Bulls players ignore management rift

Derrick Rose said he wasn't aware of the rift between John Paxson and Vinny Del Negro. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Vinny Del Negro always has attempted to be straightforward with the media, but on Tuesday night even he couldn't call things exactly as he saw them.

Or maybe he didn't want to.

Either way, Del Negro was at the heart of a juicy controversy regarding a Yahoo Sports report that he and Executive VP John Paxson got into an altercation after a March 30 game regarding Joakim Noah's minutes.

The story broke just as the Bulls were about to take the court against the Boston Celtics with their playoff lives at stake. And after the Bulls’ 101-93 victory cut their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to one, victory was hard to savor in the winning locker room. Some players took the news in stride, while others took an almost angry tone to their comments after the game.

"I think that that's none of your guys' business," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Things happen in a team and an organization. But that has nothing to do with you guys. We deserve not to have these problems talked about right now. I think that we're fighting as players. We're giving everything we got. And I think that's the only thing that matters.

"I know you guys have to sell newspapers and all that, but I think it wouldn't be fair to us because I think we're giving everything we got and putting it all out on the line to try to make these playoffs and do something special."

Whether or not the Bulls make the playoffs, their season will be remembered to some extent for the turmoil in Del Negro's final days. Turmoil that most players, like Derrick Rose, either didn't want to admit knowing about, or didn't want to talk about at all.

"I'm sure it happens in a lot of teams," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "You just don't hear about it. We just have a snitch. Whoever told you guys we got to find out who it is."

Deng was chuckling as he talked about a possible snitch, but with all the things that the Bulls have dealt with this season, it does seem almost fitting that the team can't even fully enjoy a victory when it gets the chance.

"We went through this before," Deng said. "Vinny had a time during the season when we heard he was going to get fired. As players we kept playing hard. We play hard for him. And what the organization does is what they do. I've been here. I've seen [Scott] Skiles, Jim Boylan. Those decisions are not up to the players. Our job is to show up and play hard [for] whoever's in charge."

For his part, Del Negro looked simply worn out as he stood in front of the podium after one of the biggest victories in his Chicago tenure. "This is the NBA," he said. "When things happen, whether it's practice or in different situations, things are going to come out. It's just part of the deal. You handle it. You're professional with it. You move forward. You show great leadership towards your team. And you just go about your business. Things happen. There's a lot of emotion involved in this game. There's a lot of things that happen on a daily basis.

"But, as long as everyone's pulling in the same direction for the ultimate goal to continually improve. Find a way to get to the playoffs. Help these younger guys learn the game and get better at it, which I feel we've done and develop them, then there's a lot of positives to take out of it too. Every opportunity, every challenge, I think makes you better in the long run. All those things we'll handle internally and we'll move forward."