I have been prepping for an entire summer of posts about how the Chicago Bulls organization has been in disarray and aloof over the past two years, ranging from misfiring on legitimate opportunities to obtain Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and/or Paul Gasol (all of whom are still leading their teams today in conference finals round) to having such a wacky power structure that Mike D’Antoni didn’t even wait for the team to make him a coaching job offer to go off to the Knicks. Let’s face it – I don’t care how convincing Donnie Walsh might be. After all that’s happened to Knicks management (not to mention their pitiful roster), how awful is Jerry Reinsdorf face-to-face that D’Antoni would rather hang out with Jim Dolan for the foreseeable future?
Two years ago, the Bulls were set up to get back into the NBA’s upper echelon for the first time since Michael Jordan made his last shot to clinch the franchise’s second three-peat ten years ago (I’ll remind you again that my brain’s internal hard drive has erased all memories of the NBA from 2001 to 2003). The team had a young and rapidly improving team, plenty of salary cap room and trade possibilities, and a large market locale that could attract a marquee player or two. John Paxson, who I do believe did a good job drafting players overall considering the positions where he was making picks, was able to parlay all of that into… Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden??? With the lack of a superstar in a league where you need at least one superstar at a minimum to be a legitimate contender to win the NBA Finals, it should not have been a surprise that the Bulls faded in miserable fashion this past season after three straight overachieving years. Last fall, there were a number of Jim Jones Kool-Aid drinking Chicagoans that were actually arguing that giving up a combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich in exchange for Kobe Bryant would have (a) been too much in terms of talent and (b) upset the chemistry of the team. (For once, I ended up on the right side of a sports debate – I’ve always known that you can’t pass up on Kobe.) By the time this year had concluded, I doubt that Paxson could have traded all of three of those players for even Gasol, much less someone of the caliber of Kobe Bryant.
Every once in awhile, though, the Sports Gods will throw you a bone. Look at the Celtics, who were a smoldering carcass of a franchise a year ago at this time after getting whacked in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes despite having all of the statistics on their side. As Celtics fans stared into the proverbial abyss (or it could have just been the Big Dig), that team subsequently pulled off trades in summer to nab Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that transformed themselves from one of the worst teams in the NBA to the top record in the league.
Likewise, just a few hours ago, I was resigned to the fact that the Bulls were going to get another solid-but-not-great draft pick in the NBA Draft Lottery to add to their collection of undersized shooting guards and power forwards, with the best case scenario being a sacrificial lamb in the first round of the playoffs. But then, amazing actually happened (just as the NBA has told me roughly over 800 times over past few weeks with somewhat-creepy half-head split-screen shots). With only a 1.7% chance, after years of getting top draft picks in the wrong drafts (or top draft picks with motorcycles), the Bulls freaking got the first pick in a draft where they could get that legitimate superstar – in the form of Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose – that I’ve been screaming about from the very beginning of this blog nearly three years ago. This has come after a decade where the Bulls went from being six-time champions and the most famous team in any sport in the entire world to a close-to-irrelevant franchise that just got passed over by a very good coach in order to go to the human cesspool known as the Knicks organization. It is way too soon to tell whether this day will go down in Chicago sports history as a stroke of luck on par with the Portland Trailblazers thinking that Sam Bowie was a better fit for their system than Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft, yet the Bulls have finally got the burst of energy, regardless of whether that player is Beasley or Rose, that can give this franchise a legitimate chance to get back to where it was ten years ago.
(Image from Bulls.com)