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How the Chicago Bulls self-destructed after Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson left | Collapse


– In 1998, the Bulls did it again. Michael Jordan’s team
accomplished something legendary when they won three straight championships from 1991 to 1993. Then Jordan retired, un-retired, and incredibly led the Bulls to another three year streak of glory. 72 wins and a Finals victory
over the Sonics in 1996, then two more rings from
back to back defeats of the mighty Utah Jazz. Punctuated by MJ’s iconic
series winning shot. Just like the first three-peat, Jordan had an ideal squad
around him in the late ’90s. He still had his second superstar, the do everything, stop everyone, eternally underappreciated
small forward Scottie Pippen. And he still had Phil Jackson, the coach who became an icon himself by speaking in riddles,
orchestrating egos, and administering the triangle offense designed by his mentor
and assistant Tex Winter. But so many of these role players were new for the second go around. Ron Harper, the perfect
tall defensive point guard to complement Jordan in the triangle. Dennis Rodman, moody, eccentric, and brilliant at protecting the basket. The pest haunting every opposing big man. Toni Kukoc, the former
EuroLeague superstar who found new life as a fearsome tertiary gunner on his first NBA team. Luc Longley, the diligent
reliable center from Australia. And Steve Kerr, one of the
most automatic shooters ever. And you can thank Jerry Krause
for that supporting cast. It took dogged scouting and clever moves by the Chicago GM to reconstruct a three-peat capable supporting cast for Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. But, while this Bulls
team was a masterpiece, it was volatile beyond belief. And within days of
achieving ultimate glory, the Bulls would begin to
explode, like really a lot. The Bulls won championship
number six on June 14th, 1998. About a week later, the first domino fell. That one was only a matter of time. Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause
were not on good terms. They were on the kind of terms where Krause invited every Bulls assistant to his stepdaughter’s wedding, and invited Iowa State
head coach Tim Floyd, but didn’t invite Phil. They were on the kind of terms
that led to Krause vowing that Phil’s one year extension
with the Bulls in 1997 would be his last season in Chicago, even if they went undefeated. And if you didn’t
believe rumors of a rift, then you had to believe
it when Phil himself did a running diary for ESPN Magazine, in the middle of the playoffs no less, and said for instance
that he didn’t buy Krause a Christmas gift because
he couldn’t bring himself to give his boss something of value. No? Still not doing it for you? How about quote, “It’s not
a secret that I will be gone “from the Bulls at the end
of the playoffs,” end quote. You didn’t have to read tea leaves when Phil was stuffing
them down your throat. Phil Jackson’s a different kind of dude. So, Phil resigned, and as
soon as he made it official Bulls fans turned back to some things they’d heard from and
about Michael Jordan. Jordan had told the media he wouldn’t play for any coach but Jackson. And MJ had no connection to
the Bulls’ planned replacement, that notable wedding guest, Tim Floyd. Jordan had told the fans in
his own ESPN Magazine feature that he didn’t want to
start a war with Krause, but that the Bulls
hadn’t shown him loyalty, and he thought Phil should be the GM. And this preseason quote from Krause had pissed Jordan off,
though Krause insisted for the rest of his life that
he was misquoted on that one. Either way, as soon as Phil bailed, everyone readied for
the other shoe to drop. But, the ’98 NBA lockout
forced them to wait, and wait, and then boom. Days before the work
stoppage was resolved, Jordan announced his retirement. And with Jordan gone, a whole
lot of shoes began to drop. On January 21st, the Bulls ditched Rodman in a flurry of cuts. He’d been a distraction
throughout the championship run and had recently been
threatening to retire, which he didn’t. The same day, Chicago sent
Kerr to the San Antonio Spurs in a sign and trade. Pippen meanwhile had
been part of trade rumors and trade demands for years. As recently as November of ’97, that is between
championships five and six, Pippen again told reporters
he wanted to be traded and that he wouldn’t
play for the Bulls again. Obviously he did keep
playing for the Bulls, played hurt even, and got
another ring out of it. But, the day after Kerr got dealt, now just over a week out
from Jordan’s retirement, the Bulls finally did the deed. Signing and trading Pippen to
the Rockets for Roy Rogers. The day after that, out went Longley. So, in a matter of days after MJ retired, the Bulls lost another four key
members of a champion squad. They were mostly older dudes
on expiring contracts, yes, but it’s not like they
were totally valueless. Pippen stayed productive
for a few more years. Kerr helped the Spurs win a title, and Longley remained a
starting caliber center. Now look at what the Bulls got back. Only one of these draft picks would amount to something for Chicago. Only one of these people
would actually play games for the Bulls, and they weren’t good ones. NBA teams played just 50 games in the post-lockout season,
and thank God for that because 82 games of this
roster might have given Chicago some sort of radiation poisoning. The few incumbents on Floyd’s Bulls all shifted up in the rotation. Role players like Kukoc and
Harper became the stars. Bench guys like Dickey
Simpkins and Randy Brown ended up starting a bunch of games. And the only new signing
that gave them any real help was Brent Barry, who’d come
over from the Miami Heat. Reach for comment about that transaction, Miami coach Pat Riley only had jokes. And the rest of the Bulls
roster, (blowing raspberry). I’ve been a diehard NBA fan my whole life, especially as a kid
growing up in the ’90s. I studied every team and wanted to know every single player, and I recognize like three of those guys. Shout out to Bill Wennington. So yeah, Chicago got smoked by the Jazz on opening night ’99, and went on to lose 37 of their 50 games. In one of those losses
they scored just 49 points, the lowest game total for any
team in the shot clock era. All that losing helped
Chicago win the lottery, and Krause had himself
a fantastic ’99 draft. With the first pick,
Duke star Elton Brand. With the mid-first rounder they’d acquired in return for Longley,
a St. John’s product by the name of Ron Artest,
or at least by that name for the time being. And over the next year, Krause would put the finishing touches on his dismantling of the ’98 champions. In September, ’99 the
Bulls released Harper who immediately became a starter for Phil Jackson and Tex Winter’s next triangle project in Los Angeles. During the season,
Chicago traded away Kukoc. So, just a year and a
half removed from this, Jerry Krause had purged
every single core member of the Bulls’ three-peat roster. All of them but Jordan were people Krause put there himself, yet
a remarkable number of them left him on bad terms. But now Krause could start from scratch doing what he cherished most, the skill that had fleshed
out the teams around Jordan. Scouting, rebuilding the Bulls with young and undiscovered talent. That wasn’t necessarily
the plan to begin with. The Bulls coveted Tracy
McGrady and Eddie Jones in 2000 free agency. T-Mac came to visit Chicago that summer and was greeted at the airport by the Bulls’ mascot and cheerleaders. But, both he and Jones
gravitated towards teams in their home state of Florida, so Chicago came up more or less empty. Thus, the Bulls were
left to continue building with their selections
in the famously terrible 2000 NBA draft. Krause was busy that night. He picked Floyd’s former
Iowa State recruit, Marcus Fizer even though Fizer played the same position as Elton brand. Then Krause moved the pick
he’d acquired for Kukoc to grab Michigan’s Jamal Crawford. Crawford would go on to have
a long entertaining career, mostly not for the Bulls. Fizer, not so much. He played a few okay-ish
seasons then tore his ACL, then faded out of the league and spent most of his career overseas. Anyway, the young and regenerating
Bulls continued to suck. They won 17 games in Brand’s first year and just 15 the season following. That gave Chicago the
best lottery odds in 2001, but they fell to the fourth pick. The Wizards, now run by none
other than Michael Jordan, held the top spot, which yeah. Krause went ahead and
overrode his bad luck, boldly trading his rising star Brand to the Clippers for the second
draft pick, Tyson Chandler. And at four, Chicago snagged
local prospect Eddy Curry. Both big men, both straight
out of high school. A new, super young front
court of the future assembled in one night. Chandler and Curry were
picked on either side of 2002 Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol, but still, the new baby
Bulls looked promising. And this truly was a baby team. Even Krause’s free agent
signings around this time tended to be youngsters. Guys like Brad Miller, Ron
Mercer, and Eddie Robinson. The Bulls stayed terrible,
and their youthful makeup got kind of muddled. The rookies didn’t really play enough and in February of ’02,
Krause sent Artest, Miller, and Mercer to the Pacers for a package headlined
by the older Jalen Rose. Rose became the uninspiring go-to player for a team that finished
with just 21 wins. Krause was getting
criticized by this point for detonating the post-Jordan Bulls and for failing to make progress since. He tuned it all out, since
the Bulls had critics even when they were winning championships. Anyway, Chicago went back to the lottery where they were dealt the
second pick in the ’02 draft, just missing out on Yao Ming. They still got Duke
point guard Jay Williams who had a solid rookie
year and helped the Bulls inch forward to 30 wins. The other youngsters also started to ramp up a bit under their new coach who was a former Bull. Not that former Bull. Jordan’s second retirement
wasn’t his last one it turned out and he’d moved from managing the Wizards to playing for them. No, the Bulls replaced
Floyd with Bill Cartwright, the same person who
Krause had once acquired as a player in exchange
for Charles Oakley. That was back in 1988, one
of Jordan’s earliest points of irritation with his GM. And then Cartwright and MJ
won three titles together, oh and a much older Oakley
was back on the team when Cartwright took over as coach in the middle of the ’02 season. The Bulls are so weird. Anyway, the slight upward trend coming out of the ’03 season ran into sudden tragedy. Injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash ended Jay Williams’ career
after just one season. Any by the time of Williams’
accident, Krause was gone. He resigned in April of ’03 to tend to his health,
ceding management duties to another former Bull, John Paxson. The team that Krause left
behind was just starting to come together. But the core that eventually led Chicago back into playoff contention
in the ensuing years was built entirely by Paxson. He swapped out Krause’s guys, made some strong picks of his own, swung one horrible draft day trade in ’06, then hit the lottery jackpot in ’08, and zoomed upward from there. Looking back at the intervening period, some of the young talent Krause collected for the Chicago rebuild never
got a chance to pan out. Fizer and Williams were
both deeply unfortunate. But Krause’s scouting eye did prove sharp. Artest would become a
Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star and champion on other teams. Elton Brand was a regular
All-Star, on another team. The guy he got traded
for would also become a champion, All-Star, and a
Defensive Player of the Year, on other teams. Even Brad Miller went on
to become an All-Star, you guessed it, on other teams. Listen, rebuilding a champion is tough. Especially when you’ve just
lost the game’s best player and best coach. Chicago probably could have benefited more from their destruction
if they were patient. Or if they hadn’t alienated so many people in the first place. Instead, the Bulls dissolved their aging and disgruntled championship
team with haste, shipped out future stars
well before they peaked, and slogged through deep doldrums before new management built
their next contending team. Michael Jordan’s final
shot closed the curtains on one of pro sport’s
most impressive dynasties. The valley following that
peak was nearly as impressive. The Bulls sunk as deep and as
fast as any champion ever has. There’s was a truly monumental collapse.

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