- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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At the start of the 2007-08 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls were considered a strong contender for the Eastern Conference crown.
However, the season turned out to be a disaster. Coach Scott Skiles lost his job in December; several of the young players regressed; and the Bulls ended up in the lottery. Now they stand at one of the most important crossroads in their franchise's history.
Chicago already has interviewed several coaching candidates, and signs are pointing to a possible marriage with Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein has been reporting since last week that the Bulls would be the front-runner for D'Antoni's services should he leave the Suns. Late Sunday, Suns GM Steve Kerr confirmed reports that D'Antoni was free to interview with other teams, and in the past few days, D'Antoni has met with Bulls GM John Paxson and New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh.
A source close to the situation told ESPN.com on Monday evening that D'Antoni had more interest in the Bulls job than the Knicks job and that it was likely he would leave the Suns if the Bulls made him the right offer.
In that case: Is he the right guy for the job?
D'Antoni is famous for his "seven seconds or less" offense, in which the Suns race upcourt to score quickly. Paxson, on the other hand, has spent his career with the Bulls preaching defense and toughness. A similar difference in philosophy has led to D'Antoni's potential breakup with the Suns. Would he fare any better in Chicago? Can the two philosophies coexist?
A source in Chicago said that late last week Paxson was torn. On the one hand, he wanted to keep his core of young players together and felt a change in coaching philosophy might turn the team around. On the other hand, the thought of bringing in a coach who wouldn't emphasize defense and discipline bothered Paxson.
In terms of the talent on Chicago's roster, D'Antoni appears to be a good fit. The Bulls have a number of long, athletic players who could really get up and down the floor in D'Antoni's up-tempo system.
In the frontcourt, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Drew Gooden could thrive under D'Antoni. Thomas has been compared to Shawn Marion, the former Phoenix forward. In the backcourt, Ben Gordon would give D'Antoni the guard he needs -- a dynamic scorer who can really shoot.
Kirk Hinrich is a capable lead guard, but he isn't in Nash's class. And the Bulls' woes in trying to find an interior scorer are well-documented.
Another issue: How would some of the other players, such as Larry Hughes, fit in? The D'Antoni system requires good shooters, and not all the Bulls measure up.
The Bulls have to make some serious decisions this summer, and these decisions might hinge on whether they hire D'Antoni as coach.
Luol Deng and Gordon are restricted free agents. Without D'Antoni, Deng looked like the one guy the Bulls would fork over big bucks to this summer. But if D'Antoni is the coach, Chicago might want to consider finding a small forward with better range on his jump shot.
Without D'Antoni, it looked as though Gordon and Thomas were candidates to be shipped out. With him, both seem critical to the future success of the team.
Without D'Antoni, it appeared likely that Paxson would stick with tough-nosed defenders such as Hinrich and Andres Nocioni. With D'Antoni, Chicago might want to look on the trade market for players who are better fits in D'Antoni's system.
Without D'Antoni, the Bulls, according to sources, have had serious interest in taking UCLA big man Kevin Love with their lottery pick, likely the ninth pick in the 2008 NBA draft. Love has the strength and low-post scoring ability the Bulls have desperately needed.
With D'Antoni, Love's lack of athleticism could pose problems. Although D'Antoni would love his basketball IQ, passing and ability to stretch the defense, Love struggles to play the up-and-down game. A pure point guard such as Texas' D.J. Augustin, who has modeled his game on Nash's, might be a better pick.
Then again, given D'Antoni's aversion to playing rookies, he might persuade the Bulls to use their draft pick to help get a veteran.
Furthermore, there are questions about how D'Antoni will adjust to the Bulls, who in recent years have been one of the NBA's best defensive teams. Will D'Antoni follow suit and emphasize defense more?
On the flip side, is Paxson a boss who can avoid following Kerr's path to difficulty with D'Antoni, meddling in the X's and O's that coaches jealously guard? Would Paxson, who has been the poster child for risk aversion the past few years, really be willing to roll the dice and make the changes D'Antoni needs to be successful?
D'Antoni's offense might be able to get a shot in seven seconds or less, but it's going to take longer than that to find out whether a Bulls-D'Antoni marriage would work smoothly enough to bring a championship back to Chicago.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
The Bulls are interested in Mike D'Antoni, but is his style the right fit?