Bulls brass, Del Negro not on same page

TORONTO -- There have been times when the Chicago Bulls' management and coach Vinny Del Negro haven't appeared to be on the same page, and that was never more evident than Friday night in New Jersey.

And if Del Negro is let go after the season, as many expect, Friday night's confusion over how long to play Joakim Noah in a crucial game against the Nets will be discussed -- especially if the Bulls' 127-116 double-overtime loss to the Nets costs Chicago a playoff berth.

Noah has been battling plantar fasciitis much of the season and was on a 35-minute limit. Del Negro said he played Noah just 12 seconds in the OT periods because he was at his time limit.

But after the game, Bulls general manager Gar Forman said assistant coach Lindsey Hunter asked Forman during the game whether Noah could continue.

Forman called Bulls executive vice president John Paxson, who gave Forman the OK to extend Noah's minutes.

But Del Negro stuck close to the time limit as Noah played 35:52.

"I didn't get that answer until the overtime," Del Negro said Saurday. "Once I got it, we're into the overtime, and my interpretation of that was not to go play him 3, 4, 5, 6,10 minutes and get him into 40 to 45 minutes.

"But when we needed him for a stop, and when we did, that's when I put him back in. I would have loved to have played him some more minutes, especially in the overtime. But that was the understanding, and there was probably a little miscommunication there as well."

Del Negro said his priority was Noah's health.

"Would I have liked to play him more? Of course," Del Negro said. "But his future and his health is the most important thing.

"When you're under ... there's been a lot of things that have gone into this. I would have liked to have played him more, but we just couldn't do that [Friday] night."

Del Negro said he had Hunter contact Forman in the fourth quarter, but he didn't hear back until the first overtime. Noah was not on the court when Brook Lopez tied the game with a basket off an offensive rebound at the end of regulation.

"I wanted to put him in if there was 10 seconds to go, or the 3.6 seconds, but I hadn't got the authority yet to do that," Del Negro said. "And I wasn't able to play him extended minutes because of the 35 [minute] mandate.

"So there was some miscommunication there a little bit. Then when I got the OK to put him back in, I put him back -- I think it was the first overtime, to try and get that stop, and I think we fouled Brook Lopez on it. I wasn't going to play him 40, 45 minutes, or something like that, just because it was back to back games and Joakim's future and his health and everything is a big concern to everyone. It's the first time he's played back to back like that with those many minutes."

After practice Saturday, Noah did not want to get in the middle of the situation.

"I don't want to say anything that puts anybody in a bad position," Noah said. "For me, it's frustrating.

"Of course I want to be out there on the court ... I really don't know what to say about [Friday]. As a player, I'm just trying to focus on a huge game [Sunday] against Toronto. The goal is to make the playoffs. I'm just trying to focus on that and be as positive as I can."

Del Negro was criticized for playing Noah 27 minutes against Portland on Feb. 26, after saying that he would play only 10 or 12 that night. Noah missed the next 10 games.

This may be the worst possible time for a controversy like this to unfold. The Bulls face a must-win game against the Raptors Sunday night for the final playoff spot in the East. The teams have identical records, but Toronto owns the tiebreaker.

Del Negro said he doesn't think there will be a time limit on Noah during Sunday's game.

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com.