Trouble at the UC?

By Brady Stiff

Last night’s win over the Celtics put the Bulls in a position to control their own destiny going into the last night of the regular season. They can lock up the 8th seed in the East tonight with a win over Charlotte or a Toronto loss to the Knicks.

John Paxson (right) reportedly shoved Vinny Del Negro over Joakim Noah's playing time (Gary Dineen/Getty Images)

Even if they get in, there will still be a dark cloud hanging over the team going forward because of a silly argument.

Yesterday, reports surfaced that VP John Paxson and head coach Vinny Del Negro were involved in an altercation over Joakim Noah’s playing time.

After a loss to the Phoenix Suns on March 30, an irate Paxson walked into the coach’s office at the United Center and confronted Del Negro over a narrow breach of a management-imposed minutes limit on injured forward Joakim Noah(notes). Sources said Paxson first grabbed a hold of Del Negro’s tie and seemingly tried to provoke him with two successive jabs into his chest. Paxson was even heard to angrily challenge Del Negro to a fight.

That’s from the original Yahoo report by Adrian Wojnarowski.

The report goes on to say that Vinny didn’t fight back at all.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  He was worried about his contract and being fired and all that.

The Bulls’ front office has imposed a playing time limit on Noah because of his injury.  Paxson and GM Gar Forman reportedly were angry because Noah played more than they had hoped during the Bulls’ February 26th game against Portland.  He also played more than the alloted time on March 30th, when the physical altercation reportedly took place.

Del Negro is in a ridiculously tough spot here.  He’s got to try to win basketball games while micro-managing the minutes of one of his best players.  There’s no question that Noah has been a huge part of the Bulls’ success this season, and they need his energy, not to mention his rebounding, on the floor whenever possible.

John Paxson, no matter what his position with the team, has no right whatsoever to get physical with anyone on the team, no matter if it’s Del Negro or the guys who mop the United Center floor.  If I’m Gar Forman, I’m seriously considering firing John Paxson.  If Forman won’t do it, then Jerry Reinsdorf might have to get involved.  His objective could have easily been accomplished by having a sit-down meeting with Del Negro.  There’s no need to come to blows.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Vinny Del Negro.  I think the Bulls went the wrong direction hiring someone with zero coaching experience.  But I will give him credit for making the playoffs last year, and potentially making the playoffs this season.  He’s not had the elite talent that some teams have, so his coaching skills may not be all that bad.  This incident, however, may spell the end of Del Negro’s tenure with the team.  He was this close to getting fired earlier in the year when the team looked as bad as the Nets, so they may just say good bye after this season.

I don’t think it takes much to coach in the NBA.  Not that these guys don’t know basketball, but the way I see it, they aren’t much more than a figurehead for the organization.

Anyone see Cavaliers coach Mike Brown during last year’s playoffs?  During a timeout, he’s just standing around while his assistant is drawing up a play called “Get LeBron the Ball”.  Phil Jackson admitted that coaching the Lakers is more about managing personalities than it is actually coaching basketball.

All of this is why I love college hoops and hardly watch the NBA.  But that’s another column for another day.

Regardless of how the Bulls finish up, Del Negro may be gone, and that’s not fair.  Paxson should be the one looking for a new job.


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