CBS Sports NBA analyst Richard "Rip" Hamilton provided some context for the recent report about Chicago Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown "spying" on players for the front office. A day after the Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Bulls star Jimmy Butler "warned new players that if they didn't want [Gar] Forman to hear criticism, they shouldn't talk in front of certain assistant coaches such as Randy Brown," Hamilton told a story on NBA Crossover (in the video above) about a Bulls film session in 2011-2012, the first of his two seasons with the team.
"One of the coaches, assistant coaches, spits out, 'Randy has nothing to do with this team, he doesn't need to be around the players.' Looked at every man that was in that film session and pretty much told them, 'Hey, don't listen to him. When he comes and talks to you, don't listen to him.' And for me, as a veteran guy just coming from Detroit, I was like, 'What is going on around here?' Because every conversation I had with Randy was always good, was always love. So it's kind of like a situation where, like, man, I don't know what's going on between management and the coaches. And now, as you see, it's coming out again."
Brown spent five years in Chicago as a player and joined the front office in 2009 as director of player development. A year later, he was named special assistant to the general manager, Forman. In 2013 he was promoted to assistant general manager and last season he joined new coach Fred Hoiberg's coaching staff. You don't have to do a whole lot of mental gymnastics to figure out why he might be loyal to the front office.
It's really worth watching the "NBA Crossover" segment above. In it, CBS Sports NBA analyst Raja Bell brings up his time as the Cleveland Cavaliers' director of player administration. In Cleveland, it was his job to be a liaison between the team and the front office. He was supposed to be around the team, but he said he treated the locker room as a "sacred place," never taking anything said to him in confidence elsewhere. If that's your job, then trust is crucial, and being perceived as a spy is just about the worst possible outcome.
The interesting thing about Brown's situation now is that being a liaison isn't his job anymore. He's an assistant coach, so he has to be in the locker room and in film sessions. Even in harmonious organizations, there is generally a natural tension between the coaching staff and the front office, and having somebody essentially tiptoeing between the two could be dangerous. What makes the Chicago situation unique, though, is that Hoiberg himself is close to management. Forman was an assistant coach at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there, and when Hoiberg left the Bulls in free agency in 2003, he sold his house to Forman. (Not all of this is necessarily bad -- it's certainly preferable to the fractured relationship former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had with the front office.)
Hamilton and Bell both made it clear that there's a place for front-office representatives being around players. "These are the teams' investments," Hamilton said, arguing that management needs to know if something is wrong. Those representatives, though, are generally not supposed to be keeping track of private conversations in locker rooms. That's the problem the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and if this is indeed a concern within the Bulls, it's a bad look.