By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Winning a first-round playoff series must mean more than it used to.
Vinny Del Negro was unable to accomplish the feat in his two seasons as head coach of the Bulls, but he’s sure emboldened by victory, after his Clippers advanced past Memphis. He’s feeling like a real coach, all grown up.
He’s finally gotten over all that John Paxson did to stand in the way of his brilliance, it seems. Now, his coaching chops can be appreciated, removed from everything that plagued him in Chicago.
“All that [expletive] that I had to deal with John and everything, it was a total cluster[expletive],” Del Negro explained to Yahoo Sports. “Listen, I understand the business: I hadn’t coached before, and my first job was in Chicago, where I had absolutely no [management] support.”
Then, the obviously still-insecure Del Negro waved his BlackBerry around for reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, bragging about who was contacting him. “Fifty-two [text] messages,” he said. “I bet there are five pro coaches in here. Rick [Carlisle] always calls me…and Doc…and Pop. And Mike Fratello, he calls. They’ll talk to me.”
The desperate case he makes for professional legitimacy would be sad if it weren’t so damn funny.
Del Negro was a curious choice from the outset in Chicago, where he believed a warmed-over Jim Valvano impersonation constituted coaching. When he took the job, he talked about having players come to his office to eat popcorn. He threw a holiday party at his house, with attendance mandatory. When nobody showed up, it retroactively became “optional.” He brought in Lou Holtz to fire up the team, despite the fact that few had any idea who the old guy was or what he was doing there.
Timeouts were used to repeat the same cheesy, motivational-speaker catch-phrases he placed in players’ lockers, and that’s when there were even timeouts to call. Too often, the Bulls would get to key points in games only to realize there weren’t any left. Oops!
True, Paxson soured on Del Negro relatively quickly. He was not exactly shy about indicating his various displeasures, which culminated in the infamous, physical altercation that ensured the end of his tenure. Were it not Joakim Noah’s minutes as the catalyst, it would have been something else, since Paxson felt he got something other than what he thought he was hiring when he gave Del Negro his first-ever coaching gig.
Del Negro needs to keep some other things in mind, too, as he puffs his chest. TJ Simers of the Los Angeles Times told WSCR that the Clippers job was not something earned entirely on merit. He said that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Clippers counterpart Donald Sterling – longtime friends – worked a deal to help both teams. Any legal mess created by the Paxson dust-up would disappear if Del Negro slid into the new position, and his salary would be subsidized by what was remaining on the Bulls contract. Clean exit, and LA saves money.
Also, it was only David Stern’s shocking deus ex machina turn that brought Chris Paul — the engine that drives the Clippers — to the team in the first place. He was set to be a Laker, remember. The fact that the league owned the Hornets at the time gave Stern unprecedented power, and he essentially dropped an All-Star in Vinny’s lap.
He can treasure his validation-by-text-message all he wants, and he can publicly bite the hand that plucked him from obscurity and gave him a shot. But trying so hard to announce one’s rightful place in the NBA coaching fraternity only reinforces the opposite.
In his introductory press conference in Chicago, Del Negro twice said, comically, that he had “no pre-deceived notions” about his job.
He does now.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.