If you missed it over the weekend, there was a mini-controversy in Chicago regarding Joakim Noah‘s playing time.
While Noah is playing through a sore foot, the Bulls front office had been on the same page with coach Vinny Del Negro about limiting Noah’s minutes as the team fights for its playoff lives. But during last Friday’s double-overtime loss to the Nets, there was a breakdown. Since Noah had already hit his agreed-upon limit (35 mins) in the fourth quarter, Del Negro kept him on the bench for all but 12 seconds of the two overtime sessions, which no doubt had a role in Chicago losing a crucial game they had no business losing.
After the fact, Bulls GM Gar Foreman said management had decided during the Nets game that it would be OK for Noah to play beyond 35 minutes, but Del Negro apparently didn’t get the word until it was too late.
“I felt we could stretch (Noah) out a little just because of the importance of the game,” Del Negro said. “So I had Lindsey (Hunter) go talk to Gar about it to make sure it was OK … but I hadn’t got the authority yet to do that. When I got the OK to put him back in, I put him back in during that first overtime to try to get that stop. So there was some miscommunication.”
Of all the analysts I heard discussing this, Cheryl Miller made the most sense. She said Vinny should have just played Noah as he saw fit, no matter what he’d heard from management. Del Negro’s job is the one that’s (reportedly) on the line, so if he gets fired for insubordination because he played his second-best player in a must-win game, surely he can sleep at night and it won’t be long before somebody else gives him a job. But what would bother Del Negro even more is if he went down having NOT played Noah, and the New Jersey loss is the one that keeps Chicago out of the playoffs.
Coming off yesterday’s big win at Toronto — during which Noah played 38 minutes — hopefully it’s all a moot point. But with this situation and seemingly throughout the season, it seems Chicago management has been distancing themselves from Del Negro like he’s the only one screwing up whenever something goes wrong. But they deserve blame here.
What did they think would happen by hiring a man who had no previous head coaching experience? Del Negro is going to need time to work out the rough patches and find his identity as a coach. Ideally that’s not supposed to happen on the NBA level, but that’s what Bulls management was asking for when they hired him. Less than two full seasons into the deal, Del Negro shouldn’t be on the hot seat, and the Bulls should be publicly supporting him at every turn rather than allow the speculation to fester. Especially if Del Negro makes the playoffs in each his first two years. Even if the Bulls miss out on the playoffs this year, Del Negro deserves at least another season to prove himself.