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The last days of Vinny Del Negro (I mean, it has to be, right?)

If asked whether I actually believe Vinny will be fired before the end of the season, I'd still edge towards 'no'. It's just so extremely rare, even in the coaching carousel of the NBA, to see a coach fired before he can complete his first season. The only recent example I can find is Randy Ayers in '03-'04, fired after going 21-31 with an Iverson-led Sixers team.

But on the other hand...this season cannot go on like this. And VDN does not seem the type to initiate a change in direction, which is an indictment of his hire in the first place.

It's gotten comically bad in this 5 game losing streak, and after not seeing Friday night's game, I couldn't say I missed watching the team play. Apparently they lost to Toronto after giving up 31 points in the 4th. At least that seems easier to swallow than the late-game execution miscues and lineup strangeness that gave them close losses in the other contests, culminating in a final play in Minnesota two days later that had the star point guard (and apparently everyone else) looking completely confused. And then further confused as to whether they even practice such things or not.

That followed off-court issues, specifically Ben Gordon and Vinny getting in a shouting match in front of the media over a fine. This is Ben Gordon, one of the few established professionals on the team(almost to a fault). Vinny then compounds that misjudgement (that was the best way to enforce and levy that fine?) by spouting completely embarrasing spin that the argument was good because 'it shows fire', and normal because he's Italian. This was said by the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

It's been pretty bad all season. But back when I was still grasping for hope to believe in Vinny, I mentioned that he at least played Ben Gordon a lot, and that the players seemed to like him and play hard for him. Well, since Hinrich's return (and one shamefully clamored for, along with the other 'captains', in some desperate excuse-making) Gordon's been sitting in the majority of the fourth quarter time.

And more importantly, while I'd bet the players still like Vinny (heck, he's certainly likeable), they do not seem to respect him nor play hard for him anymore.  How do we know? Well the media asking players directly if they respect Vinny might be a bad sign.

(And we can't even blame Larry Hughes.)

After 45 games they actually have the same record as they did last season. The next two games are winnable, but they're still on the road. Then there's 4 more road games that will see the Bulls as certain underdogs. They'll return home after that and face the Heat and Pistons before the All-Star break. Will Vinny even be coach by then?

How many games are Paxson and Reinsdorf willing to lose? We can pretend to be the smarter, 'long-view', fans and realize that this team is a first-round exit at their absolute best, so what's the harm in a few more lottery balls. But there's a difference between a gutted rebuilding team and what we should be seeing this year. This is an absolute embarrassment. And going on nearly a season and a half of it. This shit cannot stand. I don't care if it means ultimately nothing in the way of championship-building: I just want to see relatively good basketball again.

Luckily, unlike last season (and some of the interim coaches who've taken over thus far around the league), there is competency and experience on the Bulls bench should Vinny be shown the door. Someone between Harris, Bickerstaff, and Ociepka can take the head chair while all 3 contribute more than they're doing so now. It can only help.

It's a nearly mortal blow for John Paxson's tenure to have to fire Vinny. Despite whatever hoops he had to jump through in his 'process', the end result cannot be this. If it means Paxson has to go too, it's not an unjust reason.

But it's just as criminal to let this go on. This season deserves to be saved, this roster (well, most of it) deserves a real coach. Whoever gets brought in after the certain (right?) midseason trade deserves a real coach too. And Derrick Rose deserves real, sustained development. If the Bulls are relenting on firing Vinny becuase it may make them look bad, rest assured the play on the court has them looking a lot worse.