Friday, March 19th, 2010 at 2:12 pm  |  24 responses

Opportunity Lost

How the Bulls squandered an entire decade on the court.

by Pardeep Toor

It’s understandable for an organization to struggle after theJames Johnson & Derrick Rose greatest player ever retires and takes with him an attitude and mentality that makes others quiver. A hangover was in order, long over due actually, after three years of intoxicating championship ball and celebratory debauchery.

A little rebuilding was expected but when the reconstruction process lasts over 12 years and essentially negates an entire decade on the court, it’s time to reflect on how the Bulls have gotten here, which happens to be exactly where they were in 2000.

Through landing in the lottery themselves and winning the Isiah Thomas draft picks sweepstakes, the Bulls have made eight appearances in the draft lottery, good for 12 different selections. Here’s a rundown of the Bulls’ lottery picks:

2000: Marcus Fizer, Jamal Crawford
2001: Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry
2002: Jay Williams
2003: Kirk Hinrich
2004: Ben Gordon, Luol Deng
2006: Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha
2007: Joakim Noah
2008: Derrick Rose

That’s a pretty impressive list of capable NBA players, comparable if not better than most other general managers during the same period. Rose was gift-wrapped to them in a chance event where the cosmos aligned to give the Bulls another chance at post-Jordan redemption that frankly, they didn’t deserve considering their poor handling of draft picks leading up to that point.

It’s not that the Bulls have drafted poorly, they have actually done really well but for unexplainable reasons, they have been unable to put it all together to form a consistently competitive team. They have made the Playoffs, won a Playoff round here and there, pushed a hobbling Boston team to the brink last year but have still not had nearly the success that validates the quantity and quality of their draft selections.

Jamal Crawford (many stops later) has become an essential cog on a contending team. Tyson Chandler has had success elsewhere and is a serviceable center on the Bobcats. The Bulls have nothing to show for Ben Gordon whose career trajectory mirrors that of Crawford. Tyrus Thomas is a potential spark who could help Charlotte win basketball games in the postseason, and Thabo Sefolosha is the starting shooting guard, small forward, power forward or whatever Oklahoma City wants him to be on one of the most unique and dangerous Playoff rosters in the League. None of these players had their best season with their draft team – the Bulls.

After all the trades (remember Ron Artest and Brad Miller for Jalen Rose?) the Bulls are left with a core of Rose, Hinrich, Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng’s $14 million expiring deal in ’13-14.

Not a bad core – an emerging star and two complementary frontcourt pieces on rookie contracts (Paxon is destined to over pay Noah, though) but the plan is the same as it was in 2000: Find someone to take their plethora of cap space that came at the cost this year’s Playoffs as the team is currently 2.5 back of the eighth seed, deflated after auctioning off rotation players at the trade deadline.

With minor Playoff success that was always balanced with a disappointing follow-up year, this is exactly where the team was earlier this decade albeit with less cap space but more established talent. Almost 10 years ago, Tracy McGrady shunned their money, strategically leveraging the Bulls against the Magic. Eddie Robinson wasn’t a bad backup plan, I guess. That same scenario can play itself out this offseason as free-agency is not a reliable way to build a team.

The last prominent free agent to sign with the Bulls was an aging and statistically declining Ben Wallace – hardly the championship piece, at that point in his career, the Bulls were looking for. For whatever reason, apart from extending their own and acquiring veterans via trades in the past few years, the Bulls have been unable to attract free agents to their alluring city. It’s possible the Bulls, as an organization, have shown little interest in free agents as they have been more concerned with extending their own top draft picks but even then they have miscalculated the value of their assets.

They overpaid Deng and his limited offensive range too early to have realized that he had peaked yet let Gordon (a perfect complement to Rose in the backcourt) walk in free agency without any compensation. Wallace and his $60 million contract was given freedom to gripe and feud with rookies but Thomas was too much of a head case to be kept around for the stretch run of a Playoff race this year. The Bulls have selectively paid and committed to players and it seems like make the wrong decision every time.

The Bulls should not be in this position, should be not be relying on the lottery of free agency to solidify their roster considering the quality and quantity of talent that has passed through the organization in the last decade. Even now, after getting lucky with the No. 1 overall pick that landed them Rose, the team is looking to add a major piece this offseason rather than build around the star asset they already have. History has shown there is no guarantee anybody will take the Bulls’ money and if they do, there is no guarantee it will work with Rose.

For the sake of the next generation of fans who have grown up without the luxury of Michael Jordan memories that keep them warm on those bitter Chicago winter nights, let’s hope they get it right through the draft or free agency quickly so another decade isn’t nullified in one of basketball’s greatest cities.

Follow Pardeep Toor on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/dominicderose dlouis

    I didn’t need this article today. It is just making my day worse.

    The one thing that the Bulls missed out on has been a superstar. If they would have drafted someone like a Wade, Bosh, LeBron, Melo or Roy they could easily be competing at least at the level of the Hawks. Granted, they probably wouldn’t have Rose, but the depth at PG in 08 wouldn’t have hurt.

    Skiles has to take some blame on Tyrus though. He essentially ruined his career in Chicago by messing with him as a rookie.

  • http://www.twitter.com/retepadam Peter Nygaard

    Not a bad piece, and I was pretty excited to read it, so you know you hit the nail on the head, content-wise. I feel like this is one of those ones where you had a great idea for an article but then struggled to find direction after you began writing it (happens to me all the time). Turned out pretty well, though, so I can’t complain.

    A couple notes:
    -”overpay” is one word (paragraph that starts with “Not a bad core”).
    -there’s an ‘s’ in ‘Paxson’ (same paragraph).

  • kobesbestfriend

    lets not 4get them refusing 2 pull the trigger on trading 4 kobe in 2007 instead opting to keep Deng…that had to be a no brainer…any smart gm woulda traded the whole squad plus the mj statue 2 get mamba…all the draft debacles pales in comparison 2 that dumb move

  • bennythebull

    They didn’t refuse kobe. Kobe had a no trade clause in his contract (and still does to my knowledge). The deal the bulls worked out with LA had luol deng involved. Kobe wanted deng still on the team if he was getting traded..or so that was the reported excuse and Kobe vetoed it.

    Could the bulls have worked harder to get kobe? maybe..but people act like the bulls refused kobe. not true.

  • damostino

    Grammar…smh…and you’re a teacher?

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    The Bulls could’ve turned things around right away with a Brand/Artest nucleus (via the ’99 Draft). But I guess Jalen and Tyson were better building blocks…

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    i didn’t even remember Jalen was on the Bulls, and i never understood the reason why they traded Brand, who had been doing work, for nothing.

  • http://shinefluid@aol.com CHRIS

    As long as D.ROSE stays healthy…da bulls will be alright for the present and future

  • R2J

    Brand was traded and the Bulls drafted Fat but Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler. We know how well that went. Chicago has the worse management team in Paxson and Gar. The Bulls will have about 8 or 9 positions open and whatever they do Hinrich shouldn’t start.

  • http://missjia.com meloMan2.0

    im suprised this want written by Russ

  • Shadojoker

    excellent piece..and yes..i am a big time Bulls fan…

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    I’ve always liked reading Pardeep’s pieces. This was no exception

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    Good piece Pardeep. I’ll disagree with you and say that the Bulls are long past the rebuilding mode though since they now have a pretty good foundation in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Some will add Luol Deng to that but I say if you have a chance to move him, get him out of there. I will say that the last 5 years have been much better than the first 5 therefore you can’t just “negate” the entire decade. No, we haven’t won another championship, but we’ve been in the playoffs consistently over the last few years so you can’t say we’re still rebuilding. Sure a lot of mistakes have been made, like overpaying Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng to the point that it’s going to be tough to move either of them. Jay Williams and Ben Wallce, I have no comment. And getting rid of guys like Elton Brand, Jamal Crawford, Ron Artest, Ben Gordon, and even Tyson Chandler too soon while holding on to Deng and Hinrich too long. Still, in spite of that, the Bulls have somehow managed to keep themselves from being the absolute worst team in the League even though a lot of Chicago fans (myself included sometimes) feel otherwise. As far as the free agency ten years ago, forget about that. I don’t blame Tim Duncan or Tracy McGrady for not coming here to play for Tim Floyd. But this is a different time and a different era and I have on very good authority that at least two of the big name FA’s actually WANT to come and play here. No it won’t be LeBron or DWade which everybody covets of course, but one of these two guys that are interested and possibly a third will be in a Bulls uni next season. Guaranteed.

  • jpen

    it has really been a frustrating past two weeks watching the bulls get pounded every night, lets get rose back ASAP!

  • jpen

    JJ is really something special guys watch him play!

  • slamfan4life

    Bulls have talent but it seems like when a few players are “on” others just SUCK; plus they’re always hurt

    Luol’s always been a nice consistent player, but hes always hurt and is way overpaid

    Hinrich totally sucks, i wish he could shoot (as all white people can do)

    noahs good

    Rose is phenominal

    Taj is solid

    JJ needs time to develop, but i can see him avg 16 ppg pretty damn easily

    Pretty solid team, just need another star and oh yeah….a FRIGGIN COACH

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  • http://www.anwilson.blogspot.com/ rainman10

    Ya, I remember the summer of 2000 when their plan was Duncan and/or T-Mac. I think the Jay Williams injury hurt them more than anything. I think it hurt them even more than trading Brand and Artest. They had to take Hinrich, but if they had a healthy Williams the best thing would have been to trade that pick. They could have gotten a decent player in return as well as a lower pick, perhaps David West, Josh Howard, Travis Outlaw or Boris Diaw.

  • Marco

    Next week clippers’ lost century

  • Jon

    I always love articles of how GMs screw-up. As a Knicks fan, its always reliving to know we’re not the only ones.

  • Jeff Henderson

    The Chandler & Curry Fiasco is what really set them back. Too bad at least it looks as though they didn’t screw up on Noah and Rose.

  • Efren

    Amazing article…It hits right on the head my feelings of frustration over the past ten years after previously experiencing basketball greatness. You truly dont know what you have until its gone.

  • Sporting-Lisbon-Blazers

    lol@marco hahahahahahah