Last year I was fascinated with the possibility of the Phoenix Suns ending up with the Atlanta Hawks lottery pick.
In this year's NBA lottery the Chicago Bulls defied the odds and drew the No. 1 draft pick. They had just a 1.7% chance of winning, which means that if they repeated the lottery drawing 58 times, the Bulls, on average, could expect to win just one time. Pretty amazing. This is great news for Bulls fans, including me. It brings back some conflicted memories. Winning six NBA championships was incredible, especially the first three titles, which happened when I was living in Chicago. But I still have strong feelings about Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause's decision to prematurely dismantle the Bulls team after the 1998 season, rather than pursuing one more title. Yes, I have the benefit of hindsight to judge that the Bulls have been a complete failure in their attempts to rebuild, but the numbers back me up.
Despite the fact that the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in 8 seasons, the Bulls were a dysfunctional group for most of those years, mostly divided between management and players. I went to a lot of Bulls games, and I also belonged to Multiplex, where the Bulls practiced until after the 1992-93 season. It was a great opportunity to observe the Bulls' innerworkings firsthand (an image I wish wasn't seared into my mind: Jerry Krause with his shirt off, getting electric stim). Right or wrong, I have taken a Michael Jordan-centric view of Bulls history, particularly his view of Krause.
I could deal with the all the pettiness and bickering on both sides. But I always felt that Krause and Reinsdorf never fully grasped just how difficult it is to win NBA championships. Prior to the dismantling of the Bulls, both looked forward to testing Krause's theory that, ''Players and coaches don't win championships; organizations win championships.''
Of course, Krause insists he was misquoted:
''What I said was, 'Players and coaches alone don't win championships, organizations win championships.' I was terribly misquoted. I am an organization man, but a wire-service reporter used the quote without the 'alone' and then everybody picked up on it. Including the team.''However, in 1997, with *only* four NBA championship rings, Reinsdorf and Krause began to plot the post-MJ rebuilding plan. In a May, 5, 1997 article then Sports Illustrated writer Jackie MacMullan plots out what became the Bulls' disastrous plan:
Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf says he's prepared to risk altering that chemistry. He and Bulls vice president of basketball operations Jerry Krause have already scouted replacements for coach Phil Jackson, compiled a list of free agents to pursue if Michael Jordan retires, decided which players they would want in return if they traded Scottie Pippen, and mulled over replacing power forward Dennis Rodman with backup Jason Caffey... "I have to think long-term, not just next year," he says. "I don't want to become the Boston Celtics of the next decade." Boston's dynasty crumbled in the wake of management's decision to allow Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to grow old in Celtics uniforms rather than trade them for younger players or draft picks...While acknowledging that there will be tremendous public pressure to keep the Bulls intact if they win, Reinsdorf says. "I don't care." In fact, several sources in the Bulls' organization say the prevailing feeling in Chicago is that Reinsdorf and Krause are itching to begin rebuilding and are confident they can win another championship without Jackson and, if it comes down to it, without Jordan.It hasn't turned out so well. In the 10 seasons post-MJ, the Bulls have finished above .500 only twice, and have made the playoffs three times (advancing to the second round only once).
Here's why you don't break up a franchise in the midst of a championship run:
In the last 28 seasons, only 8 out of 30 NBA teams have won one or more NBA championships.
On average, an NBA franchise should win one championship every 30 years. Of course, when an NBA team wins a championship, odds are they will repeat.
Look at the last 28 NBA Champions and the number of rings each have won (title year in parenthesis)
Los Angeles Lakers 8 (80, 82, 85, 86, 87 00-02)
Chicago Bulls 6 (91-94, 96-98)
San Antonio Spurs 4 (99, 03, 05, 07)
Boston Celtics 3 (81, 84, 86)
Detroit Pistons 3 (88, 89, 04)
Houston Rockets 2 (94, 95)
Miami Heat 1 (05)
Philadelphia 76ers 1 (83)
Conclusion: It is incredibly difficult to win an NBA championship, but once a team wins, odds are fairly decent they will repeat (Of the eight teams that have won titles, 75% have repeated).
Michael Jordan wanted to come back for the 1998-99 season and pursue a seventh NBA title. The deal: Michael wanted Bulls management to sign him, Pippin, Rodman, and Phil Jackson to one-year contracts. This was an expensive proposition. Michael was already making $30+ million per season. Plus Pippin was angling for a long-term deal. 1998-99 turned out to be a strike-shortened season, which would have undoubtedly favored Michael and the Bulls even more. In the final analysis, I still maintain that investing in the very real possibility of a seventh NBA title was a better use of limited financial resources than rebuilding.
And now I can jump back on the Bulls' bandwagon with a clear mind. I would even trust Jerry Krause to select between Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose.