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The New York Knickerbockers just hired the coaching candidate, Mike D'Antoni, whom the Bulls most coveted. But that's OK, we've still got Riccardo Muti!
Muti, of course, is the superstar free agent conductor signed last week by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to a kazillion-dollar deal to be its next musical director. It was clear the equivalent job at the New York Philharmonic was Muti's for the taking the past few years, but it was Chicago that closed the deal. Way to go CSO!
* Wouldn't it be cool if for once in our sports fan lives, one of the caretakers of our beloved teams would step up and take responsibility for what could most charitably be described as a major screw-up? How about it, Jerry Reinsdorf? How about for once acknowledging you blew it and you're sick about it? It was clear early last week that D'Antoni, the leader of the run-and-gun Suns the past four, playoff-game filled seasons, wanted to be the next coach of the Bulls. And it was clear in the middle of the week that John Paxson was ready to make the hire. But that wasn't enough for Reinsdorf. He had to interview D'Antoni personally.
And even that wasn't enough. He wanted a second interview, apparently on Saturday, during which time he might or might not have offered enough money to entice D'Antoni to turn down the job in the Big Apple Core. Before that interview could be set up, the coach decided to go with the Knicks.
Reinsdorf must have been just itching to work some of his contract-negotiation magic, to sign D'Antoni to the sort of complicated deal that would have initially appeared to pay him a market rate but would have included some sort of clever clause deep in the fine print like the infamous diminishing skills language he put in Frank Thomas' last contract with the White Sox. That was the part of the contract that enabled Reinsdorf to simply declare that Thomas' skills were diminished and to then pay him less (it was a clause never seen in any other prominent professional baseball contract before or since).
He also worked over Scottie Pippen and agent Jimmy Sexton at the dawn of the Bulls' championship run (yes, yes, yes he reportedly told Pippen not to sign the long-term contract that offered him some financial security - Pippen was apparently worried about a balky back - but which paid him less as the years went by - but c'mon, that was Reinsdorf playing Brer Rabbit, to a 'T' I might add).
His attempted chicanery backfired this time. Surely it occurred to D'Antoni that he probably wanted to go with the team where the chain of command was clear, where he would answer to highly respected general manager Donnie Walsh and to him alone. And so D'Antoni signed on with the Knicks, the team with by far the worst collection of untradable contracts (and the stiffs who signed them) in the NBA.
* I am not a Reinsdorf hater. Of course he has made plenty of questionable decisions and of course there have been many, many disappointments in a quarter-century of running two local teams. But when you start talking about the guy, you better start by acknowledging he's not only the best sports CEO Chicago's ever known, he's one of the best overall. Tell me again how many executives have presided over two different teams winning major sports championships in a specific town (and no, hockey doesn't count)? You can count them on one hand.
But it is time for someone else to run the Bulls. During the season, Reinsdorf apparently betrayed the thousands of fans who just keep buying tickets no matter how expensive by vetoing a proposed trade for Spanish seven-footer Pau Gasol that would have required the Bulls to pay some luxury tax (the best guesstimate I heard was it would have been something like $11 million over the final three years of his contract). You can currently watch Gasol providing critical low-post playoff scoring and all sorts of rebounding for a Laker team that was scuffling along in the middle of the pack before he arrived in a mid-season trade, and which is now universally acclaimed as a legitimate championship contender.
And now we have the sequence of events known forever more as "The D'Antoni Fiasco." Focus on your true love, Jerry. Make it all baseball all the time.
* Some have also criticized Reinsdorf for "low-ball" contract extension offers to Luol Deng and Ben Gordon before the season started. Those offers, which were rejected, apparently caused Deng and Gordon to put additional pressure on themselves and to eventually play considerably worse than they had the previous campaign. First of all, we're still not to the point where $50 million qualifies as low-ball, no matter what the context. Second, were people watching those two guys play this year? Most of the time they weren't worth $5 mill', let alone 10 times that amount.
* D'Antoni is best-known for an offensive philosophy that boils down to "hurry the ball up the floor, find an open shot as quickly as you can, and get that shot up, especially if it's a three." He's got one guy who will heave up as many quick shots as a coach could ever ask for in New York in former Bull Jamal Crawford. The problem will be that with Crawford firing away, lumbering center Eddie Curry may not make it past half court for whole quarters at a time.
And now for a wee bit of baseball:
* It was about time Chicago's baseball teams stopped sucking and the Cubs did so and then some over the weekend. That Kerry Wood character is rounding into ninth-inning shape quite nicely all of a sudden, isn't he? I don't mind people advocating that Carlos Marmol take over as closer (the guy has just been gloriously good hasn't he?). But when everyone was calling for Wood's scalp after that brutal outing against the Brewers at the beginning of the month, there was something missing.
Leading up to Wood's disastrous ninth in that game, Marmol got the last two outs in the seventh inning and set down the middle of the Brewer lineup in the eighth. After the game, everyone wanted Marmol pitching future ninth innings, but I didn't see anyone saying who would then get those outs in the seventh and eighth. As long as Wood is successful at least, what, 80 percent of the time, isn't Marmol more valuable to the Cubs in a more flexible role, where he is conditioned and ready to go as many as two innings in any given game?
Another thing about blown saves. There ought to be some distinction between blown saves in which the closer gives up the winning run and blown saves in which he allows only the tying run to score. Wood totally torched the game with the Brewers but if I'm not mistaken in his previous couple of blown saves, he allowed only the tying run to score, at least giving the Cubs a chance to come back and win it in extra innings. And they did exactly that. Joe Borowski used to do that for the Cubs earlier this decade. He would give up the tying run but then hunker down and not let the game get completely away.
When I start reminiscing about the Borowski era, it is probably time to sign off.
Jim Coffman dispenses his sports wisdom in this space every Monday.
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