John Paxson: Jeff Van Gundy's criticism of Bulls 'pretty pathetic'

Ball Don't Lie
John Paxson: Jeff Van Gundy's criticism of Bulls 'pretty pathetic'
John Paxson: Jeff Van Gundy's criticism of Bulls 'pretty pathetic'

Nestled deep in the broadcast of Friday evening’s Dallas Mavericks/Chicago Bulls game was a Jeff Van Gundy rant. The ABC/ESPN color analyst’s rants are nothing new, oftentimes he likes to deviate from calling the action on hand in order to take on the most notable sports talk radio riff of the day, and the presence of Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls on the schedule allowed for this:

In case you can’t listen to the clip, Mike McGraw at the Arlington Heights Daily Herald has some of the quotes:

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“He has done such a good job here," Van Gundy said during the broadcast. "First two years had the best record in the league. Unfortunately, these last three playoffs have been disrupted by injury. But he came to the Bulls at a time where mediocrity reigned. They had struggled for a long time, they were basically a .500 team. Along with the emergence of some players, he's taken it to elite status.

“I think right now, it's almost criminal … what he's having to endure with some of the fringe media – attacking his job status, attacking his personality. This isn't new to Chicago Bulls basketball, all the way back to Phil Jackson. The team has publicly supported their coach while privately, often times, undermining that same person. You saw it with Vinny Del Negro, Scott Skiles. Think about it, they ran out Phil Jackson out after winning all those championships.

“I think it's wrong. It's wrong for the town, wrong for the team and it certainly has not been fair to Tom Thibodeau."

Van Gundy went on to spread his criticism to the Chicago media.

“Listen, I read every Chicago story and there is no doubt that the Bulls organization has the media, with a few exceptions, in their hip pocket," he said. "And for whatever reason, they have taken their sights on Thibodeau when all he's done is deliver greatness here in his five years."

On Sunday, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson fired back:

"Tom Thibodeau isn't being undermined at all," said John Paxson, executive vice president of basketball operations. "What's being undermined is the entire Bulls organization by Van Gundy, who has an agenda against our organization for whatever reason and has for years. I guess he thinks he's trying to protect his friend, but he's doing just the opposite. It's pretty pathetic when you think about it, and truth be told he owes Jerry Reinsdorf an apology for his disparaging remarks."

OK, then.

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To start, as Van Gundy mentioned in the clip, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was Van Gundy’s lead assistant when Jeff coached in New York and Houston. You could call any defense of Tom Thibodeau from Van Gundy a conflict of interest were it not for the unmitigated fact that Tom Thibodeau is a brilliant basketball coach.

In referring to “fringe media” during the broadcast, Van Gundy was making a clear comment on a widely distributed report from a another web site run by a former Associated Press and ESPN writer that claimed that Thibodeau’s job could be in jeopardy if the Bulls failed to emerge from the funk that preceded their game last Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs. Fighting injury and a weird strain of apathy, the Bulls had lost six of eight prior to downing San Antonio and Dallas on two impressive back-to-back nights.

In sportswriting circles, that report was met with a collective eye-roll. For many NBA fans, those that hound the rumor sites, it was widely clicked on – whispers about Tom Thibodeau’s frustration with the Chicago front office and concerns by the same FO over Thibodeau’s potentially-wearying style of coaching have abounded for years, so the report seemed plausible enough to many. Throw in the 2-6 swoon and a tough upcoming schedule, and it all made sense to some.

To Van Gundy, apparently, it was a sign that the Chicago front office was leaking information to the reporter that put the piece together, while confusing things (on air) by criticizing local media for being in the front office’s back pocket while discussing a column put together by a national scribe that doesn’t work out of Chicago. This is why McGraw, in his column discussing Van Gundy’s riffs, wondered aloud if JVG was talking about him.

He wasn’t, and neither of the two other Bulls newspaper beat writers put pen to paper during the Bulls’ swoon encouraging to encourage dissent or take the front office’s side in any column. It was just that one “fringe media” member that did, taking in clicks all along the way.

Tom Thibodeau’s game has holes, holes we’ve discussed many times (longtime readers know my Chicago allegiances as a fan) at Ball Don’t Lie. He overplays injured players routinely, either working them for too long in a contest that has already been decided, or rushing them back to the court when they should be on the sideline. Sunday marked the return of Luol Deng to the United Center as a member of the Miami Heat, and we’re a year and a half removed from the time Tom Thibodeau completely sold Deng out as he lay in a darkened hospital room.

The front office, which needlessly fired assistant coach nonpareil Ron Adams and just-as routinely endorses the team’s go-back-out-there-slugger medical staff is not without its faults as well. Don’t think Tom Thibodeau doesn’t break out into a sweat every time that he reads a box score that features former Bull Kyle Korver shooting 4-8 from behind the three-point line, a mark that actually brings his three-point percentage down.

For John Paxson to claim that Van Gundy harbors some decades-old agenda against Chicago is ridiculous, leaving a very smart basketball man looking like a whiny kid on a message board. I’m a Bulls fan (check) that sometimes has issues when Van Gundy strays from describing the action on court (check), I’m the best candidate to be sensitive to these sorts of things, and yet I’ve never thought that JVG had it out for the Bulls. Before and during Thibodeau’s time with the franchise.

Of course, we can’t blame Jeff Van Gundy for hitting up that click bait. Even San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dove in on the subject last week. From Steve Aschburner at

"Well, whoever asked me that question before the game -- about [the Bulls] not listening to Thibs and Thibs has lost 'em and that kind of [expletive] -- you got your answer," Popovich said, unprompted. "As I told you before the game, that's baloney. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even Coach Pop. Sigh.

Mislabeling, mis-clicking, misattributing, overreacting and doing anything but talking about the actual game? The NBA, stuck in the dead of winter, clearly has cabin fever.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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