There are many takeaways from ESPN Films' ten-part documentary, 'The Last Dance.' On Tap's own Justin Wasik recently dove deep into his five takeaways from the sports world's most popular topic right now.
What sticks in my mind is what if the gang had played one more season together? There's a lot of speculation on who to blame among Jerry Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf, or possibly Phil Jackson.
Krause was famous for his "organizations win championships" comment and it was well-known around Chicago media that a rebuild is what Chicago Bulls' management wanted to do after the 1998 season. Reinsdorf believes he couldn't afford the roster and also uses a finger injury Michael Jordan sustained during the lockout with a cigar cutter as another reason the Bulls moved on. As for Jackson, if he had returned as coach, despite the fact Krause told him it was his last year prior to the 1998 season, maybe Jordan doesn't retire for the second time. However, maybe Jackson never had a choice. Nonetheless, these three people leave fans wondering if the Bulls could have won a fourth straight championship, or at the very least, not had fallen so far from the top once it ended.
'The Last Dance' ended with a graphic describing what happened after the Bulls won their sixth championship in eight years.
To see this image, especially after Jordan said it's "maddening" to him because no one ever got to see if the Bulls could win a fourth straight championship or get dethroned, is sad.
Unfortunately, the timeline of what happened after the 1998 season was more so infuriating than sad, but Krause got the rebuild he desired. Over the next six years following the '98 season, the Bulls won 119 games. They lost 341. How did that happen?
The 1999 NBA Lockout, NBA Draft, and MJ's random appearance at the Berto Center
July 1st, 1998, was the first day of the NBA Lockout, which lasted 204 days and canceled 464 NBA games, and it was basically a standoff between Bulls' management and the players. Three weeks after the first of July, Phil Jackson was replaced by former Iowa State coach Tim Floyd. At least that's what we all thought. It was rumored Krause had a long-standing interest in Floyd years before the hire. Even Jackson knew Floyd was a popular name in Krause's head. At the press conference introducing him to Chicago media, Floyd tried to put that narrative to rest.
"If you give me a chance, I'll give you time, respect, and context. But don't call me Jerry's boy. And don't call what Jerry Krause does fishing."
- Tim Floyd at his introductory press conference as the Bulls coach on July 24th, 1998
Funny enough, Floyd was named to a position the Bulls called the 'Director of Basketball Operations' as a way to persuade Michael Jordan to play another season. If Jackson did not return, Floyd would become the coach.
Jackson's agent Todd Musburger thought otherwise, claiming Reinsdorf knew Jackson would be retired for at least a year.
“He knows that he doesn’t want Phil back. He knows that he wanted Tim Floyd as the coach but for some unknown reason, he was unable to explain it truthfully."
"This is not a sincere effort [to re-sign Jackson]. This is truly a P.R. campaign. We went through many of them before. The difference is that in the past, we had some official connection to this group."
Jordan stated at the beginning of what went on to be his last season with the Bulls that he would only play for Jackson. After months of everyone doing absolutely nothing different to change the situation, Jordan retired on January 13th, 1999.
Two days after Jordan retired, Floyd was officially named the Bulls' coach. Floyd had never coached in the NBA. He came in with a career record of 240-130 as a collegiate coach, including 81-47 in four years as the coach at Iowa State.
The NBA lockout ended on January 20th. The next day, the Bulls traded Steve Kerr in a sign-and-trade deal to the San Antonio Spurs and released Jud Buecher, Joe Kleine, and Dennis Rodman. Kerr was traded for Chuck Person and a 2000 first-round pick, which became Dalibor Bagarić.
Bagarić went on to play 95 NBA games, all with the Bulls. He never averaged more than 13 minutes per game during his stint. Person never suited up for the Bulls. Kerr went on to play five more seasons, winning two more championships with the Spurs. To this day, he holds the record for the highest three-point percentage in NBA history (.454).
The day after the Bulls unloaded a star and a handful of role players, they traded Scottie Pippen to the Houston Rockets for Roy Rogers and a 2000 second-round pick, which became Jake Voskuhl. Charles Barkley re-signed with the Rockets, giving Houston a big three of Pippen, Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Rogers, who ended up playing in Italy in '99, was waived on February 1st. He played one more season in the NBA with Denver. That was it. Voskuhl played one season with the Bulls, appearing in just 16 games. In the end, the Bulls got 16 games from someone for Pippen, one of the best players in the NBA.
Finally, the Bulls traded Luc Longley to the Phoenix Suns on January 23rd, 1999, for Mark Bryant, Martin Müürsepp, Bubba Wells and a 1999 first-round pick that became Ron Artest, or better known these days as Metta World Peace.
Bryant played for the Bulls in the lockout season, averaging 9.0 points per game in 45 games. Müürsepp and Wells never played in the NBA again after the 1998-99 season.
World Peace went on to have a memorable career, playing 17 years in the NBA. Only three of those seasons were with the Bulls. He's most notably known for Malice At the Palace, a famous brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. Today is the 15th anniversary of one of the NBA's most embarrassing moments in its history.
World Peace averaged 12.5 points per game during his stint. He was traded in 2002, and we'll get to who he was traded for later in this story.
In summary, in just ten days after the lockout ended, the Bulls lost seven players including Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman in addition to coach Jackson. The return they got for Kerr, Pippen, and Longley was not nearly what they had hoped.
Prior to the last three-peat, there was a trade opportunity involving Scottie Pippen that potentially could have seen them draft Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Rashard Lewis, but the Bulls chose to keep Pippen.
In hindsight, it leaves Bulls fans wondering again what could have been after the 1998 season. Could they have sustained at least some success?
The NBA played 50 regular-season games in 1999. Chicago went into the lockout season with four players from the 1998 team -- Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington, and Randy Brown.
The Bulls won 13 games in the 1999 season. That's quite the dip for a team coming off three straight championships and six in the last eight seasons. However, all rebuilds start somewhere. The tank was heading down Madison St. at full speed in the spring of 1999.
The first starting lineup of the post-dynasty era consisted of Kukoc, Harper, Bryant, Andrew Lang, and Brent Barry.
The Bulls hosted Miami at the United Center on April 10th and failed to score 50 points in the game, losing 82-49. A fun statistic from the game includes Kukoc finishing the game with a -34 plus/minus.
Finally, the Bulls honored Phil Jackson with a banner that hangs in the rafters today on May 5th. The boo birds rained down from the crowd when Jackson mentioned Krause and Reinsdorf in his speech.
That's all I need to tell you about the 1999 Chicago Bulls. It was a disaster as far as play on the court. Yikes.
Heading Into The Millennium
The Bulls hit gold with the ping pong balls earning the number one overall pick heading into the NBA Draft that summer. They had the third-best chance at 15.7 percent odds. Krause selected Elton Brand with the Bulls' first pick of the post-Jordan era. Later in the draft, they took World Peace at number 16 overall. In the second round, they selected Michael Ruffin 32nd overall and Lari Ketner 49th overall.
Harper signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in the fall of 1999 and coach Jackson followed as he returned from retirement. The Bulls traded Kukoc in February of 2000 as part of a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors. The Warriors sent John Starks and a 2000 first-round pick to the Bulls. The Bulls went on to select Chris Mihm, who was traded to Cleveland for Jamal Crawford and cash. The 76ers sent Bruce Bowen to the Bulls for Kukoc and traded Larry Hughes and Billy Owens to the Warriors. Bowen never played for the Bulls but went on to have a successful career with the Spurs.
Brown and Corey Benjamin were the only players left from the 1998 team on the roster. Former teammates of Jordan returned to the Bulls that offseason. B.J. Armstrong played his last season in Chicago, appearing in 27 games. Will Perdue also returned to the Bulls. He played in 67 games and averaged 2.5 points per game.
Jordan visited the Berto Center ten months after retirement and beat Benjamin in a game of one-on-one.
Jordan spoke to reporters after the practice was over, showing support for the Bulls, which may insinuate he wanted to be part of the organization post-retirement, but it was clear there was still tension between him, Krause, and Reinsdorf.
With similar expectations as the season before, Chicago won more games in the 1999-2000 season than in 1998-99, but they also played 32 more games. The Bulls won 17 games in their first full 82-game schedule without Jordan and Pippen. Despite losing 65 games, the Bulls showed there was talent on the roster when Brand was named Co-Rookie of the Year with Steve Francis after averaging a double-double his first season. World Peace was also a promising piece.
Pippen returned to Chicago for the first time since the Bulls traded him in early January.
The 2000 draft lottery wasn't as lucky for Chicago. They were given the number four overall pick after having the second-best odds at the number one pick overall. The New Jersey Nets went on to select future NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin first overall while the Bulls chose Marcus Fizer. As part of the Kukoc trade, the Bulls swapped Mihm for Crawford. Like World Peace, Crawford has gone on to have a successful 20-year career, but not with the Bulls. He won the NBA's Sixth Man Of The Year award three times, tied with Lou Williams for most all-time to win it. Crawford's most memorable game for Chicago came when he scored 50 points on April 11th, 2004, in a 114-108 win over Toronto.
Bagarić was taken 24th overall in the middle of the draft and Voskuhl was the fourth pick of the second round.
To go with the brutal return the Bulls ended up getting in the trades for Kerr, Pippen, and Longley, Fizer did not blossom into a productive NBA player in the long term. He played just six seasons in the NBA, averaging 10.5 points per game in four seasons with the Bulls. The Bulls weren't the only team to flop in this draft, however, as many media outlets claim the 2000 NBA Draft to be one of the worst since the draft lottery was implemented in 1985.
Close your eyes. A draft amusing for its badness. A draft that has produced only three All-Star seasons: one apiece from Michael Redd, Kenyon Martin and Jamaal Magloire (no, that's not a typo). A draft so bad we almost put Marko Jaric in the top 10 just for marrying supermodel Adriana Lima.
With the individual success of Brand's rookie season, some thought the Bulls would improve. But with many of the players mentioned above who did not perform up to expectations, it was another long season in Chicago.
The Bulls won 15 games in the 2000-01 season. Some highlights included losing 20 of their first 23 games. They won five games between October 31st, 2000, and January 1st, 2001.
Rest in peace to the late great Norm Van Lier, but this video sums up the 2000-01 Bulls. This rap segment was done in April toward the end of the season.
Outside of the Bulls, Jordan returned to the NBA not as a player but as part-owner and president of basketball operations of the Washington Wizards on January 19th, 2000.
After Jordan traded away Juwan Howard nearly a month after joining the Wizards' front office, he beat everyone again, landing the first overall pick in the upcoming draft lottery at 15.7 percent odds. The Bulls had the highest odds to win the top pick.
However, in this case, it didn't hurt the Bulls in the long term because Jordan selected Kwame Brown with the first pick. Brown is known as one of the biggest draft-day busts in history.
The Bulls still managed to make the wrong move, however. Tyson Chandler was selected second by the Clippers but was traded to the Bulls with Brian Skinner for Brand. Two picks later, the Bulls selected Eddy Curry with the fourth overall pick.
Krause traded Brand -- who would go on to make the All-Star team the next season with the Clippers -- for a 19-year-old athletic 7-footer who never averaged more than 9.2 points per game with the Bulls. Skinner would be traded the next month for a 38-year-old Charles Oakley and a 2002 second-round draft pick. The pick went on to be Jason Jennings. He never played in the NBA.
Brand would go on to become a two-time All-Star and an All-NBA player in 2005-06. He averaged double-digit points for 11 consecutive seasons, including a double-double in four.
Like World Peace and Crawford, Chandler has put together a solid career after he left the Bulls. He was an All-Star with the Knicks in 2012-13. He won an NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11. He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011-12. He's made the All-Defensive First Team once, All-Defensive Second Team twice, and captured All-NBA honors once as well.
Curry can be added to the same list as Fizer. While Curry produced on the basketball court at a better rate than Fizer during his tenure with the Bulls, the Chicago native experienced a heart condition in his last season, leading management to trade him to the Knicks after his fourth season. Another Krause pick that busts.
As far as second-round picks, the Bulls chose Trenton Hassell with the first pick of the second round. Gilbert Arenas went right after Hassell. Arenas' career crashed and burned at the height of his peak, but you wonder if things might have been different had the Bulls taken him instead. Hassell would go on to play two seasons in Chicago, playing in all but four games. He averaged 6.4 points per game.
The Bulls would take Sean Lampley with the 45th overall pick later in the draft. He was traded to Miami later in the year.
That was the last draft headed by Krause.
As far as free agents, the high-flying Eddie Robinson cashed in and got the Cristiano Felcico contract we all love to hate today. He hit the jackpot with a five-year deal worth $32 million. Robinson played two years in Charlotte, averaging just over seven points per game. During his stint with the Bulls, Robinson played in 144 games. He could never stay on the court. He had multiple issues with the Bulls' front office and to this day is the reason no one on the Bulls wears headbands. His tenure went the exact opposite of what Krause envisioned. The Bulls eventually bought out the last two years of his contract. They paid him to go away, basically.
Just 25 games into the next season, the Bulls were 4-21. Krause let Floyd go. He finished his coaching career with the Bulls at 49-190.
As stated above, the Bulls traded World Peace. Chicago sent Ron Mercer, Kevin Ollie, Brad Miller, and World Peace to the Pacers for Travis Best, Norm Richardson, a 2002 second-round pick, and Jalen Rose. At the time, the Bulls' leading scorer was Mercer, who was on the injured list. World Peace was the Bulls' second-leading scorer with Miller right behind him.
Rose became the Bulls' first bonafide star since the Jordan era ended. Rose previously played behind Reggie Miller in Indiana for six seasons. He averaged 14.2 points per game and shot 48 percent from the field while having the ability to play three different positions during his stint with Indiana.
Rose would play three seasons with the Bulls. He averaged 21.4 points per game while manning the Bulls' backcourt and frontcourt. But the Bulls never made the playoffs with him on the roster.
Best, a free agent after the season he was traded, did not re-sign with Chicago. Richardson played in eight games for the Bulls and then never played in the NBA again. World Peace and Miller would make the All-Star team while in Indiana. The Pacers would qualify for the postseason the next five seasons after the trade.
The Bulls got a productive player, but it still wasn't enough.
You have to credit Krause for building the Bulls franchise to what it's still famous for today, but the handling of its superstar players and coach -- to me -- is an example that players might use today to remind themselves to look out for themselves before the organization.
Reinsdorf gets plenty of blame, too. To me, it seems he didn't do enough to keep the core together. Then at the end of the day, he didn't want to pay the players more than he already had.
After taking in 'The Last Dance,' the Derrick Rose years aren't the only years that will always make me wonder 'what if.' Bulls' fans deserved better than what they were handed after the spring of 1998. There had to be a way they could have maintained a competitive team.
He's an unpopular guy these days, but I appreciate John Paxson more now for leading the Bulls back to relevance once he took over for Krause.