Del Negro: Bulls still in hunt

MINNEAPOLIS -- Vinny Del Negro has a message for any NBA fans who think the Bulls have given up on this season:

Think again.

In his first public comments since the team traded away John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas for cap space and expiring contracts, the second-year head coach wiped away any notion the team had quit on the 2009-10 season.

"That's false," he said when asked if the organization had given up on the season. "That would never happen. It's not what myself, the staff, the organization and what the fans expect. The Chicago Bulls are one of the premier franchises ... That word, 'giving up' or anything is not even mentioned. I expect us to compete at a very high level. I expect us to win games. I expect us to develop our young players like we are and continue to improve in certain areas.

Del Negro said he plans to get the team's new acquisitions -- especially Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick -- into the rotation quickly. He also stressed the fact that the team has kept its starting five intact.

"There's high expectations in Chicago, but people should feel good about the core we kept together, the nucleus we kept together and the ability to advance and get more flexibility in a very important summer, as we continually try to improve the team moving forward," Del Negro said.

However, Del Negro did acknowledge that it is a challenging task being the head coach of a team that is trying to win and clear cap space at the same time.

"It is difficult," he said. "But like I've said, if this [were] easy, anybody could do it. It's a challenge and I enjoy the challenge, but I'm pleased we kept our nucleus of guys together. And we added a couple guys that have been players in the league. We lost a couple very good players and we added some. We just have to see how it all comes together.

"There's no easy answers to it, let's just see how these guys fit in and how they contribute and how it all mixes together and put ourselves in an opportunity on a consistent basis to win basketball games. That's difficult when it happens in the middle of the season, and now you have to try to incorporate some new pieces, but we've done it before, and hopefully this time, it will go as smooth as it did last [season]."

Del Negro is confident that the Bulls have put themselves in the best possible position to acquire a superstar free agent this summer.

"That will all take care of itself," he said of the Bulls' plans for the heralded 2010 free agency class. "The first most important thing is getting the space to go and have a game plan together to attract one of the elite players. Whether you get one or not, no one know what's going to happen. That's all getting figured out and everyone will guess and have their opinions, but certain teams have put themselves in a certain position to at least be able to financially afford those type of players. And we're one of them.

"So when you have the history of Chicago, the incredible city, the fans, the success of the organization and a great young nucleus of talent, it's got to be a very attractive city for any player. So there's a lot of positives there. All those things will take care of themselves. Everything will be done first class and professional to accommodate that this summer, but my focus is not this summer right now. My focus is preparing for the next game and finding ways to help the team get better throughout this season as we move."

Regarding continued speculation about his job status, Del Negro once again reiterated that all of those issues will take care of themselves down the line. Bulls general manager Gar Forman said during his press conference Thursday that Del Negro was the coach of the team and that it was a non-story.

"All that stuff is out of my control," Del Negro said of his job security. "I don't spend a lot of time with it like I didn't before when it was a much bigger story. I try to prepare and handle the team in a first-class manner, help develop the young players [and] find ways to improve individually and as a team. I think my staff has done a phenomenal job with everything that's been thrown at us the last couple of years. And we continue to improve.

"I can't control what other people do or say. I can just control my attitude and my approach and try to set a good example for a young team and handle the adversity that's thrown at you as a coach and as a team throughout the year in the best possible way and move forward. I can't worry about what people are saying or what they're not saying. Or how they're saying it, or what's out there. I go about my business and control what I can."

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com.