Bulls introduce head coach Del Negro amid skepticism

CHICAGO – Vinny Del Negro realizes he won’t win over fans until he wins a few games, so the Chicago Bulls’ new coach understands the skepticism given his track record. After all, there is none.

The Bulls introduced Del Negro at a news conference on Wednesday, ending a seven-week search in which they tried to lure Mike D’Antoni from the Phoenix Suns and discussed a return engagement with Doug Collins. Instead, they wound up with someone who has never coached and a long line of skeptics in Chicago.

“I think that’s fair,” said Del Negro, the Phoenix Suns assistant general manager this season. “I haven’t coached before. … Winning builds confidence and there’s a young team here that needs a confidence boost, I think. I’m not a magician. I just can’t create things all of a sudden. It’s going to be a daily process. Those are fair questions, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Del Negro may have been the third choice, but he convinced the Bulls he’s the man to help turn around one of the league’s biggest disappointments. The Bulls went from 49 wins to 49 losses and missed the playoffs after making the second round in 2007, leading to coach Scott Skiles’ firing in December and interim coach Jim Boylan’s dismissal on April 17. Their outlook improved when they struck gold in the lottery and landed the No. 1 pick in this month’s draft.

Now they hope they found a gem in Del Negro, who spent the past two years in the Suns’ front office after a three-year stint as a radio analyst. He got promoted to assistant general manager from director of player personnel and was interested in replacing D’Antoni after he left for New York, but a lack of experience kept Del Negro off the list of finalists. The Suns ultimately hired Terry Porter, and Chicago wound up with Del Negro after a seven-week soap opera.

The Bulls were prepared to offer D’Antoni the job in early May once they met for the second time in as many days, but D’Antoni took the Knicks’ four-year, $24 million offer before hearing chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s pitch. Collins entered the picture after Chicago won the lottery and seemed headed from the TNT broadcast table back to Chicago, where he coached Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in the late 1980s before their championship run.

Both sides publicly acknowledged discussions after reports of a reunion surfaced. But the Bulls took another public relations hit when Collins and Reinsdorf called off talks on Friday, citing concerns about straining their friendship.

Now, Chicago is turning to Del Negro, who initially talked to Paxson at the predraft camp in Orlando and wound up beating out Sacramento Kings assistant Chuck Person and former Minnesota coach Dwane Casey after interviewing again last week. Del Negro called the Suns a “first class” organization and said he would stress defense and a quick offense.

Paxson, meanwhile, defended the search, saying, “There was a sense that we didn’t know what we were doing at the Berto Center. We didn’t see it that way.”

Del Negro was one of several candidates Paxson interviewed who had no coaching experience, including Mark Jackson and Jeff Hornacek. Skeptics aside, others who followed a similar route to the sideline have been successful. Doc Rivers was Coach of the Year after his first season in Orlando and now has Boston within two wins of a championship, and Larry Bird led Indiana to the NBA finals in 2000 after being hired in 1997.

“(Coaching) has always been in the back of my mind,” Del Negro said.

A guard, Del Negro averaged 9.1 points in a little more than 11 seasons for Sacramento, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Golden State and Phoenix after playing for Jim Valvano at N.C. State. He also led Benetton Treviso to its first Italian league championship while winning the MVP award in 1992.

Now that Del Negro is in place, Chicago can turn its attention to that No. 1 pick and deciding between Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, assuming there’s no trade. Both are scheduled to work out for the Bulls next week, and Paxson and Del Negro insisted no decision has been made.

The lottery was the last place the Bulls expected to be when training camp began, but everything fell apart right when the season started.

The Kobe Bryant trade rumors surfaced and Ben Gordon and Luol Deng turned down five-year contract extensions, leaving Chicago in a haze it could not escape. The unselfishness and tenacity they showed in previous seasons never appeared, and in their place was a bickering group of players who argued with each other and with coaches.

“They lost their spirit last year,” Paxson said. “I’m not saying we have a superstar on our roster. I think we’ve got very good players that last year played down from their ability. A lot of that was their confidence level and all the distractions.”