Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Reinsdorf’

MLB strike in ’94 brought Air Jordan back to his familiar day job


VIDEO: Michael Jordan recorded his famous “double-nickel” game in 1995

Michael Jordan didn’t leave baseball. Baseball left him.

Twenty years ago, on Aug. 12, 1994, the owners and players of Major League Baseball tested the patience and allegiance of America’s sports fans with yet another full stop – the eighth work stoppage since 1972, at that point.

Little did they or anyone else know that they inadvertently were doing a great service to the NBA. The MLB strike that brought that sport to its knees, grinding to a halt some of the most exciting team and individual seasons ever, helped propel Jordan out of baseball’s minor leagues and back into uniform with the Chicago Bulls. Once restored to his primary athletic pursuit, Jordan won three more NBA championships in perhaps the most successful comeback in pro sports history and establishing his legacy as the league’s GOAT.

All because the baseball guys couldn’t sort things out in fewer than 232 days.

It was bad enough that the summer game threw itself into winter just as pennant races and statistical chases were heating up. The Montreal Expos were both MLB and the National League’s best team (74-40) on Aug. 12 in their best chance yet at a World Series. In the American League, the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians all had legitimate shots at 100 wins.

San Diego’s Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 in the latest, greatest shot at .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941. San Francisco third baseman Matt Williams was going after Roger Maris‘ record of 61 from 1961 four years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their performance-enhanced show. Frank Thomas crammed a full season (38 home runs, 101 RBI, 106 runs, .353 BA and 1.217 on-base plus slugging percentage) into two-thirds of the schedule.

Meanwhile, that Jordan guy was plugging along with the Class AA Birmingham Barons in the Southern League. Showing up early, staying late, humbling himself in search of a new (or at least renewed) skill set. Jordan was riding a bus – admittedly a spiffy luxurious one, paid for by revenues he helped generate – and struggling to keep his batting average above .200 for the Barons when the big leaguers walked out. He was 31 years old, spending his days and nights with a crew of recent high school and college kids.

And from many accounts, he was having the time of his life. One of them, anyway.

“When MJ was with us, it was kind of a whirlwind,” said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who was the Barons’ skipper in 1994. “It had all the makings of turning into a circus, but it never did. I think that was mainly because of the way Michael handled things. He respected the game of baseball so much. He was so eager to learn, even the lingo and how the guys talked. And he understood … what the players weren’t making and how hard they had worked just to get to the Double A level.”

Francona recalled how coachable Jordan was that summer in a video for the Barons’ Web site earlier this season. “I think it’s kind of fashionable to maybe come down on MJ for playing baseball. … And I always wanted to be very protective of him because of how respectful he was of the game.”

Jordan’s so-called dalliance with baseball – or his exile, if you bought into rumors that the NBA had considered an investigation into and possible suspension for Jordan’s gambling associations – was driven in part by his late father, James, and his love of that sport. And it might have continued if only the big leaguers had found labor peace more quickly.

Jordan had batted .202 in 127 games for Birmingham, with 17 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 51 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 48 tries. He committed 11 errors in the outfield. But he went to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .252 as his long, loping swing evened out and he learned to protect his rather large strike zone.

Jordan reported to spring training a week early in February 1995 ready to resume his grand crossover. Only, the MLB strike persisted. Jordan did not want to cross the players’ picket lines, nor was he willing to be considered as a “replacement player” simply as a way for the owners to sell tickets. (The Barons had shattered their home attendance record, drawing 467, 867 fans at Regions Park and even more (517,318) on the road.)

So on March 10, with no end in sight to the strike, Jordan announced his retirement from baseball.

On March 18, Jordan faxed his now-famous “I’m back” statement, announcing his return to the NBA. He played for Chicago the next day, scoring 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting at Indiana.

Baseball reached a collective bargaining agreement to resume on April 2. Three nights later, Jordan scored 37 points in a 108-101 victory at New Jersey. The Bulls got eliminated by Orlando from the Eastern Conference playoffs, but roared back for a second three-peat of championships. With a renewed, more teammate-oriented Jordan leading them.

“I don’t know if baseball took away from his legacy, but the coming back was so dramatic,” Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013. “[That] caused him to spend the next summer working out like a madman, bringing in players from all over the country to play with him. And if you remember the next season, we were 72-10. He was on a mission to prove something. Maybe playing baseball contributed to that.”

It’s not all good news for the Bulls surrounding Rose


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks to reporters after USA Basketball practice

From NBA.com staff reports

Well, all those good warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding Derrick Rose lasted all of, what, four days? After nearly a week full of folks focusing on how good the 2011 NBA MVP looked back on the court, now the news regarding the Bulls’ star has taken a negative turn.

The Chicago Sun-Times, reporting from Team USA camp in Las Vegas, posted a story Thursday centered on some interesting comments attributed to Rose. Here is the most notable chunk of the interview:

“I know it’s been there,’’ Rose told the Sun-Times, acknowledging there has been growing tension between the organization and his camp. “I heard there were some upset people.

“I’m happy I didn’t personally see it. I don’t want to see that. I kind of wonder where it was coming from because it seemed like whenever I was around, everything was all right. It bothered me because when I wasn’t around, I would hear from certain people that everything wasn’t all right.’’

So notable were the comments and the story that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made a move to address them in a team press release. Here is Reinsdorf’s statement in its entirety:

“I am confounded by the irresponsible report in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting there is anything approaching discord or confusion between the Bulls executive office, coaching staff, and Derrick Rose or any other Bulls player. To the contrary, I can remember no time when the organization has been any more focused, optimistic, and cohesive. I’ve got to assume suggestions otherwise are intended to undermine the goals and objectives, spirit, and reputation of the Chicago Bulls. I am deeply disappointed that unnamed sources and totally inaccurate statements and assumptions can be used to foment nonexistent friction. The report is totally without basis or fact. It is pure malicious fiction.”

It seems like Friday’s USA Basketball showcase (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) couldn’t come at a better time for Rose and the Bulls, who will probably cherish the chance to talk about what happens on the court again. At least for one day.

Schedule Rose’s Nights Off Now


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CHICAGO – If I’m Jerry Reinsdorf or John Paxson, one of the men running the Chicago Bulls and thus responsible for Derrick Rose‘s well-being, I’m picking up the phone sometime in the next two weeks for an advance ruling from the suits at NBA HQ in Olympic Tower.

The question: Is “DNP-precautionary move” an acceptable explanation in the box score for a player’s absence? Which really means, can the Bulls hold out Rose in his return season from knee surgery as they see fit this season, without either the threat of hefty fines from the league or the need to frighten their fan base by stipulating to “soreness” concerns?

If NBA commissioner David Stern is OK with that, then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needs to channel his inner Gregg Popovich and start circling in red dates on the schedule when he thinks A) Rose would benefit most from a night off, and B) his team likely could muddle through without the All-Star point guard. Naturally, A is way more important than B if Chicago wants to position itself for a serious postseason run, regardless of W-L record, home-court advantage or playoff seed.

Then again, if Stern were to decree that only injuries, exhaustion or off-court personal matters are legitimate reasons to not have a player on the floor for a regular season game – Popovich’s four-players-short charter flight to Miami last November put everyone on notice, after all – the Bulls still would have an out. They could play word games, citing “flu-like symptoms,” “tendinitis” or various, vague “strains” for the official record, fooling no one and triggering repeated wink-a-thons from November through April.

What they don’t want to do, though, is use that “soreness” explanation the way they did Saturday in holding Rose out of the preseason game against Washington in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not now, not ever again if they can help it.

Given what the Bulls and their fans have gone through waiting for Rose to return from ACL surgery on his left knee – 75 weeks from his injury on April 28, 2012 to his first game action at Indiana nine days ago – anything even faintly resembling a setback or (gasp!) a shutdown would be borderline cruel. They need to at least feign being pro-active in spotting Rose time off when he needs it, rather than reacting to aches or pains after the fact and lapsing into another endless cycle of injuries in 2013-14.

Rose pronounced himself fine after Monday’s practice and said, had it been up to him, he would have faced the Wizards Saturday in one of the NBA’s high-profile global games. Thibodeau said Rose looked fine and that he expects both the point guard and center Joakim Noah (who has yet to play in the preseason) to face Detroit Wednesday at United Center.

Thibodeau cited multiple factors that played into the decision by the coaches, the team’s medical staff, VP Paxson and GM Gar Forman to have Rose sit. And they did term it a “precautionary move.”

“You’re concerned about anything that would keep a player out,” the coach told reporters Monday. “If he needs rest, he’s going to get rest. If he needs to play, he’ll play. He’s responded well to the challenges that he’s faced thus far. I didn’t like the idea of flying all night [Chicago to Brazil], not well-rested, some soreness – I didn’t want to take the chance of him being out there.”

Still, given the limited coverage and means of communication with the Bulls out of country, the mere mention of “knee” and “soreness” in the same area code, never mind sentence or paragraph, sent tremors through Chicago’s fan base and media. Some were nervous. Others were angry that what might be an expected two-steps-forward, one-back process didn’t start back in March or April, by which time Rose was pronounced healthy by doctors.

Paxson brushed that aside Saturday, and Rose wasn’t looking back much Monday either.

“Nervous, I can understand,” he said of the fans’ reaction. “But at the same time, I have to worry about myself and worry about my health. So as long as I’m healthy … and this is the preseason, to get all the wrinkles out. Regular season, I should be all right.”

Most people are realistic enough to not expect the 2010-11 MVP version of Rose to be on display this season, start to finish. What they’re hoping, though, is that no one is forced to rev up Rose Watch II, the endless daily monitoring and hand-wringing that wore out pretty much everyone last season.

Remember, even before he shredded his left ACL in the 2012 playoff opener, Rose had missed 27 of 66 games in the post-lockout season with assorted ailments. The Bulls were 32-7 when he played compared to 18-9 when he didn’t, and then they went 45-37 last season while not having Rose around at all.

What Chicago wants from them and from Rose will come, if it comes at all, next spring. If they get to that point by spotting him some nights off along the way – Thibodeau says there’s no plan to throttle back on back-to-back games, though that’s a logical place to look – everyone will be happier and this comeback season will go down more smoothly.

Finally getting Rose back in front of a United Center crowd Wednesday night against Detroit will be exciting for them all. Not using him up or pushing too hard in occasional similar games over the next six months simply would be wise. Sixty games, give or take, would seem a reasonable target.

But if Rose’s availability is reactive rather than pro-active (within the realistic bounds of sports injuries, anyway), one tedious season is going to stretch into two.

Suddenly, Rose’s Return Looks Right On Time For Bulls

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DEERFIELD, Ill. – Derrick Rose’s
back.

And the Chicago Bulls have it.

Rose participated in the Bulls’ Media Day Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility, coming out in his home whites same as last year. Only then, he was a hardwood version of Punxsutawney Phil – that was the last anyone saw of him in uniform for a full year, until he popped out again Friday, his rehab from left knee surgery lingering through the entire 2012-13 schedule and postseason.

While Rose’s game was warehoused, his reputation took a hit – the Bulls and the medical experts had talked of a return in “eight to 10 months,” which would have had back in the lineup sometime around the All-Star break, supposedly by March. When that didn’t happen – when the organization still was playing the will-he-or-won’t-he game into the Eastern Conference semifinals against Miami – some in the public questioned his commitment, his courage, you name it.

Rose knew it. His teammates and coaches knew it. None of them wavered in their belief in the 2011 MVP and his timeline, and they met it head-on Friday.

“People are going to have their opinions,” Rose told NBA TV. “There’s nothing I can do about that. For me, all I had to do was worry about my injury and worry about my health. Of course I could have came back, but if I would have came back and I wasn’t the same player, they would have been talking even [worse] about me.

“Getting back to my old self was my biggest concern. So I had to think about myself and kind of be selfish with it.”

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was even more direct. “The people that criticized him, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” he said.

As badly as Thibodeau missed having his All-Star point guard, as much scrambling as he had to do with the Bulls’ game plan to use Nate Robinson as Rose’s surrogate, he stuck with the company line that was set by team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who made it clear they all would err on the side of caution – and delay – in Rose’s comeback.

“Jerry made it clear he did not want him coming back until he was completely healthy, 100 percent,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s exactly what he did. He kept pushing and pushing but he never felt comfortable enough to play at the level he wanted to play at.

“Then when you look at who Derrick is as a person, there’s not a more loyal, hard working, team-first guy out there. For him to take that criticism on, I think was unfair. It was a tough decision he had to make but it was the right decision.”

Said forward Luol Deng: “The whole year, I knew how bad he wanted to play. So I never questioned it, when he made his decision on [not] coming back. I knew that he would know before anyone when he was ready.”

The difference in Rose, from other ACL patients such as Ricky Rubio or Iman Shumpert, was his reliance on explosion, torque and cutting. “Could he play in a game? Well, maybe,” Thibodeau said. “But he couldn’t play the way he likes to play. And the way he’s capable of playing. His game is very different. Very explosive. Change of directions, things of that nature.”

The Bulls begin two-a-day sessions Saturday. No one – not Rose, Thibodeau, general manager Gar Forman or anyone else – has specified a minutes limit for him in practice or in games.

The games, of course, will be the real test. Rose practiced with the Bulls since early last winter, so when Chicago faces Indiana Saturday night at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the most closely watched comebacks in the NBA this season will meet its first hurdle.

“My knee is good,” Rose said. “My confidence is steadily growing in my knee. I don’t have any worries at all. When I’m practicing, I’m reacting instead of thinking. Anyone who’s had these injuries would know you want to react instead of think while you’re on the court. So I’m feeling good.”

In a sense, Rose is in a no-lose situation: If he returns like his old self, people will argue that his decision to wait through the summer – and his annual tune-ups in Los Angeles – was the right strategy. If he shows rust or has off-nights – as most who return from his particular injury do – folks can say, “See, how could he have come back in the playoffs?”

But there will be no rust, if Rose has his way.

“[Doctors have] said it, but at the same time, I have confidence in myself,” he said. “I know what type of player I am. I know how my training has been. For me going out there to play, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I believe in myself.”

No Deal For Deng Means Drama For Bulls

Regardless of how well the players and the coaches fended off the distraction of it, the Chicago Bulls’ 2012-13 season was preoccupied, overshadowed and generally beholden to one question: “Is Derrick back?”

Odds are good, as of Tuesday, that 2013-14 will be colored by a variation on that query, as in: “Is Deng gone?”

With reports that talks of a contract extension between Luol Deng and the Bulls have broken off [CSNChicago.com], followed up by agent Herb Rudoy‘s quote that the All-Star forward “will definitely go through” free agency next summer [Chicago Tribune], a team that grappled with considerable unknowns last season assured itself of a fat one for this year. What it means to the depth and cohesiveness of the Bulls as they try to chase down the Miami Heat and a couple other improving Eastern Conference contenders remains to be seen. But it adds drama where there might have been none.

Derrick Rose, obviously, is the fulcrum on which this season tilts; if he can return from extended rehab (since April 2012) to his status as one of the NBA’s most explosive, elusive players, Chicago looks equipped to challenge the Heat and jockey with Indiana and Brooklyn for East surpremacy.

But Deng has been the Bulls’ glue and constant for the past three seasons, at least. From coach Tom Thibodeau‘s arrival through Rose’s major absence (and lesser ones), the 6-foot-8 forward has been a two-time All-Star and two-way player, coping with and often playing in spite of his own less-spectacular injuries. Deng has been Thibodeau’s go-to guy in you-name-it situations, and it took a rather serious scare last spring – he developed a serious infection after undergoing a spinal tap during the first-round series vs. the Nets – to sit him down for good.

Still just 28 after nine NBA seasons, Deng has been taken for granted by Bulls fans who remember the contract haggles that he and teammate Ben Gordon went through in 2007 and 2008. Deng finally landed his six-year, $71 million deal while Gordon left to seek his fortune (five years, $58 million) in free agency, yet the climate at United Center often seems almost as chilly toward the former as the latter.

As a performer and a teammate, as a workhorse who soaks up innings (Deng has averaged 39.1 minutes the past three seasons, leading the NBA over the past two), the man from the South Sudan has been terrific. His biggest failing? Probably his timing.

Deng’s current contract, signed in 2008, will pay him $14.2 million this season, a big number under the current CBA. He’s coming off what for the Bulls, for all its pluckiness, largely was a lost season, given Rose’s absence. And his own health issue late flipped more opportunity to Jimmy Butler, who emerged over the second half as a potential Deng replacement.

Some might argue that Chicago isn’t even all-in on 2013-14, despite Rose’s need for consistency around him as much as added talent. The Carlos Boozer countdown will be busy, with the veteran power forward headed to the amnesty pile next offseason and with Nikola Mirotic stashed overseas like some new-millennium Toni Kukoc. Rose could be rusty, Boozer and Joakim Noah might be due for  breakdowns, the roster still needs another big and Deng is facing the equivalent of a qualifying year. With the exception that he could be dealt by the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Deng feels he has earned, and will keep earning, another big contract. But with Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson on the books for more than $39 million in 2014-15 and chairman Jerry Reinsorf having to shell out another $16.8 million for Boozer whether he’s on the books or not, the Bulls either will be looking for a hometown discount from Deng or will have moved on to Butler entirely. Meanwhile, Deng will have options, with teams both ambitious and rebuilding, eager to land a solid player, leader and citizen.

This all will be played out over 82 games, many of which Deng probably will play hurt again, will get left on the court too long or will be sent back in by Thibodeau to nail down the outcome. The mileage on his odometer will spike and, this time, it will be dinging a market value in which the Bulls will have no future stake.

It all might set a good team guy like Deng to wondering why one player can get treated as gingerly as the Stanley Cup while others get used as if they’re Dixie.

Rose Talks, Offers Overdue Rehab Update

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CHICAGO — Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls star whose voice has been as muted during his 14-month rehab from knee surgery as his absence has been glaring and chronicled, knows there is a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

Sprinting the sprint, cutting the cut and leaping the leap are all better still in gauging how successful Rose and the team’s medical staff were in getting him back on the court by training camp this fall.

“Me saying it is something totally different,” the Bulls point guard said in a video interview newly posted on the team Web site. “I think me going on the court and showing ‘em will let ‘em know it was the right decision.”

Rose’s decision not to return for any portion of the 2012-13 schedule was the headline of the Bulls’ season. It defined who and what they were, as well as how far an undermanned, underdog squad could go against the likes of the Nets and the Heat in the playoffs.

It led to an emerging class of Rose critics, too, something new for the Chicago kid who previously had delivered more, sooner, than most expected. Once Rose’s rehab dragged into and through the 8-to-12-month estimate offered in May 2012, questions and even suspicions began to pop up: Is it Rose’s knee or his heart? Doesn’t he see his teammates gutting out huge upsets despite injuries of their own? How much influence does brother Reggie Rose, the player’s agent, and a fleet of adidas marketers have over the kid?

Rose’s presence in Bulls pregame warm-ups, working on his jump shot and moves to the rim, looking pretty healthy, only made people wonder more. And his near-blackout of the media – endorsed or at least tolerated by Chicago management — exacerbated the situation, because in place of Rose’s words, critics reached their own conclusions.

This sitdown with BullsTV might be a reach for the reset button.

“I didn’t want to do anything, to tell you the truth,” Rose said of media interviews in general during his layoff. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to rebuild my leg and be around my son [P.J.]. That was time where, me having a son, is huge. … My father wasn’t ever in my life, so he’s first now with anything.”

Scheduling sitdowns with reporters once a month to track his rehab progress wouldn’t have tampered with either his focus or his Dad time, and would have shown respect for the media that otherwise respected Rose’s challenge/ordeal. More so, it would have been good for the fan base that kept buying tickets.

If a little more accountability sapped any drama from adidas’ series of shoe commercials (“The Return”), too bad — Rose didn’t make good on that script anyway. And the Bulls’ media relations experts, working up through vice president John Paxson and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, if necessary, should have spelled that out to Rose.

But this BullsTV interview offers a fresh start. Now, instead of some random sessions with USA Today or furtive Q&A grabs in the postgame locker room in Boston, Rose needs to make himself available to reporters on an occasional basis.

Not every question got asked or answered by Bulls.com, such as:

  • How will you simulate game conditions over the summer, when you’re in Chicago, in Los Angeles or on the adidas tour through Serbia and other European destinations?
  • Did the criticism of you, your family and your business partners surprise you? Bother you? Change your view of Bulls fans?
  • When will you know you can trust — really trust — that left knee?
  • How will you cope with what most medical folks say will be ups and downs, good nights and bad, as you work your way back?
  • Specifically, how do you think the layoff has benefited your game?
  • What adjustments do you plan to make in how you play — or at least, what are you prepared to do if your explosiveness isn’t what it was?

And about a dozen more, ranging from Rose’s views on the Bulls’ draft and free-agent acquisitions to lead assistant coach Ron Adams‘ departure.

Among the questions that did get answered? Here are the highlights:

On missing the entire season: “It was hard. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life. After surgery, when you start runnin’, when you have an injury like this, it’s phases you have to go through. I’m still going through my phases. I’m not done yet. But I think this is the most I’ve ever worked on my craft and the most focused I’ve ever been in my NBA career.”

On not coming back: “I’m not a selfish guy at all, but having this injury and knowing what I had to go through, and being smart, this is something that I had to be selfish with. I couldn’t worry about anyone else but myself and my health.”

On reports that he was “dominant” in practices: “When you’re in practice, of course it’s not like game-like speed unless it’s training camp. Game-like experience is totally different. Where you’ve got strategies, you’ve got this-or-that double-teams – when I play I get double-teamed a lot. We [practice] the same defense that we play in the game, so there wasn’t that many double-teams. So I was able to go around freely. In the game, I wasn’t able to take on that double-team yet.”

On his knee’s progress: “Every day I was working out like my leg is going to feel better. I was pushing myself every day. And trying to take care of my body to be out there as soon as possible. But it didn’t happen.”

On the Bulls’ season without him: “I was very, very impressed. It seemed like they were fighting for me. They saw how hard I was working at practice, just trying to rebuild my leg. All my teammates that were going through injuries, they used to tell me, ‘Don’t rush back’ just because they were going through stuff. So just to hear them say that, they knew I was trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible. They made a good run of it. When they were playing, I would tell them some things that I saw if they didn’t see. I was working with them just to show that I really cared about the team.”

On his close relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau: “With Thibs, we’re super-cool right now. We talk at least a couple times through the week. I missed his call a couple times – he hates when I do that – I’ve got to call him back. But he’s someone who loves the game almost as much as me and that’s pretty hard. If you love basketball more than I do, I have to take off my hat to you.”

On his personal goals for 2013-14: “There’s only one goal and that’s to win a championship.”

It’s good for Rose, for the Bulls and for the fans to have the team’s star and leader accessible again. He needs to stay that way.

Two Coaches With Everything To Lose

LOS ANGELES – Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.

Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.

And, finally, job security: Neither man has it.

In a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence, the first-round playoff series between Del Negro’s Los Angeles Clippers and Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies, a rematch of last season’s seven-game, first-round thriller won by L.A., features two lame-duck coaches.

While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.

“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.

L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.

“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)

Del Negro Playing It Cool While Seat Remains Hot In Clipperland

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DALLAS — Jerry Reinsdorf hired Vinny Del Negro to lead the Chicago Bulls despite not a single coaching gig on his resume. Five years later, the lame-duck coach of the Los Angeles Clippers still can’t escape the stigma of being a cheap hire for a bad team.

Only the Clippers aren’t a bad team any longer, not since Chris Paul arrived a season ago. Despite a mini-slump of late, 5-5 in their last 10, L.A. is 48-23 and closing in on franchise firsts of 50 wins and a division title.

Still, there’s little love for Del Negro. No Coach of the Year mentions as the season winds down to its final month. No contract extension forthcoming. Only one hot seat.

Worry about his future? Del Negro said it’s not something he does.

“No, my future is great. I’ve got a great future no matter what,” Del Negro said Tuesday before the Clippers lost in overtime at Dallas, 109-102. “I’ve been pretty fortunate, so I don’t really worry about that stuff so much. All those things take care of themselves. Where we finish, we’re going to be prepared, we’re going to be organized, we’ll play hard and at the end of the day, you got to try to win some basketball games and finish as high as you can and have a great playoff run. But a lot of playoff teams are saying that right now and it doesn’t always work out like that.

“But you have to put yourself in this position on a consistent basis year-in and year-out and learn and keep the core of your team together. And if  you do that, with stability, usually at the end of it you get it figured out as you move forward with a young team that’s trying to develop.”

The Clippers won 32 games in Del Negro’s first season. Over the last two seasons — the last being a lockout-shortened, 66-game schedule — they’ve won 88 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Expectations have been boosted this season and there’s speculation that Del Negro, hired by Neil Olshey, now Portland’s general manager, won’t be back if L.A. makes a quick postseason exit.

“I enjoy the pressure. I love the competition,” Del Negro said. “Could things be a little bit better in certain areas? Of course. But, all those things get answered at the end of the year. Our focus is on tonight’s game and on this season and all those things get answered at the end one way or the other.”

The Clippers are locked in a three-way battle for the No. 3-5 seeds with Denver and Memphis. Tuesday’s loss at Dallas slipped L.A. into fourth place with a game tonight at New Orleans, followed by road tests at Houston on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.

“I want the highest seed possible, but we just want to make sure we’re playing the right way into the playoffs,” Paul said. “We have the capability, regardless if we have homecourt [advantage] or not. You got to be able to win on the road so either way it doesn’t matter.”

Clippers players have applauded Del Negro’s ability to manage one of the deepest rosters in the league and keep harmony among players who might not get the minutes they feel they deserve. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Del Negro for two seasons in San Antonio, has lauded Del Negro’s strategic incisiveness.

At some point doesn’t Del Negro deserve credit for the Clippers’ massive turnaround? Not that it matters now. The pressure is on and expectations heightened.

“Like I tell the guys, we should thrive on the pressure because you’re in a situation where these games matter where we’re in a playoff run instead of being out of the playoffs.” Del Negro said. “So take advantage of the situation and handle the pressure in terms of be excited about it. And everyone’s vying for certain things, but we can only control what we can, and that’s our preparation and the intensity we play with.”

Time To Shut Down Derrick Rose

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CHICAGO – Derrick Rose wants to do what’s best for Derrick Rose. He has been clear about that from the start of his long, painstaking rehab from knee surgery last spring, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Chicago Bulls are going to do what’s best for Derrick Rose. That has been their default position whenever the topic has come up, which only has been every day, repeatedly, for the past 10 months.

Fans of the team should want all parties involved to do what’s best for Derrick Rose. They have been bystanders, cheerleaders and skeptics through this process, investing both money and emotions into the lengthy wait, constantly weighing the short-term against the long-term and mostly coming up stumped.

So let’s make it easy for them here and now:

The Bulls should shut down Derrick Rose till October.

Enough already. The networks and affiliates have more footage of Rose working out and shooting jump shots before Bulls games, locked in eternal preparation, than they ever will be able to use. Fans who arrive early see him out on the United Center court looking so much like the guy they remember, save for the practice gear, and then – poof! – he’s gone. They and everyone else spend much of each evening there bandying about his fate, and then some of them call talk shows or post comments on Web sites and vent as if Rose has changed his name to LeBron or something.

Where Rose’s brother Reggie once laid blame on Bulls general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson for somehow contributing to this limbo with their roster management, the player himself recently thrust the timeline of his return into the hands of his deity, whose “honey-do” list already was a little long.

Sorry, but this decision – should he or shouldn’t he? – has to stay between Rose, his doctors, his coaches and the team, erring always on the side of caution.

They’re there now. Shut him down.

The Bulls have only 14 games left on their regular-season schedule. One comes tonight in Minnesota, the tail end of a back-to-back. The next comes Wednesday against the barreling locomotive that is the Miami Heat. After that, it’s down to a dozen, a small window – more of a transom, actually – for Rose to work his way into NBA game shape and pace, for his teammates to adapt, for head coach Tom Thibodeau to fight his orneriest instincts and manage Rose’s minutes for the player’s benefit rather than the team’s.

Three weeks from next weekend, the playoffs begin. Chicago is mired in that pack of five East wannabes-to-also-rans (some would say seven) who are neither good enough to seriously challenge Miami nor, with No. 9 Philadelphia sputtering at 16 games under .500, bad enough to fall out of the seedings. The Bulls look like a one-and-done team without Rose; with him, still rusty and maybe on a slightly longer minutes leash, they could push it to the second round.

That is not worth it. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls’ other owners don’t need and shouldn’t want two or three extra home gates that badly. Fans in Chicago, who have deferred their gratification this long, surely can wait a little longer – they’re good in this town at the wait-till-next-year mantra. And Rose, when he does come back, needs to be on the floor as a recovering knee-surgery patient in the final stage of his rehab, not as a savior or a leading scorer or as the hero of a slick campaign of sneaker commercials.

Look, it was one thing when doctors’ pegged Rose’s return, on a purely physical timeline, at late February or early March. That left 20 or more games to adjust, assimilate, navigate some lows along with some highs.

It was different, too, when the Bulls were a team in waiting, all pieces in place, ready for Rose’s return to chase the same prize they’d have been eyeing had he never gotten hurt at all. But that team doesn’t exist anymore. Several of his teammates are broken down physically, most recently center Joakim Noah missing this weekend with a flare-up of some persistent plantar fasciitis. Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton have been eternally banged-up. Rose himself, like others who undergo ACL procedures, always figured to need a full year or more to regain all or most of his powers.

Meanwhile, some of those not hurting physically beyond the NBA norm for March have been wrung out by the heavier load they’ve lugged in Rose’s absence. And frankly, by the moving goal posts of his return. Luol Deng wouldn’t be making any All-Star teams off his low-ebb performances this month.

Bottom line: The team he would come back to isn’t worthy of what Rose would be expected, or would try himself, to do if he returned this late. Does anyone want to see the Heat’s Dobermans set loose on Rose in his uncertain state for anywhere from four to seven games? Even a feisty George Hill, a rejuvenated Deron Williams or a tenacious Avery Bradley might be too much in a playoff situation and put Rose in harm’s way.

Compared to that, the opportunity to work his way back through eight meaningless games in October when his teammates are fresh and everyone is coming off a layoff of his own (three months if not 15) holds great appeal and all the common sense.

Shut Derrick Rose down. Now.

Should Cavs Take Any Risk With Irving?

 

HANG TIME, Texas — You certainly can’t blame Byron Scott for keeping one eye on the future.

After all, it’s now less than two years until LeBron James can pull back on that Cavaliers jersey and run the floor on a fast break in the same lineup with Kyrie Irving.

Yes, yes, we know it’s just rank and scurrilous speculation (the best kind) that The King would return to the Cleveland throne he abdicated. But we’re more concerned right now anyway with Irving, the 20-year-old wunderkind and his own future.

After Irving mentioned the other night that the only way his sore right knee could get better was to sit out the rest of the season, the coach caused a stir by saying he’s open to the possibility.

“If Ky is hurting, I have no problem sitting him down,” Scott said.

According to the indomitable Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the alarm bells were ringing prematurely and it was simply a case of lines getting crossed.

But team sources told ESPN.com there was a miscommunication between Irving and Scott. The team will continue to monitor Irving’s knee and he’ll continue to get treatment on it, but there are no plans of sitting him down for this injury.

Irving is expected to play against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

The 20-year-old Irving played almost 38 minutes against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, and didn’t seem to be slowed by the knee, which he banged against teammate Omri Casspi’s knee in a practice two weeks ago.

That being said, one does have to wonder if the Cavs wouldn’t be wisest to at least consider putting the 2012 Rookie of the Year on the shelf. They’re a 21-40 team going into tonight’s game against the Grizzlies and going nowhere except back to the draft lottery.

It is understood that virtually everyone in the NBA is playing at this time of the year with bumps and bruises, aches and pains. It is also admirable that Irving wants to be out there on the court every night battling with his teammates, further establishing his credentials as a leader down the line.

But there are times when the head must rule over the heart and competitive instincts and it is a hyperextension of the knee, that most critical body part for any player. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf still shudders at memories of the time back in 1986 when Michael Jordan talked his way back onto the court prematurely after a broken foot. Nothing happened, but it could have. And you can be sure it’s rolling around inside Reinsdorf’s head now about Derrick Rose.

Contrast that with one of the best decisions that Gregg Popovich has made in his illustrious coaching career. After Tim Duncan tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in the 78th game of the 1999-2000 regular season, he was still champing at the bit to go in the playoffs. The Spurs were defending champs, a 53-win team. They had a chance to go back-to-back. Duncan was running up and down the floor every day at practice, trying to prove that he was capable and ready.

Yet Popovich shut him down and the Spurs were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Suns. Then, of course, they came back to win three more titles in ‘03, ‘05 and ‘07.

Don’t simply conclude that Scott might have been overreacting. It’s what you do with a franchise player, think long term.

And remember, you’d want Kyrie in tip-top shape when LeBron comes back in two years.