While the Chicago Bulls fought for their playoff lives on Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics, a story that broke about an altercation between Bulls vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negro had Charles Barkley taking aim at Chicago management.
Yahoo Sports first reported that Paxson grabbed Del Negro by the tie, jabbed him in the chest twice and seemingly challenged him to a fight after a game at the United Center against the Phoenix Suns on March 30. Paxson reportedly was upset that Del Negro exceeded the minutes for Joakim Noah, who has been battling plantar fasciitis for much of the season.
Tuesday's game was broadcast nationally on TNT, and Barkley, a studio analyst who has admitted he's friends with Del Negro, addressed the situation at halftime.
"The Bulls have disrespected Vinny Del Negro," Barkley said. "The report came out [earlier] this year that they have fired Vinny but couldn't find a replacement, and the Bulls didn't say anything about it. That's just bull.
"For some reason they don't like Vinny. But for all the injuries, and losing [Ben Gordon] to Detroit, if Vinny gets them to the playoffs, that's a good coaching job. He's done a good job in Chicago."
Barkley wasn't the only one who questioned Bulls management.
"If you're challenging your coach to a fight, that's crossing the line," said Barkley's TNT colleague, Kenny Smith. "If you get to the point where you can't have a civil conversation with someone to ask why you're playing someone, that's out of line."
Del Negro confirmed to TNT's Craig Sager that there was an argument and disagreement over Noah's minutes, but he wouldn't confirm that there was a pushing incident.
Paxson didn't return a message from ESPNChicago.com seeking comment. A Bulls spokesman said it's an organizational issue that will be handled internally.