Bulls try to downplay Del Negro-Paxson spat

The Chicago Bulls tried to downplay last month’s confrontation

between coach Vinny Del Negro and vice president of basketball

operations John Paxson on Wednesday night, just before they avoided

the distractions to clinch a playoff berth.

In a statement released before their 98-89 win over Charlotte

secured the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, general

manager Gar Forman confirmed there was an “internal disagreement”

that was the result of each “expressing their passion” about the

well-being of players and the desire to win.

Yahoo! Sports reported Paxson grabbed Del Negro’s tie and shoved

him before being restrained by assistant coaches on in a dispute

over forward Joakim Noah’s playing time after a game against

Phoenix on March 30.

Noah, who was recovering from a foot injury, was having his

minutes monitored. The report said Paxson was upset that Noah

played too much in the game, which had become a long-running

dispute with his coach.

“The event occurred in Coach Del Negro’s office, not in the

locker room and not in front of the players, as some wrongly have

reported,” Forman said. “This disagreement, while not

communicated well by either party in the heat of the moment and in

the immediate aftermath of a tough loss, was a result of

conflicting views, but all based on the fine balance required to

ensure both the immediate and long-term success of the team and the

health of its players.”

ESPNChicago.com reported on Wednesday, citing an unidentified

source, that it was Del Negro that initiated the physical contact

in the incident. Del Negro vehemently denied that in his pregame

media availability before the Bobcats game.

“That’s inaccurate. That’s 100 percent false,” Del Negro said.

“But this thing is funny because you have guys that care, guys

that are competitive. It’s unfortunate that it had to come out, but

the most important thing is to focus on the game tonight, the

players and the effort that they’re putting in and all those things

will take of themselves at the end of the season. Hopefully, that’s

not for a while.”

Forman said they wouldn’t announce any disciplinary action until

after the season. There had been widespread speculation before the

report that Del Negro could be fired despite having another year

left on his contract.

“The Bulls have a full and complete understanding of what took

place, but, as requested by all parties, will address the attendant

issues with the participants after the season is over,” Forman

said. “At this point, everyone intends to keep focused on the

remaining games.”

The Bulls will face top-seeded Cleveland in the first round of

the playoffs.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the players,” Del Negro said.

“Players win games. I’m very proud of the way the guys have hung

together all year, through a lot of things.”