Coach Del Negro fired from Bulls

Updated: May 4, 2010, 12:06 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls have scheduled a news conference with general manager Gar Forman for Tuesday morning to announce the firing of head coach Vinny Del Negro, the team said on Monday.

Sources said that Forman met with Del Negro on Monday. As part of the Bulls' organizational meetings over the past couple of days, Forman also met with other members of the Bulls hierarchy about Del Negro's future. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf spoke to Del Negro over the weekend, when the coach made an argument to keep his job.

Del Negro, who has one year worth approximately $2 million remaining on a guaranteed three-year contract, did not return calls from ESPNChicago.com.

Del Negro's firing didn't come as much of a shock to most around the NBA, but it was still jarring to some of his players.

"It's always a tough decision when someone gets fired," Bulls center Joakim Noah told ESPNChicago.com via text message. "I learned a lot from him and I got two great playoff appearances with him. Coaching the Bulls is a tough job; there are a lot of demands and expectations. I wish him the best. He's a good guy. With the way he developed the players here I'm sure he won't have too hard of a time finding another coaching job."

Noah, who said last week that he would endorse Del Negro's possible return, seemed to thrive during the embattled coach's brief tenure. Under Del Negro's watch the emotional center finally seemed to find his niche in the league. He quickly became a favorite of Del Negro's this season after rededicating himself over the summer and bulking up in the gym.

Noah averaged a career-high 11 points and 11 rebounds this season.

Though the focus will immediately turn to a coaching search that could include such candidates as Doug Collins, Maurice Cheeks, Eric Musselman, Phil Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Tom Thibodeau, Lawrence Frank, Dwane Casey, Avery Johnson and John Calipari, the Del Negro era goes out with something of a bang.

Calipari told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that he has no interest in the opening.

The Bulls' decision comes after ESPN reported in December that the Bulls would move forward without Del Negro, and six days after the Bulls finished 41-41 and were eliminated in five games by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

It was during that series in which news first surfaced publicly that executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had a heated confrontation with Del Negro on March 30 over the playing time of Noah, then recovering from a foot injury. The argument resulted in Paxson pushing Del Negro away, according to sources, after Del Negro got too close to Paxson.

Team sources also said Del Negro had come around the desk of Forman in a threatening manner during a heated discussion earlier in the season. Del Negro denied both accounts but it was clear that a shaky relationship with management had become irreparable.

Del Negro enjoyed a margin of support from friends and acquaintances like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley speaking on his behalf on the national broadcast of the playoffs, and also Bulls fans critical of the way the team strung out Del Negro's last months despite his second straight season leading the team to the playoffs.

Del Negro's tenure with the Bulls, sources said, was temporarily extended with the team's spike in performance after the Christmas holidays, when the Bulls won nine of 11 games in one January stretch, including five straight road games against Western Conference winning teams, and 13 victories in 18 games overall.

Del Negro's camp contended that he helped in the development of Noah and NBA All-Star Derrick Rose, as well as rookie Taj Gibson, while surviving a season rife with injury in the wake of high-scoring guard Ben Gordon's departure.

At the same time, there were those who said it was only because of Paxson's intervention that Rose was able to flourish after being held out of critical parts of the game by Del Negro. And whispers came from Bulls players who were less than impressed with Del Negro's leadership and coaching ability, and did not speak out emphatically in his defense in the last days of the season.

There were reports that Del Negro was taking statements from witnesses to the Paxson incident, and that the team had consulted its lawyers. Sources said that Forman met with all the principle parties in the organization over the past several days, but that the Del Negro-Paxson altercation on March 30 was not the main reason he was relieved of his duties. Del Negro wanted to avoid any lasting ill will from the Bulls that might affect his coaching future in the league.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. Information from ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell was used in this report.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.