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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Chicago Bulls Prepare Their Third Five-Year Plan

The Chicago Bulls have not come close to winning a championship since owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause gave the boot to Jordan, Pippen, Jackson and company in 1998 but they have cornered the market on the NBA version of the five-year plan. Krause, who infamously declared that "organizations win championships," quickly proved that disorganized organizations can't win much of anything.

If Chicago Cubs fans believe in the "Curse of the Billy Goat" then perhaps Bulls fans should consider the possibility that their team is plagued by the curse of "Dorf and Krause" (they might have been better off if Tim Conway's Dorf had been in charge). I've heard of teams telling a coach that he must win or he'll be fired but until "Dorf and Krause" I'd never heard of a team telling a coach that even if he wins he'll still be asked to leave--which is exactly what Krause told Coach Phil Jackson in no uncertain terms when he signed him to a one year deal prior to the 1997-98 season. Some revisionist historians try to rewrite what happened but why do you think that the coaching staff and players publicly called that season "The Last Dance"? Krause could not wait to prove how brilliant he was by chasing off everyone who was actually responsible for the team winning so that he could build a team from the ground up; it turned out that collapsing a team to the ground is pretty easy but building it back up is no simple matter. Krause's first five-year plan began by replacing Jackson with Tim Floyd, Krause's fishing buddy (you can't make this stuff up) who had absolutely no NBA coaching experience. The Bulls plunged from being a 62-20 team that had just won three straight titles to a 13-37 unwatchable eyesore that played some of the worst basketball of the lockout shortened 1999 season (and that is truly saying something). Krause thought that all the money he saved by not retaining Jackson, Jordan and Pippen could be spent on a young superstar free agent of his choosing who would be the cornerstone of a new dynasty--the only problem was that after players saw how shabbily Krause treated the key figures from the first dynasty no one wanted to play for him. Krause then tried to fix the team through the draft. He made a good move by choosing Elton Brand but he later canceled that out by trading Brand to the L.A. Clippers for the right to select Tyson Chandler. Krause thought that Chandler and Eddy Curry--another Krause draft choice--could team up to be a dominant twin tower duo. Throughout all of this, Krause gave no consideration to team chemistry and seemed to be the only person who did not understand that Floyd was completely out of his depth as an NBA coach. The Bulls went 17-65 in year two (1999-2000) of the first five-year plan and then went 15-67 in year three (2000-01). I suppose that, technically, one could construct a worse NBA team--but it would not be easy. Krause shipped off Brand for Curry prior to year four and Floyd resigned/got fired after starting out that season with a 4-21 record. Bill Cartwright took over as coach and the team finished 2001-02 with a 21-61 record and improved to 30-52 in 2002-03.

Krause abruptly resigned in 2003 and John Paxson replaced him, beginning the second five-year plan. Paxson soon fired ex-teammate Cartwright and hired Scott Skiles. Paxson's plan involved building a team consisting of players who had been winners in college, high character individuals who would work hard in practices and play hard during games. Paxson also hoped that he could develop enough depth on the roster that he could possibly trade several good players to obtain one legitimate superstar. Paxson eventually cleansed the roster of Krause's mistakes and remolded the team. The Bulls annually got off to slow starts, in part due to a scheduling quirk that always places the team on the road early in the season, but they made the playoffs in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The 2007 squad became the first Chicago Bulls team to win a playoff series since the 1998 "Last Dance" team, sweeping the defending champion Miami Heat before losing to the Detroit Pistons. Expectations were high for the 2007-08 campaign but everything started to go sideways due in no small part to Paxson's awkward handling of the contract situations of several of his players and Paxson's inability to trade several good players to net a superstar such as Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett. Paxson's "high character" guys then essentially pouted and quit, leading to the Christmas Eve firing of Skiles. Thus the second five-year plan concluded in failure, though it at least brought the Bulls a measure of temporary respectability, unlike the "Pink" Floyd years when the team was the laughingstock of the league.

No one knows what the third five-year plan will hold in store for the Bulls but nearly a decade after Krause gleefully embraced the prospect of running off Jackson, Jordan and Pippen so that he could build a new dynasty the Bulls seem unlikely to win a championship any time soon. "Organizations win championships," indeed.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:22 PM

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