- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Los Angeles Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro sat by himself courtside at one end of the Thomas and Mack Center court on Sunday afternoon, watching his team wrap up its summer league schedule in front of a few hundred dedicated souls.
Just two months after being fired by the Chicago Bulls, Del Negro was back in his element.
He was doing what he has often done, breaking down certain aspects of the game and looking for a way to give his team an edge. All the hoopla that surrounded his ouster in Chicago was in the rear view mirror.
But then a coach from his past walked down the arena steps and tapped him on the shoulder. Suddenly, the memories Del Negro was trying to push aside undoubtedly came rushing back. It was new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, Del Negro's replacement.
Thibodeau walked onto the floor and sat down next to Del Negro, and the pair shot the breeze for over 20 minutes. The irony of the past and present Bulls' head coaches sitting together was not lost on anyone in the gym. The NBA lifers have known each other for years -- Thibodeau actually coached Del Negro in San Antonio, but considering the paths that each man had taken to get to this exact moment in time, the scene was unique.
Given the public and acrimonious nature of Del Negro's exit from Chicago, you would think he might have a hard time speaking to anyone associated within the organization. But that's not the case.
He actually wants to see the Bulls do well.
"I was talking to Tom a lot about the [Bulls'] players, and trying to help him," Del Negro said in an interview with ESPNChicago.com. "I've known Tom for a long time and want him to do well.
"A great city Chicago, great fans, so I want Tom and especially the players -- the league is about the players -- and you want the players to continually improve and do well."
There's no doubt there are some scars from Del Negro's time with the Bulls that may never heal. But Del Negro is too basketball-savvy to get into a war of words with his former bosses, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman. And that's why he brushes aside questions as to whether he was happy with the way Paxson handled things over the last few months, including a public apology for their confrontation after a March 30 game against Phoenix.
"It's irrelevant to me now," Del Negro said. "What happened, happened. John came out and apologized, and you move on.
"Obviously, there's things that everyone probably could have done a better job with, but some things are out of your control. It's unfortunate, but there's no sense in going back on those things. It's time to move on, and I'm focused on the Clippers."
Del Negro tried to take the high road on his way out of Chicago, and he admitted he knew he wasn't going to be returning to the Bulls for his third season.
"I don't know if you ever get used to it," he said. "It's a different situation for me.
"I knew that [decision] was coming [in Chicago]. Those decisions are out of my control. And you just go and work hard and do the best you can to help to make the team as successful as possible."
Del Negro said he has spoken to several of his former players over the last few weeks, but it doesn't sound as if he will be conversing with Paxson or Forman anytime soon.
"I still have a great relationship with the players and saw a lot of them this week," he said, "so it was great to see some of them. But you move on. You live, you learn, you try to do a better job and hopefully I'll do a better job with the Clippers.
"There's no relationship [with Paxson or Forman]. The relationship was broken and you move on. Enough has been documented about that. They have their things that they have to focus in on and I have mine, so it really doesn't affect any one of us either way."
While there's no doubt Del Negro's focus is on the Clippers, he has continued to keep an eye on how his former team is doing during this memorable free agency period.
"It's another situation where those things are out of anyone's control," he said, when asked if it was surprising the Bulls didn't end up with either LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. "The cap room was there, but at the end of the day they still added a quality player in [Carlos] Boozer. Obviously, [Kyle] Korver and [Ronnie] Brewer and things, but they lost some pieces as well.
"Losing Kirk [Hinrich] will be a factor. You never know how it's all going to come together, but they definitely needed a low-post scorer. Now you have Taj [Gibson] coming off the bench, who I thought had a great rookie year for us. A different situation, but the free agency was a little bit crazy for everybody. The dust is settling a little bit, but at the end of the day the team is improved tremendously because when you add a player like Boozer, Korver and Brewer and the development of the younger guys now, having a few years under their belt, that's all positive."
Del Negro knows it will be a little strange when the Clippers come back to Chicago to face the Bulls, but he is ready for the new challenge. That's one of the biggest reasons he took the Clippers job in the first place, especially considering he could have just sat out the season and cashed a check from the Bulls.
"I didn't need to do it, but I wanted to," he said. "I love the challenge, and I love the opportunity to work with these young guys, try to get the organization to go in the same direction, going in a better direction, than they have been in the past.
"But I feel very proud of the direction I [took the team] in two years in Chicago. When I took the job over, everything's well-documented, but two playoffs, development of the players, a bunch of cap room for them to move forward and make their team better, and I'm proud of that."
Given all that has occurred over the past few months in Del Negro's professional life, you would think he may be a little jaded, but that doesn't appear to be the case. He isn't worried that his new job will end like his old one did, and he is confident that he has found a solid spot for the future.
"It's a very difficult business," he said. "It's a very difficult job.
"[If it doesn't work] it won't be for a lack of preparation, organization, loyalty, all the things I did in Chicago. I'm just going to go at my job, do what I can with my coaches, to get these players moving in the right direction with the organization, and at the end of the day ownership and management have to make decisions, and then you move on."
Del Negro has started the process of moving on from Chicago, but if the conversation with Thibodeau and some of his former players over the last week is any indication, he knows he won't be able to completely move on just yet.
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss