With the exception of the pathetic Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls were the biggest disappointment in the NBA this season. Coming off a 49 win campaign and an opening round sweep of the defending champions (the aforementioned Heat), the Bulls were picked to be a contender for the Eastern Conference Championship this year. But along the way, something went horribly wrong. Management failed to acquire the low post scorer that the team desperately needed to elevate into elite status. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon each turned down lucrative contract extensions in the preseason ($ 10 million plus per year), then struggled with the added pressure of playing for a better contract all season. Ben Wallace proved to be one of the most damaging free agent acquisitions of the past decade. And, perhaps most inexplicably, Kirk Hinrich devolved into a below average point guard, as seen in his precipitous statistical decline (from 16.6 ppg, .448 FG%, .415 3pt%, 17.09 PER in 2006-07 to 12.2 ppg, .414 FG%, .335 3pt%, 13.18 PER in '07 -08). For Bulls fans like myself, the breaking point came at the trading deadline a month ago, when, after years of speculation about acquiring superstars like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, the Bulls ultimately traded for Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden. The team is in complete disarray, and they once again face a long offseason of rebuilding.
Unfortunately, this pattern is very reflective of their recent history. Since Michael Jordan retired, the Bulls have been one of the least successful franchises in the sport, accumulating a .366 winning percentage, which averages out to 30 wins per season. Following is a year-by-year breakdown of their endless rebuilding efforts in the post-dynasty era:
Record: 13-37 (strike shortened season)
Draft: Corey Benjamin (pick 28)
Key Contributors: Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Brent Barry
Commentary: Jerry Krause famously forced Phil Jackson out of Chicago, and hired the overmatched Tim Floyd as his replacement. However, even the Zen Master could not do anything with this group, which was saddled with the departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Luc Longley.
Draft: Elton Brand (pick 1, co-rookie of the year), Ron Artest (pick 16)
Key Contributors: see draft
Transactions: Traded Toni Kukoc in three-team deal, acquiring a 1st round pick from Washington, along with John Starks and Bruce Bowen
Commentary: Rebuilding effort number 1. Jerry Krause famously decreed that Elton Brand would be his power forward for the next ten years after selecting him with the number one overall pick in a stacked draft. They also stole Ron Artest in the middle of the first round, and managed to get value in the Kukoc deal. They seemed to be on their way toward respectability, especially with Brand looking like a potential superstar in his first year.
Draft: Marcus Fizer (pick 4), Jamal Crawford (pick 8), Dalibor Bagaric (pick 24), AJ Guyton (pick 32), Jake Voskuhl (pick 33), Khalid El-Amin (pick 34)
Key Contributors: Elton Brand, Ron Mercer, Ron Artest, Brad Miller
Transactions: Signed Ron Mercer and Brad Miller to free-agent deals.
Commentary: This was, without a doubt, one of the most devastating offseasons in NBA history. First, the Bulls had enough cap room to sign one of the major free agents that year, with their first choice being Tim Duncan (who did not give them the time of day), their second choice being Grant Hill (who again didn ' t really consider them, which was the only good thing to come out of this offseason), and their third, and most realistic target, being a young guard / forward named Tracy McGrady. The Bulls were so convinced that he would sign with them that they wrote the press release announcing his signing. Unfortunately, he wound up in Orlando, and the Bulls wasted their money on Ron Mercer. Then, their draft was a disgrace (see above), as they picked the wrong year to have 6 of the top 34 picks. They did make one savvy signing by picking up little known Brad Miller in free agency. Overall though, all the money and draft picks that they accumulated ultimately led to nothing, and convinced management that further rebuilding was necessary.
Draft: Tyson Chandler (pick 2), Eddy Curry (pick 4), Trenton Hassell (pick 30), Sean Lampley (pick 45)
Key Contributors: Jalen Rose, Marcus Fizer, Jamal Crawford
Transactions: Traded Elton Brand to LA Clippers for the rights to Tyson Chandler. Signed Eddie Robinson to a free agent deal. Replaced coach Tim Floyd with Bill Cartwright. Traded Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, and Kevin Ollie to Indiana for Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norm Richardson, and a 2nd round pick.
Commentary: Rebuilding effort number 2. The Bulls completely reversed course and decided to build around two 18 year olds in Chandler and Curry. There will never be an adequate explanation for why they dealt Brand for an unproven teenager. The Bulls spun it by saying that Brand would not re-sign with them when his contract was up, but Brand later denied this claim. Also, in midseason, they made another terrible move, trading talented young players Artest and Miller for Jalen Rose. This was around the time that Bulls fans realized that Jerry Krause is completely clueless. The only hope for this franchise was drafting a superstar with their annual high lottery pick, and this dream appeared to come true in the next draft.
Draft: Jay Williams (pick 2), Roger Mason Jr. (Pick 31), Lonny Baxter (pick 44)
Key Contributors: Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall, Marcus Fizer, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Jay Williams, Tyson Chandler
Transactions: Signed Donyell Marshall to a free agent deal. Jerry Krause announced his resignation and was replaced by John Paxson.
Commentary: The light at the end of the tunnel. Even though the results still were not there (the team had a mind-boggling 3-38 road record), the Bulls had a decent amount of talent on their roster for the first time in five years. There were two key reasons for the newfound optimism among Bulls fans. One was the resignation of Krause, who lost the faith of the fan base by dealing away Brand, Artest, and Miller. The other was the arrival of Jay Williams, who had been compared to Isiah Thomas while at Duke. Williams had a difficult first season in Chicago, but his talent was undeniable. He was one of the most coveted draft picks in recent memory, and gave the Bulls their leader of the future. With Curry, Chandler and Williams (and to a lesser extent, Crawford and Fizer), the Bulls appeared to have one of the brightest futures among all NBA teams.
Draft: Kirk Hinrich (pick 7), Mario Austin (pick 36), Tommy Smith (pick 53)
Key Contributors: Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Kirk Hinrich, Antonio Davis
Transactions: Signed Scottie Pippen to a free agent deal. Fired Bill Cartwright and named Scott Skiles Head Coach. Traded Lonny Baxter, Donyell Marshall, and Jalen Rose to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Antonio Davis, Chris Jefferies and Jerome Williams. Waived Jay Williams.
Commentary: Absolute disaster leads to the beginning of rebuilding effort number three. One week before the great draft of 2003, where they held the seventh pick, the Bulls learned that future centerpiece Jay Williams crashed his motorcycle into a street pole, severing a main nerve in his leg, fracturing his pelvis, and tearing three ligaments in his left knee. Needless to say, he has not played in the NBA since. This forced a drastic altering of their draft strategy, and also put an end to a rumored deal that had Williams going to the Denver Nuggets for the number three pick in the draft (which turned out to be Carmelo Anthony). Adding insult to injury, the Heat shocked everybody by selecting Dwyane Wade with the 5th pick, who most pundits thought would be available for Chicago at number 7. Instead, the Bulls selected their new point guard of the future in Kirk Hinrich, a steady, tough-minded player, whose skills simply can not measure up to Wade's. Outside of Eddy Curry (who put up an impressive 17.9 ppg and 7.5 rpg), all of the young players seemed to regress, as injuries and poor play derailed Tyson Chandler and Marcus Fizer. All of this contributed to the firing of Bill Cartwright as Head Coach. Overall, this ranks as one of the two most depressing seasons of the post-dynasty era (along with the debacle of '07 -08).
Draft: Ben Gordon (pick 3, NBA 6th man of the year), Luol Deng (pick 7), Chris Duhon (pick 38)
Key Contributors: Kirk Hinrich, Eddy Curry, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Tyson Chandler, Andres Nocioni
Transactions: Acquired the rights to Luol Deng from Phoenix for a future conditional 1st round pick, the 31st pick in the 2nd round, and cash. Signed and traded Jamal Crawford, along with Jerome Williams, to the Knicks, for Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Frank Williams and Cezary Trybankski. Signed Argentinian forward Andres Nocioni. Traded Dikembe Mutombo to the Houston for Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin and Mike Wilks.
Commentary: The most thrilling season of the post-dynasty era started with one of the greatest offseasons in franchise history. Paxson had a franchise-changing draft, picking up two potential stars in Gordon and Deng, along with a contributor in the 2nd round (Duhon). The rookie class got even better with the signing of Nocioni, who earned the nickname "Red Bull" for his energetic style of play. Then, instead of overpaying free-agent Jamal Crawford, Paxson orchestrated a sign-and-trade that greatly improved the team's salary cap situation. The team seemed like it was up to its old tricks early in the season by losing their first nine games, but by January, they were one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference. Injuries to Deng and Curry at the end of the year thinned out the roster during their first playoff appearance since '98, leading to a four games to two loss to Washington in a thrilling series. However, even the disappointing finish could not put a damper on a fantastic season, as the Bulls appeared to be set at every position for the foreseeable future.
Draft: no picks
Key Contributors: Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Tyson Chandler
Transactions: Signed and traded Eddy Curry, along with Antonio Davis, to the Knicks for Tim Thomas, Mike Sweetney, a 2006 1st round pick, the right to switch draft picks with New York in 2007, and 2nd round picks in 2007 and 2009.
Commentary: A sad end to the Baby Bulls era. After Curry refused to take a team-mandated DNA test for the heart ailment that sidelined him at the end of '05, Paxson dealt him to New York for a slew of draft picks. They re-signed Chandler for $ 10 million per season, and he proceeded to regress once again, averaging a paltry 5.3 ppg. Without their only low-post scorer, and with their best interior defender struggling to live up to his contract, the team stumbled, and lost six more games than the previous season. They again exited in the first round of the playoffs, and lost some of the momentum that they earned the year before. The team did, however, receive an unexpected gift from Larry Brown's Knicks, who went 23-59, earning the Bulls the 2nd pick in the upcoming draft, due to the stipulations of the Curry deal.
Draft: Tyrus Thomas (pick 4), Thabo Sefolosha (pick 13)
Key Contributors: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, Andres Nocioni, Chris Duhon
Transactions: Acquired the draft rights to No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa from Portland in exchange for the draft rights to No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) and a future second-round pick. Signed Ben Wallace to a free agent deal. Acquired PJ Brown and JR Smith from the New Orleans / Oklahoma City Hornets in exchange for Tyson Chandler. Traded JR Smith to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Howard Eisley and two 2007 second-round draft picks from the Nuggets.
Commentary: Even though this team finally got past the first round of the playoffs, and won the most games in the post-dynasty era, I will always look at this as a year of missed opportunities. First, they decided to spend all of their cap room on free agent Ben Wallace, and dealt Tyson Chandler for ten cents on the dollar as a result (we'll call the trade of Chandler, along with Curry's trade from the previous year, rebuilding effort number 4). It's entirely possible that Chandler would have never fulfilled his potential in Chicago. It was equally possible, however, that Wallace was past his prime, which proved to be the case, and made this a disastrous exchange for the Bulls. Then, during the draft, they selected LaMarcus Aldridge, but then sent him to Portland in exchange for Tyrus Thomas. Two years later, Aldridge is averaging 17.7ppg and 7.3rpg, while the inconsistent Thomas is averaging 6.0ppg and 4.4rpg by comparison. During the season, the Bulls were successful, but with the 2nd seed in the playoffs on the line on the last day of the season, Chicago lost to New Jersey and fell down to 5th in the conference. Cleveland, who earned the 2nd seed instead, went on to the NBA Finals, while the Bulls were eliminated by Detroit in the 2nd round. Once again, the Bulls were aided by the Knicks' troubles, and gained the 9th pick in the upcoming draft as a result of the Curry trade.
Draft: Joakim Noah (pick 9), Aaron Gray (pick 49), JamesOn Curry (pick 51)
Key Contributors: Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah
Transactions: Fired Scott Skiles and named Jim Boylan interim Head Coach. In a three-team deal, Chicago traded Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, and a 2009 2nd round pick to Cleveland, and Adrian Griffin to Seattle, and received Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, and Shannon Brown.
Commentary: At least they realized that they had to end the Ben Wallace era, and give Joakim Noah more playing time. Other than that, this was a shockingly awful season.
As seen above, every time this franchise has taken a step forward in the past ten years, they somehow follow it up with two steps back. Bulls fans like myself deserve no pity, as we've already experienced a lifetime of memories from the Jordan era. Unfortunately, we will not be adding to those memories anytime soon, as rebuilding effort number 5 looms in the offseason ahead.