Vinny Del Negro said all the right things in his opening press conference about developing the young players on the Bulls, namely Thomas, Noah, and Sefolosha. He probably said Aaron Gray too, so at least he followed up on that effort:
Without a doubt, Gray has been the most consistent of the Bulls' young, big men this season. He grabbed 9 rebounds in 21 minutes against the Wizards but did not score.
(real consistent, sheesh)
Well, as I've whined before in this space, that experiment lasted about a half-dozen games, and ever since Vinny's been relying on the old and the gimmicky.
And it's not completely unforgivable: both Thomas and Noah have had the worst season of their careers thus far. It's incorrect (and annoying) to say that they've always been bad and this is just yet another coach speaking the truth. They've been productive before, they haven't been so this season. (Thabo actually has been the opposite, so it's not like this is a 'consistent' decision process)
But, so what? Vinny benches Noah completely, Thomas gets five minutes after having a decent stretch of games, and the result was indeed a win on Saturday night. But it was more like managing not to blow a lead to one of the worst teams in the league (and certainly one of the worst defensive units...that's why the 'ball movement' was so good, Stacy King) that was coming off a game the night before and were on the road. Yay?
Noc redeemed himself a bit in that same game, but that was after a stretch of abomination that would've gotten most players benched, especially if they happened to be younger than 29. And the less said about Gray the better. Though not really a fault of his own, It's a symptom if he's in there so much he matters.
But this isn't meant to read like yet another dig on Vinny. He is apparently so tired of Noah's lack of preparation that he dropped his usual milquetoast explanations to point it out.
And if it's truly this bad, it's not Vinny, but yet another organizational failure.
At least in the summer when he hired Vinny, it seemed like Paxson had a plan to commit to these players. But like seemingly always, there's no plan. The coach has obliterated any idea of a reliable frontcourt sub pattern to instead give in to 'matchups'. Thomas, Noah, and Sefolosha are not only not being developed, they're regressing.
The trade season will be very interesting. Drew Gooden's putting up solid numbers on an expiring deal. Larry Hughes was likely told in that famous meeting he'll be moved if he keeps quiet and performs as a sixth man. And since he's hitting 47% of his threes (after a career at 30%. That's um, a fluke) maybe it'll work. Perhaps Paxson feels that Noc couldn't be stapled to the bench either for him to retain any trade value, even knowing that it'd mean between Noc and Hughes there's very little time for Thabo to play at all.
But, again: that'd imply a plan on Paxson's part, a bit of a micromanaging one at that. And reportedly Paxson is notoriously hands-off when it comes to coaching.
So maybe it is what it is. Vinny likes Noc's heart, Hughes' versatility. Think's Gooden has to play 40 minutes for the team to be successful, and that Aaron Gray really is good at knowing the defensive schemes, even though he can't quite move his feet enough to execute them...and thinks he can't win with their younger counterparts. Maybe Noah's a lost cause, but Thomas and Sefolosha are just victims of 'matchups'. We'll be seeing more gimmicks, more small-ball. It's the only way to compete.
So then instead of the likeliest tradees, instead Thomas, Noah and Sefolosha will be the ones dealt. Even if they succeed elsewhere, we'll be told that it just wasn't going to happen here. Paxson will have said now these are the 'character' guys we want, forget those others that were drafted based on their 'character' in the first place.
At that introductory press conference, Vinny and Pax didn't know they'd have Derrick Rose. But with a goal of building around him, why wasn't there more of a comittment to seeing if the young talent fit or not? And if they're not only ill-fitting but busting themselves off the team, why is the same guy who picked them now in charge of their replacements? Paxson should've drafted better, he should've had more of a hand in getting them better, and he should be fired before he has the chance to 'build' around Derrick Rose. But the man has a lifetime contract after participating in some tearful trust falls with Reinsdorf, so maybe he doesn't see the urgency with his recent draftees that I do. If you can't tell, I'm getting pretty sick of seeing this happen in yet another season.