Where did the storied Chicago Bulls franchise derail? The short answer is on several occasions since they last won the NBA championship in 1998, one of their six titles in that decade. The problems started immediately post-Michael Jordan. The former Bulls general manager, Jerry Krause, desperately wanted to show that he was a key architect of the Bulls' championship runs.
His hubris led him to believe that he could build another NBA champion from scratch following Jordan's retirement. Krause began dismantling the 1998 roster and hired a college coach (Tim Floyd) to develop a slew of teenage prospects. Of course, there is no exact science to identifying talent and Krause proved that point. While Elton Brand and Ron Artest had success, the wheels began to fall off the wagon in 2000 with a wasted fourth pick overall on Marcus Fizer.
This was followed by the 2001 top five picks spent on both Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. The Bulls passed on Pau Gasol, among others. In 2002, they used a second pick overall on Jay Williams, who was seriously injured and never played again. By 2003, Krause was gone. The team selected Kirk Hinrich seventh overall. But by the 2004/2005 season, they were a team on the rise. With Scott Skiles as coach, the Bull's improved to 47-35, the club's first winning season since 1998.
Featuring Chandler, Curry, Hinrich as well as the rookies Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni, the Bulls had the second best defence in the NBA, notwithstanding Curry's awful defending down low. The summer of 2006 was supposed to be the Bulls' big splash in free agency. When the Brazilian international and Denver Nuggets centre Nene did not sign an extension in Denver in November of 2005, it was a foregone conclusion that he would become a Bull.
I was close to the situation and can confirm that unofficial conversations were held that would have seen Nene in a Chicago uniform for a long time. However, Nene signed for much less money in Denver. I can confirm this because the Bulls were prepared to front-load Nene's contract so that the Nuggets would be unable to match it. Instead, Nene signed a back-loaded contract with the Nuggets. The Bulls were never the same. With all that salary cap space, the team switched gears and signed the aging Ben Wallace.
He was not successful and was eventually dumped on Cleveland. By saving cap-space for Nene, the Bulls had set themselves back another few years. Last season, it once again looked like the Bulls were on the march towards respectability. The thrilling seven-game play-off series against the Boston Celtics was one for the ages. The rookie point guard Derek Rose and the veteran guard Gordon looked like an All-Star backcourt tandem.
Gordon subsequently signed with the Detroit Pistons and the team has not been the same. There are probably several reasons for their poor start in 2009. With Gordon's instant offence now in Detroit, the Bulls are ranked 28th out of 30 in scoring. Their coach, Vinny Del Negro, has not inspired confidence and will probably lose his job barring an historic turnaround. He was an unusual pick as coach from the outset, as he had never coached before. As the Bulls begin their second decade of futility, there are no answers in sight. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org