TNT’s NBA crew came to the United Center Tuesday night, and temporarily at least, the Bulls’ playoff hopes took second stage to growing speculation surrounding alleged fisticuffs between head coach Vinny Del Negro and GM John Paxson.  The Sun-Times’ Jim O’Donnell watched the telecast and offers a scathing critique of TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager (above, left), “he of the AutoMart sports coats and wintry Bob Barker smile.”

In the third quarter, the furnace blasted. Sager — suddenly a journalist — summoned the worst of his career lightweight-ism and outed Chicago Tribune beat writer K.C. Johnson as an allegedly unwilling uncoverer of the Paxson-Del Negro story.

”The report was first heard from Tribune writer K.C. Johnson,” Sager blathered. ”He held the story back for several weeks out of respect for Vinny Del Negro. I asked him why he held it back, and he said, ‘When somebody’s future is in my hand and I can affect it. … I did not report it.”’

Sager’s ”reporting” implied Johnson was attempting to hop on the scoop express alongside the Web site that originally released the story. At no point did Sager take his microphone and cameraman to Johnson during a game break for more detailed elaboration.

That left Reggie Miller to pillory Johnson on national TV, concluding, ”K.C. Johnson is just upset he didn’t get the credit.”