By Noah Graff
Many of you have heard in the press this week about the scuffle between John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls Executive Vice President, and Vinny Del Negro, the team’s head coach. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a brief synopsis. Paxson had told Del Negro to limit the amount of minutes for the team’s starting center, Joakim Noah, because of the player’s plantar fascitis which has plagued him all season.
According to a story on Yahoo Sports, on March 30, after a game against the Phoenix Suns during which Del Negro used Noah two minutes over his designated time limit despite having seven chances to take him out in the last two minutes when there was a foul, dead ball or a timeout, Paxson grabbed Del Negro by the tie, jabbed him twice in the chest and seemingly challenged him to a fight.
Other versions of the story later emerged depicting Del Negro as the instigator of the altercation, but the fact remains, Paxson, a high profile, vital figure in the Bulls organization, behaved in an unacceptable manner with actions that some argue bordered on assault.
Now comes the tough call for Bulls owner and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. How does he handle Paxson, a highly valued employee who has been instrumental in bringing the organization back to respectability in the last seven years? Reinsdorf has had a relationship with Paxson for 20 years, dating back to his playing days on the first three Bulls Championship teams. Del Negro was probably going to be fired at the end of the season anyway. He’s a terrible bench coach, and his contract is running out, so he doesn’t seem worth obsessing about. But what do you do about Paxson? Should you punish him with a non-paid vacation, send him to anger management, or shift his role to one less visible in the media? Firing him seems extreme—he’s talented, loyal, and losing him could lead to instability during a crucial off-season for signing free agents. But can you tolerate a talented hothead?
This is a universal issue in running a business.
Question: Have you ever had a valuable and volatile John Paxson in your organization? How would you deal with this situation if you were Jerry Reinsdorf of the Bulls.