I. Season Overview
In pro sports, there is an axiom that it is better to start a rebuilding effort a year too early than a year too late. The Chicago Bulls are living proof that this notion is flat out wrong. After winning six championships with a few guys named Michael, Scottie and Phil, the Jerrys decided to tear the club apart and start over from scratch. After all, they reasoned, "Players don't win championships. Organizations win championships." I've got news for you Jerrys, the only organizations winning championships are those with some stud ballplayers on their rosters. The rebuilding effort is now entering year #4, with little more to show than they had following year #3. The team finished 15-67, with the worst record in the NBA and the worst in the team's 35-year history.
Last offseason was supposed to be the point in time when the Bulls had worked their way far enough under the salary cap that their biggest concern was which of the many star free agents they should select. Bulls fans were imagining a starting lineup including two or three of such stars as Tim Duncan, Eddie Jones, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Tim Thomas, etc. Instead, after canceling a press conference, which was planned to announce the signing of Glen Rice when he revealed that he was just using the Bulls for negotiating leverage, Chicago ended up landing Ron Mercer and Brad Miller. The Bulls also boasted three first round draft picks, which were expected to assist in the rebuilding effort.
After finishing with the 2nd worst record in the league in 1999-2000, the ping pong balls did not bounce in their favor, leaving them with the 4th pick in the draft. They spent the 4th pick on Marcus Fizer, who plays the same position as their franchise player, Elton Brand. The idea behind picking Fizer was supposedly to trade him for Jermaine O'Neal, but when the Blazers dealt O'Neal to Indiana for Dale Davis instead, the Bulls were left with their top rookie alternatively riding the pine and attempting a transition to the wing. After the worst season in team history, the Bulls were poised to get back their rebuilding job back on track. The plan was to get the top pick, and decide between Duke superstar point guard Jason Williams and the Shanghai Sharks' 7'6" center Yao Ming. After finishing with the absolute worst record during the 2000-2001 season, the lottery gods once again punished the Bulls, who dropped to pick #4 again. Neither Ming nor Williams declared for the draft, and the Bulls once again are faced with the top selections available looking like a bunch of power forwards.
II. Draft History
- 2000: Marcus Fizer (Iowa State), 4th pick,
Chris Mihm (Texas), 7th pick (traded to Cleveland),
Dalibor Bagaric (Europe), 24th pick,
A.J. Guyton (Indiana), 32nd pick, Jake Voskuhl
(Connecticut), 33rd pick, Khalid El-Amin (Connecticut), 34th pick
- 1999: Elton Brand (Duke), 1st pick;
Ron Artest (St. John's), 16th pick;
Michael Ruffin (Tulsa), 32nd pick; and
Lari Ketner (UMass), 49th pick
- 1998: Corey Benjamin (Oregon State), 28th pick;
Shammond Williams (UNC), 34th pick;
Maceo Baston (Michigan), 58th pick
- 1997: Keith Booth (Maryland), 28th pick;
Roberto Duenas (Barcelona, Spain)
- 1996: Travis Knight (UConn)(and renounced), 29th pick
- 1995: Jason Caffey (Alabama), 20th pick;
Dragan Tarlac (Greece), 31st pick
- 1994: Dickey Simpkins (Providence), 21st pick,
Kris Bruton (Benedict), 49th pick
- 1993: Corie Blount (Cincinnati), 25th pick,
Anthony Reed (Tulane), 41st pick
III. Management and Coaching
It is said that there is little that separates genius from lunacy. In the case of Jerry Krause, the Bulls GM, the separation is quite clear. During the 1990's Krause managed to surround #23 with an adequate supporting cast and found Phil Jackson to steer the ship, and he and Jerry Reinsdorf were geniuses with 6 championship rings. After tearing apart the reigning champs and embarking on a rebuilding process, the Jerrys don't seem quite as sharp. With Michael Jordan, you are a genius. Without him, you are a lunatic. The worst part of the rebuilding process is the unforeseen complication that free agents aren't apt to flock to the Windy City to help the Jerrys create Dynasty 2, as planned. Krause is regarded as untrustworthy and not very likeable, which are bad traits for someone attempting to lure prospective free agents. In last year's draft, Krause picked a power forward to backup his best player with the #4 selection, passing on Mike Miller, the NBA Rookie of the Year, who was taken with the very next selection. With the #24 pick, he chose Dalibor Bagaric, passing on Iakovos Tsakalidis, who started 39 games for the Suns, showing promise in his debut season. Tim Floyd is the unfortunate soul who is destined to ultimately return to the college ranks with the worst coaching record in NBA history. He seems like a nice enough guy, and to his credit, he has been able to get the team to continue to play hard during long and miserable seasons. But, you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip, and you can't turn a team of raw rookies with marginal talent into anything but cellar dwellers. Many feel that the rebuilding effort needs to begin with the entire Bulls front office, because they all have conspired to intentionally lose.
A. Center: As the Bulls were being rebuffed in their attempts to sign the premiere free agents in last year's class, they found a willing taker for their money in
Brad Miller. Following his second year with Charlotte after joining them as an undrafted free agent, Miller was awarded a three-year/$13mm contract. He responded with a career high 8.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, starting 45 of the 57 games in which he appeared. As a starting center, he looks like a pretty decent backup power forward. Miller gave a workmanlike effort, but his limited skills are not the stuff of playoff-bound post men. The 2nd and 3rd years on his contract are at the Bulls option, which they are likely to pick up. The Bulls took a look at a trio of rookies at the center position this year, including
Dalibor Bagaric, whom they acquired with the 24th pick in the draft,
Dragan Tarlac, who was actually selected in the 1995 draft and joined the Bulls after 3 additional seasons in Europe, and
Jake Voskuhl, the 33rd selection in the 2000 draft. The 7-1 Bagaric did little of note, averaging less than a bucket and a board per game. He owns a guaranteed rookie contract, so he'll be back, but shows little sign of becoming a meaningful part of the rotation. Tarlac showed that while many good things are worth waiting for, sometimes you have to wait awhile just to get something pretty mediocre. He was given plenty of opportunity to impress, including 12 starts. He failed to do so, and will not be resigned. Voskuhl appeared to be a very poor man's Brad Miller, if you catch my drift. He'll not return. In case you have missed the point, center is a position of need for the Bulls.
B. Power Forward: Despite often playing with injuries to his elbow and knee,
Elton Brand started 74 games for the Bulls, often logging minutes at center as well as power forward, and enabled the Bulls to pencil in 20/10 for the second consecutive season. Despite the frustration of a 15-win season, Brand played hard all season, pouring in 31 in the season finale, a victory against the 76'ers. The #1 overall pick in the 1999 draft is the cornerstone of the Bulls franchise. Although no one is off limits in trade talks following a 15-win season, it would take a blockbuster deal to pry Elton from the Bulls. He is signed through 2003. The biggest question mark going into the 2000-01 season was whether or not
Marcus Fizer would be able to play small forward alongside Elton Brand. The answer appears to have been no. After attempting to deal Fizer on draft day, the Bulls were stuck with a player whose scouting report says "lesser version of Elton Brand." While Fizer showed some good ability, scoring in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games, he was a man without a position on this Bulls squad. Brand occasionally moved over to center to make a space for Fizer, but that maneuver left the Bulls woefully small on the front line. Fizer may yet be trade bait in the offseason.
Michel Ruffin, in his 2nd year out of Tulsa, showed good rebounding ability off the bench, snatching 5.8/game, translating into a team-best 14.3 per 48 minutes. He is signed through 2003.
C. Small Forward: Ron Artest, whom the Bulls selected with the 16th pick of the 1999 draft, followed up his 2nd team All-Rookie season with nearly identical stats and disappointingly little in the way of improvement. He is the team's best defender (2.0 steals per game), but his shooting (40.1% FG) and all-around offensive game is limited for a starting small forward. He would make a fine sixth man.
Marcus Fizer spent time at the small forward position, but had little success in defending quicker players on the wing. His future is at the power forward spot, most likely elsewhere.
D. Shooting Guard: Ron Mercer was the Bulls' fall back free agent signing, once their primary (and secondary) targets settled on other destinations. Mercer performed about as expected after signing a 4-year, $27mm contract. He averaged a career-high 19.7 points per game, including 7 30+ point efforts, and missed 21 games with various injuries. He does not shoot the 3-point shot well for a 2-guard, rather relying on a mid-range game. Mercer, in his 4th year in the league, put up good numbers while failing to help the team improve on its record. Perhaps that is why he is with his 4th team in his short career. Mercer's time on the injured list gave others a chance to show their stuff.
Fred Hoiberg took advantage of his opportunity, leading the team in 3-point shooting and free throw percentage. He chipped in 9.1 ppg, and added roughly 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He is a valuable reserve who should be resigned as a free agent. Rookie
A.J. Guyton logged minutes at the shooting guard position, but is undersized for the position and his future appears to be at the point.
Ron Artest showed the versatility to give the Bulls minutes at the shooting guard position in Mercer's absence, but he performed better in the frontcourt.
Corey Benjamin, whose best performances were in warm ups, will not be resigned as a free agent.
E. Point Guard: The Bulls started the season with four points on the roster and ended with two. After acquiring
Jamal Crawford (8th overall pick in 2000) in a draft day trade, the Bulls selected
A.J. Guyton and Khalid El-Amin in the 2nd round (passing on front court players including Chris Porter, Hanno Mottola, Eduardo Najera, and Olumide Oyedeji). They joined
Bryce Drew in the point guard merry go round. By season's end, El-Amin had been cut and Drew was on the injured list, and destined to become an ex-Bull upon becoming a free agent. Despite earning the most starts (41) and minutes (27.2 pg), Drew reached double figures in assists only once, and showed enough for the Bulls to know that he isn't their lead guard of the future. That distinction belongs to Jamal Crawford, although Guyton staked his own claim late in the season. At 6'6", Crawford handles and passes the ball extremely well and is quite athletic. Only 180 lbs, he needs to put on muscle in order to survive the rigors of an NBA season. Crawford played only half of one season at Michigan prior to declaring for the draft. His unpolished game shows his lack of experience and immaturity, but his flashes of talent suggest the possibility of a bright future. After earning few minutes early in the season, Crawford played well in March and April and hopes to pick up where he left off. He is signed through 2004. Guyton was a shooting guard at Indiana, but made the transition to the point as a rookie. He played hard in his 8 starts and showed good 3-point shooting ability and showed that he belongs. As a second-round draft pick, he is guaranteed a roster spot for the upcoming season, and will compete for minutes.
V. Team Needs and Possible Offseason Moves
A team with 32 wins over the course of the past two seasons combined obviously has quite a few needs. The Bulls most glaring deficiency is at the offensive end. Their 87.6 ppg average was easily the worst in the league, and full 14 ppg behind the league-leading Sacramento Kings. It's tough to stay in games when you can't put the ball in the hoop. The Bulls would be most improved by adding a few scoring threats to their attack. The small forward position would be an ideal place to plug one in. A center that could demand a double team in the post would be a marked improvement over Brad Miller, who would be best suited to a Scot Pollard-like role coming of the bench. At the point guard position, the team could use a veteran who could provide leadership and mentor Crawford and Guyton.
The Bulls are one of the few NBA teams with room under the salary cap (over $20 million) and the ability to pursue free agents. Although they will certainly make an attempt to pursue such big names as
Chris Webber, Michael Finley, Dikembe Mutombo and
Aaron McKie, odds are they will come up empty in those endeavors. The most likely additions via free agency would center
Nazr Mohammed, who showed surprisingly good ability after joining the Hawks as a throw-in in the Toni Kukoc trade from Philadelphia. After being buried on the 76ers bench, Mohammed averaged 12.3 ppg and 9 rpg with the Hawks. A Chicago native, Mohammed is spending the offseason with Michael Jordan's trainer, Tim Grover, and is interested in joining his friends Elton Brand and Ron Mercer on his hometown team.
Marc Jackson of the Warriors, who impressed in his rookie season after with 13.2 points and 7.5 rpg is another possible target. The available veteran point guards who would fit the role the Bulls are looking to fill include Chicago native
Tim Hardaway, who will be 35 by the beginning of next season and comes with an assortment of injuries, but still started 77 games for Miami, contributing 15 points and 6.4 apg. At the small forward position, the Hornets'
Eddie Robinson is an extremely athletic 6'9" 25 year old, who appears poised to blossom. He would be a great addition for the Bulls, if they could pry him from Charlotte. The Nets
Stephen Jackson is another promising young player who will command attention, and is worth a look from the Bulls.
The rumor mill churned last season with the notion that Wally Sczerbiak might become a Bull, in a swap for Marcus Fizer and Ron Artest and throw-ins on both sides. Such talk could be rekindled this offseason. Other rumors, such as the Bulls pursuit of Gary Payton and Allan Houston are likely to remain rumors. The Sczerbiak deal, however, could happen - it could help both teams and would provide the scoring small forward the Bulls desperately need.
VI. My selection
With the 4th pick in the 2001 Usenet Mock NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select:
Although drafting a high school player means waiting awhile for payoff, Curry is the high schooler who appears most ready to contribute right away (although the Usenet Hawks' GM might argue for Kwame Brown). Besides, the Bulls are hardly on the verge of contention, and should not pass on Curry if he is still on the board. Jerry Krause was seen so often seen at Curry's Thornwood High School games, his absence was noticed on the occasions when he didn't show. Curry is 6'10" 290 lb. and strong as an ox with great agility and explosiveness for a man his size. He has great hands and already has a solid low post game, as well as a soft shooting touch. The only real concern with Curry is his weight. During his senior year in high school, he got serious about his training and lost 30 pounds. Of late, he has been working out with Tim Grover, Michael Jordan's personal trainer, and appears to be in great shape. Whether he is merely working hard in preparation for the draft or has put the weight issue behind him for good remains to be seen. He has the talent, strength and game to develop into one of the best centers in the NBA. For the Bulls' sake, I'll hope he shows some discipline at the buffet to avoid becoming the next Oliver Miller or "Dinner Bell" Mel Turpin. Playing in his hometown alongside Elton Brand should help keep him focused. Although he is probably closer to 6'9 1/2" than the 6'11" at which he was listed, that height along with his strength should be more than adequate to play center in the NBA.
VII. Other Players Considered
There are so many other players I considered, it's almost scary. The Bulls have quite a few legitimate options with the #4 selection, should they elect to keep it.
DeSagana Diop: A 7-foot, 300 pounder who can run the floor and has natural shot blocking ability merits serious consideration. Diop has tremendous potential and could emerge as a defensive force in the league. However, he is a project at the offensive end, averaging only 14ppg vs. high school competition. He missed the postseason All-Star events due to a foot injury, which is also preventing him from working out for teams. Despite the loads of untapped potential and huge upside, the threat of foot problems for a big man is enough to invoke the name Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who signed a max contract with the Cavs, and has seen the floor infrequently since. Is Diop the next Hakeem Olajuwon or the next Yinka Dare? The Bulls can't afford to find out.
Shane Battier: Fundamentally sound, an excellent defender and a model teammate, Battier could be a solid addition to the Bulls. His offense improved considerably at Duke, where he was often spoon fed by their great point guards for his spot up 3-point shot. Whether or not he has the athletic ability to create his own shot vs. quicker NBA defenders remains to be seen. The 1999-2000 Player of the Year will make a fine player for someone, but is not a potential NBA All-Star, and lacks the upside potential to merit the #4 selection.
Jason Richardson: If there is a player in this years draft who could earn the "next Michael Jordan" tag, it's Richardson. He is an outstanding transition player with great jumping ability, a quick first step and slashing moves to the basket. His outside shot is inconsistent, although much improved. He garnered serious attention from scouts when he scored 20 vs. NBA All-Stars as a member of the U.S. Select Team prior to his sophomore season. Despite his tremendous athletic ability, he didn't dominate or take over games for Michigan State. Was this a result of Tom Izzo's structured system, or Richardson's lack of killer instinct? He'll make a fine NBA player... for someone else.
Rodney White: I didn't even consider White until about a week prior to our mock draft. After reading so many articles about White tearing up workouts and grabbing Michael Jordan's attention, I had to give him consideration. Despite only 1 season at UNCC, White has the body of an NBA player. He has a versatile inside-outside game, outside shooting ability and good athleticism. He could become a very good player, but #4 seemed a bit high to select him. His future position also appears to be the power forward slot, where the Bulls have a bit of a logjam, in case you hadn't noticed.
Pau Gasol: Gasol was the other player who got my attention from all the pre-draft hype. He is 7'1" 20-year old with tremendous outside shooting ability, a la Dirk Nowitzki. He has good handles and athletic ability. He is not as rugged as Nowitzki, however, and lacks upper body strength and a back to the basket game. He would be a better fit elsewhere. Although Krause has watched Gasol play and came away impressed, if he is selected #4, it will most likely mean that the Bulls have traded the pick.
VIII. Likely Selection
While this draft appears to be among the most difficult to predict in recent memory, I have the feeling that Curry will be gone when the Bulls select. If Griffin were still available, he would be a good fit at the small forward position, but I expect him to be gone as well. If Kwame Brown falls to #4, they would have a very hard time passing on him, despite the fact that he may project as a power forward as well. He looks like an Antonio McDyess/Kevin Garnett type, who has the quickness to play small forward and might even be able to bulk up and add play center in the Eastern Conference. My best guess is that those will be the top three picks. That said, Jason Richardson could be the best combination of upside and the fewest question marks. Krause made his mark selecting Jordan after Portland had passed on him. I suspect that he would not want to be the guy to pass on a similarly promising athlete while opting for a similarly questionable big man (Diop). If Richardson is the best option available, I would expect the Bulls to shop the pick (and Fizer) aggressively, in an attempt to fill their pressing needs at small forward and center.