A night of troubling revelations overshadowed what under normal circumstances would have been one of the biggest wins of the seasons for the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night.
Derrick Rose scored a career high 39 points and got a hug from supermodel Marissa Miller. Kirk Hinrich turned back the clock and dropped a cool 30. The Bulls beat the Celtics to cement their playoff hopes.
But all anybody wanted to talk about, and rightly so, was the confrontation between coach Vinny Del Negro and Bulls VP John Paxson.
A Yahoo Sports report broke the news Tuesday afternoon, a couple hours before TNT’s broadcast of Bulls-Celtics. According to the report, Paxson stormed into Del Negro’s office after the Bulls fell to the Suns in late March. Angry that Del Negro had played Joakim Noah more minutes than the team had allotted—Noah has been dealing with plantar faciitis for much of the season—Paxson reportedly grabbed Del Negro’s tie and hit the coach in the chest twice before being restrained.
Perhaps stunned by what was unfolding and worried of being fired for real this time, Del Negro just stood there and took it.
During the first half of Tuesday’s game, TNT’s broadcast team discussed the recent shenanigans during the Bulls Double OT loss to the Nets, when Del Negro sent 86 year-old reserve guard Lindsey Hunter to ask Paxson if the minutes restrictions on Noah could be lifted.
At halftime, TNT became aware of the story sweeping the internet. Craig Sager reported that Del Negro did not deny that there was an argument, but refused to go into further detail. Adding more intrigue to the story, Sager reported Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson had known about the incident but failed report it for some bizarre reason.
What began as a rumor just became the truth.
Now the question becomes what will the Bulls’ hierarchy do about it?
For now, the Bulls have simply dispatched a team of lawyers to investigate the incident. An investigation could take weeks, provide constant distraction, and reveal basic information that could be obtained in about as much time as it will take to write this story.
The Bulls need to act, and act quickly.
Heading into the free agent summer in the history of the NBA, the Bulls figure to be one of the most attractive destinations for players like LeBron, D Wade, Chris Bosh…the list goes on and on. A budding superstar point guard and three other solid NBA starters (Kirk Hinrich will most likely be moved in the offseason) coupled with sizeable cap space puts Chicago in the driver’s seat.
There is only one problem: An astounding lack of institutional control that has tarnished the Bulls’ image throughout the league.
Thanks in large part to Jerry Reinsdorf’s bumbling ways, John Paxson still has a job. Paxson, the man who traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas on draft day, refused to trade Luol Deng for Pau Gasol, rewarded Deng’s average numbers and limited upside with a $70-plus million dollar long-term deal, and the man who hired Vinny Del Negro.
Reinsdorf pulled the plug on Paxson’s GM duties last year, promoting Gar Forman in an oddly secretive move. Forman has done some good things while running the show.
But Paxson has continued to ruin the Bulls franchise, and in the process, the reputation of what should be one of the most glorified teams in the entire NBA.
Paxson fired Del Negro in late December, something Del Negro learned while watching television. Unable to find a replacement, Paxson reversed his decision and allowed Del Negro to remain on the bench.
Talk about a ridiculously unprofessional move.
So as this summer creeps ever closer, the Bulls organization will be dragged through the mud in the public, but more importantly, behind the scenes. Luring a coach like Nate McMillan or a player like LeBron James just got a lot more difficult.
The Bulls need to restore stability. It starts with sending John Paxson away—forever.