Posts tagged Chicago Bulls
When it comes to trading for Russell Westbrook, Bulls fans need to make up their minds: is it Oochie Wally or One Mic?
Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

This isn’t a post advocating for, or against, the Chicago Bulls trading for Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. You’ll certainly see plenty of articles predicting where the 30-year-old MVP will wind up between now and the time he is traded, whether that comes now or at some point during the season. Let’s be frank: those are fun Bleacher Report stories to sift through while you sit on the Red Line hoping that discolored stream trickling down your train cart is actually some high schoolers’ spilled Mango Mania Mystic and not some homeless guy’s piss. However, they’re dry as hell and one of 1,000 that will be typed up by nerdy white dudes with ‘-NBA” on the end of their Twitter handle. Nobody needs more of those.

No, this article is addressed to Bulls fans, some of the most passionate supporters in the world. We have been there for our Bulls through the euphoric highs (three-peat X2, the Derrick Rose-led Bench Mob-by Bulls of 2011) and the dark, depressing lows (the Baby Bulls, Rose’s recurring knee injuries, The Three Alphas). One could argue that more than any team in the NBA, Bulls fans ride for their squad in thin times, evident by the Bulls’ second-place finish in average attendance in 2018-19, another year at-or-near the top of the league for a team that’s led the league in attendance 13 times since their last championship in 1998.

These are very much lean times for the Bulls, entering their third year of a long-overdue rebuild, the first full year of head coach Jim Boylen’s tenure after replacing the out-of-his-league Fred Hoiberg mid-season and limping towards a 22-60 record. Who knows when the Bulls will be competitive in the East again, or how long a fan base already restless for the return of a winning franchise will continue to wait patiently until heads finally roll.

Still, there’s much for Bulls fans to be excited about next season. Lauri Markkanen enters his third year in the league, and despite missing 30 games last season with a sprained elbow and health issues, has flashed glimpses of a future All-Star. Zach Lavine exploded in 2019, finishing in the top 20 in scoring in the NBA. Wendell Carter Jr. started 44 games before a thumb injury ended his season, and the Otto Porter Jr. trade at the deadline brought over a capable three-and-D option on the wing.

Chicago, shockingly, even made good moves in the offseason to improve the club, adding point guard Coby White and big Daniel Gafford in the draft, while signing vets Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky in free agency. The Bulls aren’t back yet, but the hope around Chicago is they’re well on their way.

But while the Bulls were busy resetting the ballclub, something happened across the NBA. The league we once knew got flipped on its ass, and all of a sudden the powers that were are no longer. The Western Conference has balanced out after the Raptors ended the Warriors run this June, with Kevin Durant leaving for the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson set to miss a good chunk of next season with a torn ACL. Now, more teams are gearing up for a run at the Larry O’Brien in 2020. The Clippers - say it with me again - are challenging the Lakers’ big two of LeBron James and Anthony Davis with one of their own, signing Kawhi Leonard away from Toronto and swinging a massive deal with the Thunder for Paul George. Brooklyn will try to make it work without KD next season, while Boston hopes for better returns from Kemba Walker than what the newest Net Kyrie Irving gave them, and the Sixers load up by re-signing Tobias Harris and adding Al Horford. The Heat are trying to build around Jimmy Butler, while the Jazz hope Mike Conley fits perfectly next to Donovan Mitchell. Not to mention the Bucks and reigning MVP Giannis Antetekoumpo, rising squads in Denver and Indy, and established powers in Houston and Golden State.

LOL and the Knicks doing whatever the Knicks are doing.

That brings us back to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, who according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, are receptive to trade offers for the eight-time All-Star. It’s not often that a superstar of Westbrook’s caliber - a former MVP coming off his third-consecutive season averaging a triple-double - is available via trade. Speculation has already begun with clubs like the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons reportedly the frontrunners, but ESPN’s Brian Windhorst named Chicago as a destination that makes sense.

There’s pros and cons to the Westsiders pivoting in the middle of a rebuild to acquire an aging star like Westbrook, and we’ve heard each and every one of them to death on social media since the Paul George to LA trade was announced early Saturday morning. Cries of Westbrook’s alleged poor shooting ability, IQ, attitude, age, and most importantly, the massive contract he signed to stay in OKC that includes a player option of $47,063,478 in 2022-23, have run rampant online. All of those fears are understandable, especially given the time spent to acquire the young pieces the Bulls have over the last few years. However, something doesn’t seem right.

Just a week ago, Bulls fans and media members in the city looked down on the Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky acquisitions, either because they weren’t sexy, or because the Bulls made no effort to attract a superstar this summer or leading up to it. Now, the same ones are writing think pieces and making podcasts about why it would be idiotic for the Bulls to move for a superstar to try and compete in a thin Eastern Conference in 2020.

So what is it, Bulls fans? Is it Oochie Wally or is it One Mic? You decide, but be aware: the clock is ticking.

You can’t clown the Bulls front office for having a plan since the February trade for Porter and sticking with it this summer, then run it back and criticize fans who would be open to trading for one of the ten best players in the game right now. You can’t go on a tweet-storm about Chicago not being an attractive destination for free agents, then say the Bulls would be stupid to add a star that moves them not just a step closer to a title, but closer to attracting top talent in free agency, because it theoretically takes them out of the running for Giannis once he reaches the open market. Bulls fans have not been consistent at all with what they want out of the club, and it’s honestly more frustrating than watching the product on the court.

Do I want the Bulls to engage OKC in conversations for Russ? Hell yeah. He’s in his prime, playing the best basketball of his career, and he will be the same age Chris Paul is now when his contract is up. If he can bring the same level of production at 34 that CP3 has, there’s no reason to worry about his age. He immediately vaults the Bulls into playoff contention, but more importantly the pieces left behind after the trade - almost certainly Markkanen and one of Lavine/Carter Jr. - will elevate their game alongside Westbrook. Coby White would become a casualty of the deal, either going the other way to OKC or coming off the bench for Westbrook, but are we really worried that trading for a future Hall of Famer is going to greatly affect the future of Coby White?

If Gar Forman and John Paxson stick to their guns and avoid a move for Westbrook, I’m fine with that too. Sure the Bulls might be unbearable as hell next season, and maybe the season after that as well, but I won’t lose sleep. Chicago will wait their turn to strike on Giannis or A.D. or some other disgruntled superstar who could boost the club’s chances of winning. Russ definitely speeds up the timeline, but missing out on him doesn’t hurt it either.

But God help me, Bulls fans, pick a lane and stay firmly there. If you bitched and complained about the lack of a push for a star last week, be open to a deal for one the next week. If you demand more from the men in charge, don’t huff and puff and throw a hissy fit online when other fans do the same when they see one of the premier players in the league available. Sometimes it feels like Bulls fans have no idea what they want; they just want a return to the glory days of Bulls basketball, and I get it. 21 years is a mighty long time to be wishing and praying on a come up. But you can’t come up in the NBA if you don’t take chances. See: 2019 Toronto Raptors, 2008 Boston Celtics, and 2004 Detroit Pistons.

Or, yanow, keep whining like the apathetic losers you are. Won’t change how I feel about the Bulls one bit.

The Dynasty Bulls vs. The Avengers: Endgame

“The harmony between us is incomparable,” Michael Jordan said about he and Scottie Pippen during the 1998 NBA Finals. “You can't compare it to anything. It's just a rhythm you build with another player. To play without him is like a slap in the face for me.”

Call me when Tony Stark says anything like that about Steve Rogers.

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I bring this up because this week, the Avengers — the heroes — face their final challenge, while the Avengers — the characters — enter their final movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, will continue, but its roster will change, with the Marvel contracts of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johannson all in murky territory after this film.

Their last dance is Avengers: Endgame, in theaters this Friday, April 26, 2019. That comes nearly 21 years to the day after the beginning of what Phil Jackson called The Last Dance, April 24, 1998, the launch of the ‘98 playoffs for the Bulls and the first step of what most assumed to be the dynasty’s final days.

Which begs the question: who was the greater team, and greater dynasty? The extended MCU Avengers, or the second three-peat Bulls? Each group has bested all comers thus far — and I have to assume that the Avengers will, ahem, avenge their disheartening super-L to Thanos — so it’s only right that they square off against each other.

Three key notes on how this is working. First, I am taking the entire 2nd three-peat against the entire MCU, provided that the character has been in one of the first four group films: The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, or Infinity War. There is more fluidity to the Avengers than the Bulls, but mostly I’m doing it this way because it’s more fun.

Second, all descriptions of Avengers characters is based on the MCU. Lastly, these comparisons are based on the strength of each person based on the rules of their own worlds.

Let’s get to it!


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Scott Burrell vs. Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord

Star-Lord was not in a non-GOTG group film until Infinity War, yet from a marketing standpoint he was arguably the key character in the creation of that film because we’d seen nearly all of the other characters together at some point. The one other big player in Infinity War who had not been in one of the group movies is Doctor Strange, but if Infinity War was billed as “The Avengers Meet Doctor Strange,” it would not have been hyped as “the most ambitious crossover event in history.”

What brings Infinity War that epic crossover vibe is the fusing of the extended Avengers (so everyone in Avengers, Ultron, and Civil War along with their various colleagues in their solo movies) with Guardians of the Galaxy. And what makes that possible is the success of the two Guardians films, the first of which dropped into the MCU mix in August of 2014 with different characters and a totally different feel.

Yet the first film crushed, raking in more than $773 million. It created what felt like an entirely different world than their Avengers counterparts, and one that could not just keep up at the box office but set its own path; Guardians of the Galaxy was, upon its release, the highest-grossing MCU film that did not include Robert Downey Jr.

In other words, Guardians, led by Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, came right in and felt at home with its powerful brethren. Scott Burrell had the same appeal. Acquired in a trade in September of 1997, just before the start of the season, Burrell fit in immediately with the two-time defending champs. More significantly, he fit in with Michael Jordan, becoming one of the few first-year Bulls in the dynasty years who became part of MJ’s social circle.

(Though even Burrell was not immune to MJ’s standards and rage, as outlined in “Relentless,” the book by Jordan’s longtime trainer Tim Grover. Grover shares a scene in which Jordan strode furiously during practice to interrupt Burrell’s treatment for what Grover calls “an alleged hamstring issue” following the previous night’s playoff game. Jordan flipped over the trainer’s table with Burrell still laying on it and berated him: “Everything's killing me, and you have a fucking hamstring (problem)? Get your fucking ass in the fucking practice now!”)

That said, as both a character within his movie and a promotional piece within the MCU, Quill was asked to do more than Burrell. Certainly Burrell had no major f-ups, nothing on the level of Quill botching the Thanos assault. But Burrell also never needed to do the basketball equivalent of defeating Yondu or leading a film to a $733 million box office. That’s no knock on Scotty B. Just the way it is.

EDGE: Star-Lord


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Robert “Chief” Parish vs. Vision (formerly J.A.R.V.I.S.)

Stoic, wise, humorless, tall. These words describe Robert Parish AKA The Chief and J.A.R.V.I.S., later Vision. Chicago was Robert Parish’s final stop in the NBA; we signed him fresh off our fourth championship to milk what was left from his Hall of Fame career. Like the Vision, the Chief brought to the 1997 Bulls one part body — a 7-footer to replace the departing John Salley and James Edwards — and one part brain, since Parish would impart upon the Bulls’ youth the wisdom gained in 20 years of professional basketball, including a decade competing for championships.

Vision came to the Avengers in Age of Ultron as the physical incarnation of Tony Stark’s A.I. assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. While Parish’s body in 1997 was merely a conduit for his advanced basketball brain, Vision’s body added a dominant physical advantage to an already next-level cerebral force. Remember: Vision kills Ultron, while Parish didn’t even crack double digits in minutes-per-game.

EDGE: Vision


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Brian Williams vs. King T’Challa AKA Black Panther

Brian Williams was an NBA outsider. The Bulls’ power structure credited him with steadying the bench in ‘97 following a season-ending injury to Bill Wennington, and Williams later said that his time in Chicago was the most fun of his career.

Because of Williams’ price tag, the Bulls could not re-sign him for 1998, and he took a deal with the Pistons for a hefty $4 million per year, making him the team’s highest paid player. He played one year in Detroit, changed his name to Bison Dele, played one more year, and then retired just after his 30th birthday to live his life traveling the world, leading famously to his tragic, mysterious death in the South Pacific.

The T’Challa that Williams suggests is the one in Civil War, moreso than in Black Panther or Infinity War. Like Williams, the Civil War T’Challa feels like a man in his own movie. He has his own resources and his own mission, and teams with the Tony- and Natasha-led portion of the Avengers merely as a byproduct of their shared yet separate pursuit of Bucky. Black Panther fights the Winter Soldier at the airport, but later grants him asylum in Wakanda when he learns the truth about the bombing that killed his father, King T’Chaka.

T’Challa’s late-film truce with Cap (as opposed to his same-interest alignment with Tony) is the equivalent of Williams joining the Bulls for the final nine games plus the playoffs. He was ultimately more valuable than Williams, capturing Helmut Zemo and giving Bucky both medical attention and a safe place to lay low.

EDGE: Black Panther


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Jack Haley vs. James Rhodes AKA War Machine

The only connection between Haley and Rhodey is their role as “friend.” Haley was Dennis Rodman’s teammate, friend and confidante with the Spurs; four days after acquiring Rodman, the Bulls signed Haley as a hedge against Rodman’s potentially unstable personality. Haley played in one game in 1996, was left off the playoff roster and was not re-signed.

War Machine tends to be presented as “Friend of/Foil to Tony Stark,” but he is infinitely more formidable than Haley, carving out his own space — both emotional and tactical — in both Civil War and Infinity War.

EDGE: War Machine


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John “Spider” Salley & James “Buddha” Edwards vs. Loki

When the Bulls traded for Dennis Rodman, my understanding of Rodman’s value to our championship pursuit subsumed my apprehension about joining forces with The Enemy. But when we added James Edwards later that month and then John Salley in March, it was too much to bear. Here we were ripping through the league in historic fashion, and a quarter of the roster was ex-Bad Boys.

Loki also started as an enemy. He was Thor’s antagonist in Thor and the main villain in The Avengers. But he reconciled with Thor in Dark World and even though he was back at odds with Thor in Ragnarok, their jousts were more comedic than sincere. Loki spends most of Ragnarok on Thor’s side, and he died in Infinity War as a Thor compadre. Which is all to say that Loki is a defacto Avengers ally, at least for now, or until we’re sure he’s forever dead.

Buddha and Spider played sparingly in the Finals and did not return. At least Loki threw down with Thanos.

EDGE: Loki


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Jason Caffey & Dickey Simpkins vs. Wanda & Pietro Maximoff AKA Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver

In the seven NBA drafts from 1989 to 1995, the Bulls used their first round pick on a power forward six times. The only one who panned out was Toni Kukoc, and he only played PF due to his size despite Krause envisioning him as the team’s future point guard. Entering the 1996 season, the two young PFs on the roster were Dickey Simpkins and Jason Caffey. Each was viewed as a potential long-term solution, yet neither was — hence the Rodman acquisition.

Contrast their contributions with that of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who were introduced in the MCU in Age of Ultron as Avengers antagonists. The mutant twins had cause to attack Tony Stark, as their families were killed by Stark Industries weapons. By the end of Ultron, the twins were aligned with the Avengers, and though Quicksilver was killed, Scarlet Witch became a key member of the team, receiving training from Cap and Romanoff at the end of Ultron.

Wanda aligned herself with Team Cap in Civil War, and then had a huge performance in Infinity War, establishing herself as a force capable of bringing the reckoning to Thanos’ feet. Neither Caffey nor Simpkins nor the pair together delivered on their promise at even a fraction of Romanoff’s simultaneous show of power and empathy, as she fought off Thanos while seemingly killing Vision by ripping the mind stone out of his head.

EDGE: The Maximoff Twins


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Jud Buechler vs. Sam Wilson AKA Falcon

Sam Wilson is a great teammate who can fly. Jud Buechler was a great teammate who could jump. An All-American volleyball player at the University of Arizona who played professional beach volleyball during the offseason after the 1996 championship, Buechler’s v-ball skills were referenced during Bulls broadcasts every time he leapt for a tip-in or offensive rebound.

And he was pretty good at both. In both the 1997 and 1998 playoffs, Buechler led all Bulls guards (including Scottie) in offensive rebounds per 100 possessions and per 36 minutes.

Wilson, on the other hand, is a military veteran with a portable flight suit. He can fight hand to hand or with weapons, and takes on everyone from Ant-Man to Spider-Man to the Winter Soldier to Brock Rumlow. All love to Bushy, whose jersey I nearly bought in high school, but this goes to Sam.

EDGE: Falcon


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Bill Wennington vs. Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier

I’m kind of cheating on this one, since the only real connection between Bucky Barnes and Bill Wennington is that Bucky is the Winter Soldier and Bill Wennington is Canadian. And this is even a double cheat, since “Winter Soldier” does not refer to a geographic location but fortitude in battle, as alluded to by Thomas Paine in his 1776 pamphlet series “The American Crisis.”

Bucky and Bill fight differently, their importance within their teams is different, their skill level is different.

But there is one real connection: trust.

Tony Stark has to learn to trust Bucky Barnes. When Tony meets him, he — Bucky — is just recently rehabbed from his run as the Winter Soldier, and is being framed for the murder of King T’Chaka. And of course, Tony later learns that the brainwashed Bucky Barnes killed Tony’s parents, which obviously obliterates that trust.

Likewise, Michael Jordan always felt like he had to learn to trust his centers. Bill Cartwright, Will Perdue, Luc Longley, and Bill Wennington all went through this process with varying levels of success. But when MJ scored 55 in his fifth game back from his professional baseball stint, the Knicks’ double team led to Mike passing the rock for a game-winning dunk by… Bill Wennington.

Wennington passed the first MJ test: he caught the pass. That was always a major sticking point for MJ with power forwards and centers. Another was players laying the ball in when they could have dunked. Therefore I have to believe that Wennington’s clean catch on the ball and immediate two-handed power slam gave MJ the confidence to trust him in future situations.

And because Bucky was never able to make the Avengers feel comfortable with him, I’m giving this one to the Beef Wennington.

EDGE: Bill Wennington


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Randy Brown vs. Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man

“Okay, tiny dude is big now. He’s big now.”

That’s Rhodey’s play-by-play describing Ant-Man becoming big during the airport hangar fight in Civil War, but man, it works great as commentary on Randy Brown’s famous dunk on Elden Campbell, don’t you think?

I didn’t love Ant-Man, and while I enjoyed Paul Rudd’s cameo in Civil War, he ultimately had little impact on the fight. Randy Brown had even less impact — his minutes and points declined in the playoffs over the course of three-peat, and he finished no greater than 10th on the Bulls in playoffs MPG. The team signed him in 1995 as a defensive specialist, but Steve Kerr turned into a nifty smaller guard defender (when the task wasn’t occupied by Scottie and Harp) and Brown found himself on the end of the bench with limited purpose.

That said, he not only remained on the team but went three for three in making the playoff roster, so it’s not as if he didn’t have any value. In fact, he had probably the same amount of value as Ant-Man in the Civil War fight: good enough to get an invite, a few moments here and there, but ultimately made little impact.

Ant-Man still has at least one movie to go, and from the trailers and the buzz, it looks like he’ll play a big role in whatever goes down.

But until we know what that is, these two are tied.

EDGE: even


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Jerry Krause vs. Phil Coulson

Introduced in Iron Man in 2008, Phil Coulson, a high-ranking agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., seems to be if not a villain, then certainly a thorn in Tony’s side. We quickly see though that he is a dispassionate ally, someone Tony and the other Avengers can rely on and believe. He is someone whom they know will work solely for their success.

The same could never be said for Jerry Krause. And listen, I am as big a Krause supporter as you’re likely to find. He gets too much blame for the dynasty’s breakup and not enough credit for its creation. He also openly antagonized Phil Jackson, made enemies of Phil, Michael and Scottie, and regularly pitted the team’s personnel against their hypothetical replacements, threats he ultimately delivered on.

I guess it breaks down like this. Coulson got along better with his team than Krause did with his. Krause pulled off more miracles and impressive transactions — there is no such thing as discovering an unheralded gem when the people you’re scouting are super soldiers and Norse deities. Coulson took people who didn’t get along and helped them successfully work together. Krause took people who did get along and drove them to the brink of self-destruction.

Coulson would have built the Bulls and then gotten out of the way so that they could stack chips. Krause would have built the Avengers, scouted replacement Avengers from different galaxies and asked Tony and Cap to help them assimilate, told the media that “Avengers alone don’t beat the Chitauri, S.H.I.E.L.D. beats the Chitauri,” and tried to trade Cap for Rocket Raccoon and two future #1s.

EDGE: Coulson


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Phil Jackson vs. Nick Fury

This isn’t a perfect comparison — as director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury’s role makes him part-Jerry Reinsdorf and part-Phil Jackson. And in terms of personality and approach, Phil jives less with Fury and more with Doctor Strange (who I am leaving out of this exercise, because there is no other good fit).

Yet Fury and Jackson would certainly be sympatico when it comes to their organizations trying to undercut them. They both carry an air of mystery. From a temporal standpoint, the addition of Captain Marvel to the MCU lets us see Fury’s life in the 1990s, when Phil was coaching the Bulls. And of course Fury’s first appearance in the MCU was in the post-credit sequence in 2008’s Iron Man, the year before Phil’s fourth championship with the Lakers.

Going back further, I don’t know the specifics of Fury’s comics history, and I haven’t seen Captain Marvel yet so I don’t know to what degree the MCU gets into Fury’s full backstory. But I can assume that he was mixing it up as some sort of agent in his younger years, just as Phil won two rings as a forward for the Knicks in the 1970s. The comparison feels apt.

EDGE: even


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Toni “The Waiter” Kukoc vs. Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man

Jerry Krause’s vision for Toni Kukoc went unfulfilled: the point guard of the future, team leader and MJ heir.

As much as Kukoc contributed to the second three-peat, his potential always overshadowed his performance. He was supposed to be the young star who inherited a dynasty and drove it to its next iteration. Think Havlicek and Kobe, and to lesser degrees, Rondo and Kawhi. Kukoc never got there. He came through in some huge moments, especially Game 7 against the Pacers, but 1998 should have been the year that he became an All-Star, and he remained a 13-point scorer, just as he was in ‘96 and ‘97.

1999 should have made Kukoc a star, albeit on a trash team. But even that year, with Ron Harper and Brent Barry as the #2 and #3 options, Kukoc could still only put up 18.8 points a night on 17 shots. A year later, he was gone.

Toni’s actual Bulls career was kind of like Peter Parker in the airport fight in Civil War — he brought some nice elements to the table, he was a fan favorite, he gave the Bulls a previously unheld dimension, but he ultimately wasn’t a make-or-break guy. Where the analogy ends is with Spider-Man: Homecoming and beyond, when Spidey, Black Panther and Captain Marvel will lead the MCU into its next iteration. After all, Chris Evans is retiring from the franchise, Chris Hemsworth’s future is up in the air, and the contracts of Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johannson and Jeremy Renner all expire after Endgame.

So yes, Kukoc helped the Bulls win championships more than Spider-Man has helped the Avengers win its battles, whether that means the airport fight or the Battle of Titan versus Thanos. (Though to be fair to Spidey, he had the Gauntlet. Stupid Star-Lord.) Still, Spider-Man is going to take the MCU into its next level. We never got to say the same for Toni.

EDGE: Spider-Man


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Steve Kerr vs. Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye

Saturday Night Live once did an entire skit based on the premise that Hawkeye, a guy whose “super power” is “really good with a bow and arrow,” did not belong on the Avengers. Steve Kerr was also a sharpshooting specialist who was clearly not the equal of his more heralded teammates.

But unlike Clint Barton, Kerr’s shooting really was a superpower. It elevated him to the level of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and anyone else on the team, not because he was as good as them at basketball, but because like them, he was the best at something.

In six NBA seasons prior to joining the Bulls, Kerr was a little-known career backup playing just 15 minutes per night for the Suns, Cavaliers and Magic. He shot a respectable-for-him 45% from three, but was a rather forgettable specialist.

When in 1993 he saw an opportunity to replace an aging John Paxson, he signed a one-year deal for the league minimum of $150,000. His highest annual salary in Chicago was $800,000.

Yet he became an indelible part of a dynasty, averaging 23 minutes a night and eight points on nearly 48% three-point shooting for five years, and hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA history, a foul-line jumper to win the 1997 championship.

Nothing Hawkeye has done — at least so far — comes close.

EDGE: Kerr


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Ron Harper vs. Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow

Natasha Romanoff is a secret agent. Ron Harper was the secret weapon.

Though he failed in his Bulls role as “Jordan Replacement, Take 2,” Harper’s power on the dynasty was as a defensive specialist and the third of Phil Jackson’s “three big guards” approach, originally designed to challenge the Magic. Harper’s size and ability also let Phil run his position-less lineup, something he wanted to do in 1994 with Jordan, Pippen and Kukoc, prior to MJ’s retirement.

Harper’s talents, in fact, are what gave the Bulls the confidence to let B.J. Armstrong walk in the ‘95 expansion draft, thus opening the starting point guard spot as well as a salary slot for a new power forward. (For more on the role Harper played on the second three-peat, see chapters 3 and 4 of my book.)

Black Widow has been just as important to the Avengers, and in a similar way. Both she and Harp are physically limited compared to their superhero/Hall of Fame teammates. Both are respected leaders of a juggernaut, and internal peacemakers when tempers flare. Both are dependable. Both are effective. Harp’s biggest performances were Games 1 and 2 of the ‘96 Finals, when he scored 15 and then 12 points in Bulls wins, along with making the final play of the dynasty when he altered John Stockton’s would-be game-winning three at the end of Game 6. Black Widow’s is probably fighting alongside Okoye to that goblin Proxima Midnight in Infinity War.

I’ll give a slight edge to Black Widow, because she also recruited Bruce Banner to the Avengers, worked with Cap and Sam to bring down Hydra and worked with Cap to train the new Avengers at the end of Ultron. Fighter, leader, spy. Gotta respect the hustle.

SLIGHT EDGE: Black Widow


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Luc Longley vs. Thor

This showdown is over before it starts. Luc was a starter by position only, peaked in 1998 at only 11.4 points per game, and rarely remained on the floor for the biggest end-of-game possessions. Thor is the god of thunder. I won’t waste time pretending that this discussion will reach any conclusion other than Thor’s superiority over Lucien James Longley.

But there are two similarities worth noting between the two men. The first is coincidental: both Longley and Thor actor Chris Hemsworth are Australian. The second is substantial: their contribution to the group is rooted in physical strength. Thor is obviously stronger than Longley, even within the context of their respective worlds, and brings other benefits to the Avengers too, but Longley’s big body (7’2, 265) was his best trump card over his backup Bill Wennington (7’0, 245).

Longley’s size was critical in playoff series against Patrick Ewing (7’0, 240), Dikembe Mutombo (7’2, 245), Greg Ostertag (7’2, 280), Rik Smits (7’4, 250) and of course Shaq, who at 7’1 and 325 pounds posed generational challenges. Between Longley’s size and strength and Rodman’s technique and guile, the Bulls had weapons to address the Shaq problem.

And when an opponent lacked size in the middle, Luc had enough of a jumper and post-game to make trouble for them. In the 1996 regular season, he averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. In the 1996 East playoffs, he averaged only 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds.

But in the 1996 Finals against the SuperSonics and undersized centers Ervin Johnson (6’11, 245) and Sam Perkins (6’9, 235), Longley had his best playoff series of his career, putting up 11.7 points per game on 57% shooting. That’s a five-point improvement for Longley from the East playoffs to the Finals, at a time when Gary Payton helped hold MJ in the Finals to five points fewer than he scored in the East playoffs.

Longley was at worst the seventh best Bull of the second three-peat. Thor is at worst the fourth best Avenger, and was probably the MVP of Infinity War, despite erring in his final attack on Thanos. Thor is easily better than Longley. But Longley is easily better than his reputation.

EDGE: Thor


dennis-rodman-bruce-banner-incredible-hulk

Dennis “The Worm” Rodman vs. Bruce Banner AKA Hulk

Dennis Rodman and Bruce Banner share a deep concern: losing control of their inner monster. The upside for Bruce is that his inner monster is the Hulk. There is no upside for Dennis, whose inner monster made him headbutt a referee and kick a cameraman.

The downside for Bruce is that despite his “I’m always angry” credo, he struggles to control the Hulk — to summon him or dismiss him on command. And that’s a problem because obviously, the Avengers need Hulk, yet they need him under control, something Banner cannot guarantee.

The Bulls are in a better position in this respect. They neither needed nor wanted the wild Rodman, so as long as he could control himself — an admittedly challenging proposition — they were getting the best version of #91.

That’s another key difference between Banner and Rodman, which is Banner’s unique place among the Avengers: he is the only one whose “normal” state is more valuable to the mission than his alter-ego. The Hulk is hypothetically more valuable than Bruce, but an out-of-control Hulk is less valuable than Banner, who remains invaluable to the Avengers.

In fact, Banner’s best wins (intel on the Tesseract, his work creating Vision, delivering the initial warning about Thanos) out-rank Hulk’s best wins (the Battle of New York), while Banner’s worst losses (his work creating Ultron, his inability to control Hulk) out-rank Hulk’s worst losses (inability to be controlled).

As for a one-to-one matchup, Rodman’s performance in 1996 and 1998 is better than anything Hulk pulled off. Rodman’s defense was effective and frustrating against Shaq in ‘96, Zo in ‘97 and Malone in both ‘97 and ‘98. Kemp ate on him in the Finals, but Rodman did too, leading both teams in boards every game, averaging 14.7 boards for the series and finishing second to Moses Malone in post-merger Finals history with 41 offensive rebounds.

EDGE: Rodman


scottie-pippen-steve-rogers-captain-america

Scottie Pippen vs. Steve Rogers AKA Captain America

A poor, skinny kid who embraced a higher purpose; an earnest boy who pursued dreams of dominance through commitment to defense; a humble youth who accepted a role of servitude among the burly men whose ranks he worked to join.

Scottie Pippen or Steve Rogers. The outlines are the same. The results mostly are too. A pair of powerhouses, one blooming from 6’1 his freshman year of college to 6’7 upon graduation and the NBA Draft, the other booming from 5’4, 95 pounds pre-serum to 6’2, 240 afterward. Rogers makes a better #1, I think, although neither has a solo championship. Cap’s best showing is destroying S.H.I.E.L.D., even if Hydra remained a nefarious influence after. Scottie led the post-MJ Bulls to Game 7 of the East semis, and the 2000 Blazers to within one quarter of the NBA Finals.

Cap is ultimately a more powerful individual, so I’ll give him a slight edge. What truly binds them is how each man engenders himself to teammates. They’re natural leaders because they are giving. Consider the shared tones between Cap’s letter to Tony at the end of Civil War, and Scottie’s outreach to his former teammates during his Hall of Fame speech.

Rogers: “We all need family. The Avengers are yours, maybe moreso than mine. I’ve been on my own since I was 18. Never really fit in anywhere, even in the Army. My faith’s in people, I guess -- individuals. And I’m happy to say that for the most part, they haven’t let me down. Which is why I can’t let them down either.”

Pippen: “To my teammates, whom lots are here tonight. If you please would just stand so that I can recognize you. I want to thank you guys because I wouldn’t be standing here today -- Steve, Jud, Charles, Dennis, Randy Brown, Bill Wennington, Pete Myers. I thank all you guys. I really appreciate playing with all you guys. And I want you to know you will always be in my heart.”

SLIGHT EDGE: Rogers


michael-jordan-tony-stark-iron-man.PNG

Michael Jordan vs. Tony Stark AKA Iron Man

Genius. Billionaire. Philanthropist. Playboy. Those are the labels Tony Stark self-applies. They work pretty well for MJ too, wouldn’t you say?

Some of our comparisons will be seen as a stretch, but the matchup between Air Jordan and Iron Man makes perfect sense. On a professional level, both men are the star attractions of their groups. Both are geniuses in their fields. Both come off as arrogant and brash yet possess a strong heart that endears them to the masses. Both dominate opponents physically while retaining a mental edge.

Both held powerful loves for their fathers, and were spiritually broken upon their fathers’ tragic deaths. Both are leaders more by talent, will, and drive than personal inspiration. Both head industry-leading brands — Jordan Brand and Stark Industries.

It gets weirder. Let’s talk again about their fathers’ respective deaths. James Jordan (allegedly) and Howard Stark were both murdered in or around their parked car on the side of a dark country road. And both deaths are shrouded in mystery, with the “official” story (Howard’s car accident, James as victim of a botched robbery, let alone the date itself) butting heads with the conspiratorial account.

Also in both cases, the pain of the loss for MJ/Tony blended with rage over the telling of the conspiratorial version — Howard’s via video, with Tony watching as Cap retains his silence , James’ via innuendo and speculation about both father and son.

Both responded with rebellion. Tony fought Steve and Bucky nearly to the death. Mike stunned everyone with an early retirement.

Beyond that, though, Mike is vastly superior. Tony’s biggest wins are defeating the Chitauri and saving the president, which is like two championships. Even if defeating the Chitauri counts as three championships, powerful as it is, that’s still just four. And his biggest losses are far worse than stumbles against the Celtics, Pistons and Magic. Stark accidentally creates Ultron, leading to apparently 177 civilian deaths and $847 billion of damage to the town Sokovia; oversees the botched Thanos attack; gets himself stranded in space.

Admittedly, neither would be an ideal leader *alone.* The Avengers benefit from the personality balance of Steve to Tony and the tactical balance of Fury to Tony, just as the Bulls do between MJ & Pip and MJ & Phil. Yet while both have intense strengths, only Jordan has zero relevant flaws. I’m assuming the best for Tony; MJ wrote a perfect ending.

EDGE: Jordan


bulls-avengers

The Bulls vs. The Avengers

Which brings us back to the duos.

The Bulls would have been an all-time great team with a 4-2 record. They could have won three titles in eight years and still been regarded as one of the greats. But they didn’t win three and they didn’t lose two. They went to six Finals and won them all. The Avengers can’t say the same — the conclusion of Age of Ultron is basically a pair of Ls, one because they needed Vision to stop Ultron, and two because they left a brutal trail of collateral damage in their wake with the city, and people, of Sokovia.

Still, the extended Avengers do embody a Bullsian level of greatness. They fall just short, I believe, because of a clash of personalities, along with some truly un-MJ decisions by Tony Stark. On the contrary, the second three-peat truly feels like a “a group of remarkable people,” as it were, drawn together as an ideal. Michael, the greatest player. Scottie, the greatest jack-of-all-trades. Dennis, the greatest rebounder. Toni, the greatest sixth man. Steve, the greatest shooter. Phil, the greatest coach. Krause, the greatest GM.

Look at how they talked about the team.

Jordan to Rick Telander in 1998: “On this team, we love each other — no jealousies, no animosities, no nothing. Is there another team like that? … On our team, everybody gets along with everybody, everybody can go out with everybody. And we’re not afraid to criticize each other.”

Pippen, early in the ‘95-’96 season: “Everyone enjoys the spotlight — being the leader, being the go-to guy. But it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a good group of thoroughbreds you can go to as well, and then you can pick your places.”

Rodman, early in ‘95-’96: “I’ve been around great players before. And these two guys (Jordan and Pippen) are pretty much in a class by themselves.”

It’s quotes like these and so many more that sum up what Phil Jackson called his “totems.” That was the power of the second three-peat. The unity. It’s epitomized by the partnership of Jordan and Pippen — they are unquestionably and without hyperbole the greatest duo in NBA history. Tony and Steve are more Shaq and Kobe: a lesser #1 but a better #2, and yet the personality clashes make longstanding commitment impossible.

With Michael and Scottie, yes, the skillset combination was ideal. But the personality combination is what made the partnership transcendent. That’s how you master the mindset of Whatever It Takes. That’s how you get to six.

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Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, and author of How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls. He is the proprietor of the Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.

Ball Don't Lie - Lavar SZN has returned

Hoops N Brews' Pavy fills in for Joe for two DEEP hours of NBA basketball and trade deadline talks. Everything from the Sixers stacking up to the Lakers' failed pursuit of Anthony Davis to Kevin Durant's zesty press conference Wednesday. Oh, and I guess we'll talk about that shitty Super Bowl last Sunday.

Topics:
Patriots win Super Bowl
Bulls president John Paxson rattled during radio interview
NBA trade deadline news
Lavar Ball returns
KD lashes out at media
NBA All Star Game draft
Goofy Mog of the Week

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Joe FreshGoods and adidas helps the city of Chicago welcome Derrick Rose home for the holidays

Whether or not you're a fan of Derrick Rose, the man or the basketball player, what's undeniable is his magnetic connection to the city of Chicago - HIS city. 

In anticipation of D. Rose's return to Chicago as his Timberwolves play the Bulls the day after Christmas, Joe FreshGoods linked with the folks at adidas to create some digital art around the United Center.

Joe’s art is captivating, and the city is embracing the love.

Rose is nursing a sore ankle but should play Wednesday. He’s making a run for both the Sixth Man and Most Improved Player awards, averaging 18.5 points and 4.6 assists per game for Minnesota while shooting 48.5 percent from the field, and just shy of 47 percent from three-point range.

The Third Pick - "Not a great start"
Ball Don't Lie EP 24.5 - Uncovering MJ Retirement Conspiracy (ft. Jack M Silverstein)
The Third Pick - Season Preview
Undoing the dynasty: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and how the Bulls blew a shot to become the Lakers

I can’t think of a more sobering highlight of the intertwining history of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers than Gar Forman’s 20th anniversary of Bulls employment occurring while Lakers fans prep for LeBron James.

Yes, Gar Forman’s first day on the job with the Bulls was August 1, 1998, less than two months after the last day of the dynasty. He was hired as a scout by Tim Floyd, of all people, making Forman the longest standing link to the darkest days in the franchise.

I mention LeBron James in relation to Gar because the Lakers’ answer to their own dark days is always to acquire arguably the game’s best player. You want to talk dynasties? In 70 seasons, the Lakers have won the championship more times (16) than they’ve missed the playoffs (10). When they do miss the postseason, they typically come back with a vengeance by acquiring one of the league’s best players.

The first time they missed the playoffs was 1958. They went 19-53, got the first pick in the draft, and took Elgin Baylor. Their next missed playoffs was 1975. They went 30-52 and traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They missed the playoffs in 1976 and then didn’t miss again until 1994, three years after Magic Johnson retired due to HIV. Two years later they signed Shaq to the richest contract in sports history. They essentially re-launched the franchise after 2004 by choosing Kobe over Shaquille, lost Phil Jackson, missed the playoffs in 2005, convinced Phil Jackson to return, and rode Kobe and Phil to two more rings.

And now, after missing the playoffs for five straight seasons (as many as they’d missed previously, all together), they’ve signed LeBron James.

The key difference between the Bulls as a franchise and the Lakers as a franchise is that the Bulls were a dynasty, but the Lakers are a Dynasty — big D. They’ve done this in three related ways:

  1. An unending pursuit of superstars

  2. An unwavering pursuit of championships

  3. Using the former to gain the latter and the latter to gain the former

Look at this list of the Lake Show’s owner, GM and coach year by year, and then add to that an imaginary fourth column of its star players. What the Lakers have done consistently as well as if not better than any professional American sports franchise ever is use the goodwill and victory-driven capital of one era to build the next.

When GM Max Winter resigned in 1954, owner Ben Berger lured recently retired star George Mikan into the front office. Mikan ran the team for three years and had a horrific coaching stint in the 1958 season, going 9-30, but that down year brought Baylor. Two years later the franchise moved to Los Angeles, but not before landing the #2 pick in the draft and taking West Virginia star Jerry West.

When Baylor and West got tired of losing in the Finals — they were 0-5 together in their first eight seasons — they signed off on a trade to bring three-time reigning MVP Wilt Chamberlain on board. Three seasons later, Wilt and West led the Lakers to the franchise’s first championship in Los Angeles. West retired in 1974, and in 1976 — the year after trading for Kareem — the team moved coach Bill Sharman to GM and hired West as coach.

In 1979, West retired as coach, yet the franchise drafted Magic Johnson first overall. West replaced Sharman as GM in 1982, the year after team owner Jerry Buss signed Magic to a 25-year contract for $25 million. We’ll come back to Magic shortly, but keep in mind that as a high-ranking executive from 1982 to 2000, West oversaw the drafting of James Worthy, the signing of Shaquille O’Neal, the draft-day trade for Kobe Bryant and the hiring of Phil Jackson, meaning he had a hand in eight Lakers titles from 1985 to 2010.

Despite flirtations with other franchises, Kobe ended up remaining with the Lakers his entire career, from his draft trade in 1996 to his 60-point finale in 2016. Less than a year after Kobe’s retirement, the Lakers hired Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations.

For those scoring at home, since the 1948-49 season, the only seasons the Lakers have not employed in some capacity George Mikan, Jerry West, Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant are 1959 and 1960 (Elgin’s first two years) and 1975 and 1976 (Kareem’s first two years).

That's what I mean by Dynasty vs. dynasty. The subtext to all of the 20-year retrospectives that I and others have written about the Bulls since 2011 is the grim reality that six championships in eight years were a basketball dead end.

***

(Bettman / Corbis )

(Bettman / Corbis )

To see the starting point, let’s jump back to 1981 and Magic Johnson’s historic 25 years, $25 million contract. When team owner Jerry Buss announced the deal, he said that he was already grooming Magic, then 21 years old, for a post-playing position with the club.

“He may even be my coach, or general manager,” Buss said. “Or maybe he’ll run the team and I’ll just sit back and watch. Magic is a bright kid and I plan to make him my protege, teach him the business aspect of sports. I realize this is a very unusual contract because we’re talking about a kid whose college class just graduated. But what it comes down to is that Magic is part of the family.”

Buss said that about Magic after two seasons — the first was a championship, the second was a three-game first-round sweep to a team with a sub-.500 record.

Now look at what Jerry Reinsdorf said about Jordan to Jordan in July 1996 — one month after MJ brought the Bulls back to the promised land with their fourth championship in six years — as Reinsdorf signed Jordan to a one-year, $30 million deal, the richest one-year deal in sports history:

“I might live to regret this.”

That quote was Reinsdorf’s clarification to author Roland Lazenby, to which Jordan replied: “Actually, he said, ‘Somewhere down the road, I know I’m gonna regret this.’ It demeaned what was happening. It took away from the meaning of things. The gratitude seemed less because of that statement.”

Again, Jerry Buss, about a 21-year-old Magic Johnson with one championship: “Magic is part of the family.”

Jerry Reinsdorf to a 34-year-old Michael Jordan with four championships: “I might live to regret this.”

AP Photo/Mark Elias

AP Photo/Mark Elias

But the Bulls didn’t just miss out on becoming a Dynasty because of a feuding Jordan and Reinsdorf. For the final season of the greatest run in the modern era of professional American sports, Jackson, Jordan and Scottie Pippen were each locked in public, separate yet interconnected blood feuds with the Jerrys, all rooted in contract negotiations. Krause drew the visceral hatred — even Phil publicly called Krause “the only dark spot” on the 1997-98 season — but Reinsdorf’s leave-your-emotions-at-the-door approach actually cut deeper on a personal level, because Jordan and Jackson held an affinity and respect for Reinsdorf that did not extend to his general manager.

To put it plainly, those guys liked Reinsdorf, which made his approach to negotiations all the more injurious.

“He’s loyal, he’s honest, he’s truthful,” Jackson told Lazenby about Reinsdorf. “But there’s something about going in and trying to get the best every time. Winning the deal. When it comes to money, to win the deal. … He has actually said those things, according to people I’ve been close to, and those things really hurt, because most everybody likes Jerry Reinsdorf.”

***

The second three-peat Bulls splintered along several internal fault lines, so I think it’s tricky to blame any one person for the breakup. And considering that Phil Jackson originally planned to end his Bulls coaching tenure after seven years, which would have been 1996, Reinsdorf, Krause, Jackson, Jordan and Pippen could have all gotten along famously and Phil still could have decided to retire for at least a year after the sixth title.

But based strictly on the inherent power dynamic of a professional sports team, it’s difficult to look at the past 20 years of ring-less Chicago Bulls basketball as anything other than a result of the decisions made by ownership and management in 1998.

It’s easy to imagine a world where the goodwill and excellence of the 1990s Bulls led to a subsequent run of titles. Instead, in July of 1998, just one month after MJ dragged the Bulls to ring #6, Phil was retired and Jerry Krause’s two-year pursuit of his friend Tim Floyd of Iowa State was chugging toward fruition. That month, a reporter asked Jordan if hiring Floyd would be akin to pushing Jordan out of basketball.

“I think that’s exactly what it is,” Jordan said. “It’s very obvious that my feelings haven’t really been considered when they’ve made coaching decisions. Jerry (Reinsdorf has) always been a man of his own. He’s never really been influenced by too many people, and I wouldn’t expect him to be influenced by me. If that was the case, Phil wouldn’t ever have gone.”

And later:

“I don’t want to play for a college coach, and no, I don’t want to play for any other coach. I’ve always said that I want to play for Phil Jackson. That hasn’t changed. (Krause) made the stance on Phil Jackson, and that pretty much made the stance on me.”

Getty Images

Getty Images

The next week, the Bulls hired Floyd as something called “director of basketball operations,” with Reinsdorf stipulating that, “Should Phil not return by the end of the lockout, Tim will succeed him as head coach.” Jackson and his agent found this comical, since Krause at the start of the 1997-98 season had told Phil, “I don’t care if (the Bulls go) 82-0 this year, you’re fucking gone.”

As for Floyd, his take on MJ was as simple as it was naive, considering Jordan’s public comments one week earlier that he would not play for Floyd, any college coach, or any coach other than Jackson.

“I know this much: I was not about to take this job if I felt it would affect, in any way, Michael Jordan’s return to the game,” Floyd explained.

Sure enough, Jackson did not return, and on January 13, 1999, with the NBA lockout ongoing, Michael Jordan announced his retirement. The dominoes fell from there in the most stunning roster changeover in NBA history:

  • January 15: Bulls name Floyd head coach

  • January 21: Bulls renounce the rights to six players including Jordan and Rodman and trade Steve Kerr to the Spurs

  • January 22: Bulls trade Pippen to the Rockets

  • January 23: Bulls trade Longley to the Suns

Incredibly and tragically, these 10 days ended up defining the franchise rather than the 10 years that came before them. The Lakers have always reloaded by either trading for or signing arguably the best player in the league (Wilt, Cap, Shaq, Bron) while also drafting franchise-changing Hall of Famer (Elgin, West, Magic, Kobe).

Yet in 20 years since ruling the sports world, the biggest veteran acquisitions the Bulls have pulled off are Ron Mercer, Jalen Rose, Ben Wallace, Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol. There are many reasons for this failure, but perhaps the most damning is the ongoing, league-wide perception that the organization did the dynasty years dirty.

“I think the biggest question (about the Bulls) that you think about has to be loyalty," said Illinois-native Dwyane Wade in May of 2010, as he and his future teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh were in the process of choosing their next team, heavily weighing both the Heat and the Bulls. “I see Michael Jordan is not there, Scottie Pippen is not there. … You know, these guys are not a part (of the franchise). That is probably one of the biggest things for me, because I am a very loyal person."

***

The irony is that in many ways, Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the most loyal owners in sports. He paid Jordan the two richest single-season contracts in NBA history. He hooked up Pippen ($67.2 million over 5 years), Longley ($30 million over 5) and Kerr ($11 million over 5) with lucrative sign-and-trades in January of 1999 that vastly increased their salaries despite getting barely anything of value for them. In the post-dynasty world, he spent heavily on extensions or long-term deals on Derrick Rose ($94.8 million over 5), Luol Deng ($71m/6), Joakim Noah ($60m/5), and Kirk Hinrich ($47.5/5).

The Bulls under Reinsdorf have also been spectacularly loyal to many retired players, most notably John Paxson, who has worked with the organization in various capacities since his retirement in 1994, meaning he has been with the Bulls since 1985 when he arrived as a free agent from the Spurs. Among the other ex-Bulls who played during Reinsdorf’s ownership years and went on to work for the team: B.J. Armstrong, Randy Brown, Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, Stacey King, Toni Kukoc, Pete Myers, Scottie Pippen, Bill Wennington, and of course Fred Hoiberg, who played for Floyd both at Iowa State and with the Bulls.

Lastly, there is the loyalty Reinsdorf showed Krause, and the loyalty he has since shown both Gar and Pax, for whom 2018-19 will make a combined 55 consecutive seasons of Bulls employment.

Yet when it came to the three most critical pieces of the most dominant NBA run since Russell’s Celtics, loyalty took a backseat to business. After 1996, Reinsdorf and Krause feared that the Bulls would slowly decline the way the 1980s Celtics did in the early 1990s, and thought that being proactive about turning the page would keep the team relevant.

Instead, the franchise has been doomed by 20 years that have vacillated between supreme irrelevance and mostly mid-tier playoff performances. Oh, the dynasty has had its impact, both that has been largely financial, where the United Center keeps cranking out sellouts, the team keeps churning out merchandise, and new global sponsorships come aboard led by CEOs who want to bask in the glory years.

“The Bulls are an American legend, a pop-culture icon,” said Vice President Piotr Kicinski in November 2015 when his Cinkciarz, a Polish currency exchange company, began a partnership with the Bulls that is now locked in as a seven-year deal. “It means many positive things in Poland. My generation was brought up on the Chicago Bulls playing in the ‘90s.”

John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune

John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune

So yes, the dynasty still resonates. Yet incredibly, the Bulls have managed to remain deeply loyal to the dynasty years without actually benefiting from them. We haven't been able to sign a single top tier free agent on the strength of those six rings. The team’s best player since Michael and Scottie was Derrick Rose, who was only secured in the draft when the ping pong balls came our way despite only a 1.3% chance at the #1 pick. And like Jordan, Pippen and Jackson, Rose’s Bulls tenure ended in animus.

Gar Forman justified the Rose trade by saying it helped the team get “younger and more athletic,” the most infamous assertion by a Bulls executive since Krause’s “players and coaches alone don’t win championships — organizations do.” The link between these two comments is more than just thematic. Krause’s insistence that “organizations win championships” was driven by a hubris that turned that mantra into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That attitude led to him pushing Phil Jackson out the door. He replaced him with Tim Floyd. Floyd’s hiring pushed out Jordan. Floyd also hired his former Iowa State assistant coach Gar Forman on Aug. 1, 1998, and Gar has been winding his way up the team’s food chain ever since, getting his wings in 2009 as general manager, Krause’s former title.

Which brings us back to the Lakers. The day Floyd hired Forman, the Bulls had six championships. If you remove the Lakers’ Minneapolis titles, all of which came before the shot clock, on Aug. 1, 1998, the Lakers had six championships too.

Less than a year later, Jerry West hired Phil Jackson as the Lakers’s new head coach, setting the stage for the next five Lakers championships. In the Minneapolis days, the Lakers were led by George Mikan, DePaul University alumnus and former star of the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League. The Lakers beat the Bulls in the playoffs four times between 1968 and 1973. In 1979, the Lakers beat the Bulls in a coin toss for the right to draft Magic Johnson. And in both 2004 and 2007, Kobe Bryant took serious steps to joining the Bulls before being lured back to L.A.

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

But the history-altering event that stings most is the Lakers hiring Phil in 1999, an underrated seismic shift in the NBA landscape of the past two decades. Phil is a huge part of the reason that Kobe Bryant spent his entire career in the Purple and Gold, and Phil was only available because while the Lakers build generational success, the Bulls act like Orson Welles’s talented, tortured hero of “Citizen Kane.” One era of success built their mansion, and now they’re going to die in it.

The city of Chicago is a basketball pillar, with an NBA franchise whose glory should regenerate every 10 years. Instead, all we have are the memories. Every few years they give us a new coach and a new young talent. They sign the available free agents and pack the UC nightly.

And the marketing team rolls out a new slogan. And young fans buy young jerseys. And management tells us of “The great tradition of Chicago Bulls basketball.”

And they smile. And nod. And count the gate receipts.

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Jack M Silverstein is a sports historian covering the Bears for Windy City Gridiron. He is the author of How The GOAT was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls” and proprietor of Chicago sports IG account @AShotOnEhlo. Say hey at @readjack.

The Third Pick EP 12 - Blame Mariano
Ball Don't Lie Free Agency Special (ft. Al_Patron & @TreyBizzy)

Ball Don't Lie returns for an NBA free agency special! Joe Scott & Pierce welcome Al Patron & Alec on the pod to talk about LeBron's jump to LA, Boogie signing with the Warriors, the Bulls matching Zach Lavine's offer, the Kawhi Leonard saga and their thoughts on Drake's Scorpion!

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The Third Pick EP 11: Bane broke MPJ's back

Scott & Mariano recap the NBA Draft, the Bulls' selections of Wendell Carter Jr. at No. 7 and Chandler Hutchison at No. 22, and what it means for Chicago going forward. Plus, Deandre Ayton to the Suns, Michael Porter Jr. slips, and more!

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Ball Don't Lie: The Commute ft. @readjack
Evaluating the Chicago Bulls' season

Hello Bulls fans,

The Chicago Bulls have just one more game left in what will go down as an interesting season with a lot of ups and downs. I think there are a lot of positive things to walk away with and to grow from for the players. It has been drama filled from the very start to the finish, and speaking of finish, how about Lauri Markkanen, who became the first Chicago rookie since Elton Brand to hit 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a season. Lauri joins an exclusive list with Michael Jordan, Elton Brand, and Dave Greenwood as the only Chicago Bulls rookies to accomplish such a feat.

Lauri accomplished all of this while at the same time missing fifteen games this season. It’s very impressive stuff for the 7ft rookie out of Finland. I have no doubt that he will grow into an all-star caliber player for the Chicago Bulls for a long time to come. In order for this team to take the next step in the upcoming season someone has to establish themselves as the alpha dog on the team. I’m on the record saying Kris Dunn has the personality to demand the basketball and make this happen, but Lauri Markkanen is the most skilled player on the roster with the most upside.

There are some serviceable bench players on the roster in Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, and David Nwaba. Portis has really stepped his game up when given the opportunity this season. He has shown the ability to make plays in the post and to get the energy up for others around him. Valentine is an okay outside shot maker with a fluky looking floater he’s been hitting. He was drafted fairly high and hasn’t shown much potential to start but he’s been trying harder on the defensive side of the ball. I would have to personally say David Nwaba is my favorite out of the three players. He just plays with the kind of passion coaches and scouts love. He’s willing to get dirty in a way most of these soft players don’t these days. I also like how aggressive he is going to the basket. He is more likely than not going to dunk the basketball.

A very glaring issue with this roster is the frontcourt depth. The Bulls got Omer Asik in the Niko Mirotic trade, but that was obviously just a salary dump off for New Orleans. Markkanen is the solid starter at power forward but I would like more athleticism at the center position. Robin Lopez is serviceable but I don’t think he’s what the Bulls need to be starting along side Lauri at this time. I was hoping the tank would go a lot better and Chicago could pair Lauri Markkanen with Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. I’ve seen mock drafts with these players going in all kinds of different spots in the top seven picks so we will have to see how the lottery shapes up.

Justin Holiday isn’t remotely close to being the answer at the small forward position for the Chicago Bulls. He’s a player that jacks up contested shots without any regard for the offense. He’s a bench player who is getting starter minutes because of lack of depth on the roster. This roster issue can be addressed in the draft or in free agency. If not this summer then I’m sure next draft the Bulls will be looking to find a long-term solution at this position.

The Chicago Bulls are at a very good place this coming offseason. With possession of two first round picks, cap space, and young talented players on the roster they can draw in more talent. I believe that Chicago is an underrated free agency destination because there is a clear direction they are heading in. Within a year or two Chicago can be back in position to competing in the playoffs.

The Third Pick Podcast Ep.8: "Season 15 Tho!"

The guys @Scott_CEOofSUH & @Mariannoo are back & this week on #TheThirdPick they discuss the Bulls horrible job at tanking, why Lauri isn't resting the final games, Kyrie injury, Scott goes on a full blown rant about the MJ/LBJ debate plus much more

What should the Bulls do with the Pelicans' first round pick?

Hello Bulls fans,

As we are all well aware the Chicago Bulls have two first round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. I’ve discussed the possibilities of what can happen with the first of these two picks, but have not yet gone into detail about how the second pick, courtesy of the New Orleans Pelicans, can be utilized. It is very important that the Chicago Bulls hit on both of these picks in this draft to expedite the rebuild process with quality, high-upside players.

There’s no telling how things will shape out in the Western Conference but as of right now the Pelicans' pick sits at 18th overall, and can move anywhere from 14th up to the twenties. The Pelicans have lost four in a row, and are in competition with the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the West, but their remaining schedule is mostly against lottery teams.

In the event the Pelicans do miss the playoffs, the Bulls will have some pretty good players to look at. Alabama PG Collin Sexton is a very interesting prospect. He has excellent burst and is dynamic in transition, and doesn’t need a ball screen to get to the rim. He is very explosive in space and would fit well in Fred Hoiberg's uptempo offense. Both Sexton and incumbent PG Kris Dunn both get after it defensively and would be fun to watch them battle for the starting job in camp.

If the Bulls are fortunate enough to grab a Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley, or DeAndre Ayton with their first pick, then small forward suddenly becomes a position of need. Enter Kevin Knox, a combo forward from Kentucky into the mix. He’s 6’9 with a 11.5 wingspan and wide shoulders than can fill out in the NBA. He’s a multi-positional defender and can make shots with and space. Players that aren’t ball dominant will greatly benefit from this system and it will also take pressure off them to perform. There has no official word on if Knox will stay in college or skip his sophomore campaign to join the NBA. A decision will be made by this Friday.

The worst possible scenario is the Pelicans moving up in seeding, which would send that pick down to the late teens or early twenties. One of the players who could get a look late in the first is Villanova PG Jalen Brunson. I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say Kris Dunn needs a back up point guard to relieve him, but Jerian Grant doesn’t cut it. You need player who can keep things moving and has basketball IQ. Brunson can read the defense and make the right plays.

Ultimately the direction we elect to go with this pick depends on how these next couple of weeks go. I will have a better idea about what positional players make the most sense by where we are sitting. We can go from finding potential starters to adding in serviceable back ups or “camp bodies” to add competition.

The Bulls find themselves mired in a close tank race for the top picks in the draft
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Hello Bulls fans,

It’s become abundantly clear these last few weeks of the season what the set plan was for the franchise. Fred Hoiberg has been instructed to play the younger guys more than vets to see what they can offer the team in the future. Winning hasn’t been the idea because the better players including the big 3 of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine have been held out for “minor” injuries. I’m sure there is a percentage of this that is factual, but I believe the prize in mind is a higher lottery pick for the franchise to jumpstart the rebuild this offseason.

We have yet to see what Zach LaVine will be because he is still coming back into form from his 2017 ACL injury. It is typically the second year that the player fully recovers from the injury and get their confidence back. He is only 23 years old so there is a lot more that can be added to his game. Zach LaVine still looks like he isn’t being acclimated into the offense. There were a lot of moments when he looks like he’s forcing shots up and not getting open looks. I believe once he gets a full offseason in this offense, which is must different than what the Minnesota Timberwolves run he will be okay.

I mention Zach LaVine just to say that he is an important piece to this rebuild, and him playing not as well as expected isn’t that bad of a thing. He needed to knock that rust off in order to fully come back from the ACL injury. It was a bonus benefit that they are failing to win games

The Chicago Bulls have lost six straight games and are sitting at 8th overall in the pick selection, and can possibly move up to the 5th or 6th overall selection before it’s all said and done. If Chicago can do that and get some lottery luck, they will have a chance to pick Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr, Luka Doncic, or Mohamed Bamba.

The Nets draft pick belongs to the Cavaliers via the Celtics trade with Kyrie Irving, so Brooklyn doesn’t have any motive to try and purposely tank and lose out. Dallas' win over the Kings gives the Bulls a very strong chance at least finishing with a tie for the 4th seed if they can lose their remaining eight games, although it's highly unlikely they go on a 14-game losing streak to finish the season.

If they are as serious about tanking as the player personnel that is deployed every night shows, then I have no doubt they can get in the top 5. Also, keep in mind that the Bulls own the New Orleans Pelicans first round pick as well. This should be a very interesting close to the season.

The Third Pick Ep.7: "Shut Em Down"

This week on The Third Pick podcast, @Scott_CEOofSUH & @Mariannoo are back to discuss the epic tank job the Bulls are doing to end the season, how much is Zach LaVine gonna get paid this season, Steph/Kyries injuries, Kawhi getting pulled up on at work and more

Free agent moves the Bulls should consider this summer
K.C. Johnson/Chicago Tribune

K.C. Johnson/Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Bulls have made some good moves recently to bring in young talent and draft picks for this upcoming season. The plan seems to be coming clearer that we will be bringing in players that fit Fred Hoiberg’s system. The Chicago Bulls have not been a franchise to make a huge splash during the NBA free agency period. The most notable free agents we’ve signed this decade were Carlos Boozer and a declining Pau Gasol. The Bulls spent most of Derrick Rose’s healthy career trying to pair him with a backcourt mate and out of desperation brought in Rip Hamilton. I personally will never understand how as an organization, we believed bringing in Carlos Boozer was the move to help get us over the hill.

The chemistry between Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine has not been there since LaVine returned from his ACL injury. Kris Dunn has been the better player of the two and it’s not even close. I believe the cause of this subpar play from Zach LaVine is rusty from coming off injury and not being able to be acclimated into Fred Hoiberg’s system. I am hopeful that Zach LaVine is retained and able to learn from a healthy offseason in Fred Hoiberg’s system. He needs to learn how to co-exist with Kris Dunn. These two gelling is of the most important because it’ll determine where the team goes in the next couple of off-seasons.

The moves that happen this offseason can shape which direction this team is heading in the next couple of years. It’s very important that we hit in the draft but also add some talent in free agency. There are some guys that can be brought in to help in a position that isn’t addressed in the draft.

We know that center and small forward are positions of need. We need viable pieces that fit with our young talent added on. I like the idea of trying to throw money at DeMarcus Cousins to be our starting center. I think he would be a good piece because he’s not a ball dominant player. Kris Dunn can control the ball and have a hell of a frontcourt in Lauri Markkanen and Cousins. He’s shown he can co-exist with Anthony Davis in New Orleans. Having good young players gives you a better chance of reeling in free agent talent, and the Chicago Bulls have some nice pieces in place.

Jabari Parker would be a good player to add to the small forward room. He’s an athletic and long player who runs the floor pretty well. I think it’s enticing to him because he is from Chicago so bring him home. If we go Center in the 2018 NBA draft this move makes a lot of sense.

I am hoping that we are able to secure a top 5 draft pick and it’s looking like management it’s trying to trend towards this as well. Benching Dunn, LaVine, and Markkanen makes it clear the goal in mind. If we get one of the big men in this draft then the idea for Cousins becomes illogical. The rest of March is critical to see how this offseason will go.