by taking them to seven games in the first round of last season's playoffs. Coming off that impressive performance, this season's 11-17 record is a colossal disappointment.
There is no shortage of reputable coaches available. Byron Scott, who was fired by New Orleans earlier this season, would seem to be a logical candidate. Avery Johnson, who sources say is on the short list of coaching candidates for New Orleans and New Jersey next season, along with Jeff Van Gundy, Sam Mitchell and Lawrence Frank, have all had successful coaching careers. Scott, Johnson and Mitchell have all been named NBA Coach of the Year.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.