This is partly a response to a blog by one Sam Quinn, which is probably not worth responding to, but also a response to many comments on the Tribune site and on Doug Thonus’ outstanding Bulls Confidential blog.
This is not the first time I’ve heard this notion posited, but it just isn’t true. Let’s first get a few things out of the way:
1. The Bulls organization has made some mistakes and mis-steps, especially in coaching hires.
2. The Bulls organization is not the best in the NBA. I do think they’re up there, but there are better.
3. The Bulls organization is not the Lakers. No one else is the Lakers just like no one else is the Yankees in MLB. Compare your team to the Lakers (or Yankees) and it will look bad.
Before anyone starts counting back the years from the last Bulls championship, let’s take a quick look at the NBA. In the last 30 years, only eight teams have won an NBA championship. This isn’t the NFL with a new boss each year or the NHL where no team in the salary cap era repeats. In the NBA, the great teams stay great and are difficult to de-throne. The fact that the Bulls have won at all says something, that they won six times says even more. Also, thanks to the salary cap, the “big market” stuff means nothing. The Knicks haven’t won since 1970, while smaller markets like San Antonio and Detroit have won multiple times. Save the “big market” stuff for MLB.
For all the stats and facts people will trot out, the main reasons some fans think the Bulls are a bad organization are the following:
1. They couldn’t hold together a championship team following its sixth title. Some have gone so far as to say “they broke them up because they didn’t want to pay” but I’ve searched the internet and found no evidence. The team won six titles but leave it to fans to complain that they should have won more.
2. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and former GM Jerry “Crumbs” Krause are not likeable guys. Middle-aged, overweight, suit-and-tie wearing Jewish businessmen never seem to earn fan adoration the way athletes do. Reinsdorf’s notorious frugality has earned him a reputation of being “cheap,” and there is not one word that fans will attach faster to their owners than that one. Why analyze problems and accept how difficult it is to win a championship when you can simply label your owner cheap?
3. Mainly though, it’s just so easy to point out mistakes. I suspect people think they’re “smart” by pointing them out. Some likely even fancy themselves independent thinkers for seeing mistakes in their home team, assuming everyone else sees nothing but rainbows and butterflies while they alone see the cold reality through their keen insight. Seeing mistakes doesn’t take insight. Everyone wants his team to win and most fans I know get angry at every little mis-step, perceived or real, often demanding someone be fired after each one. What’s difficult is putting the mistakes of your favorite team in context. Few fans magnify – or even notice – the mistakes of every team the way they do their own.
The favorite argument of Bulls or Jerry Reinsdorf haters is that they “lucked” into Michael Jordan so they deserve no credit for winning six titles. Are you nuts??? Were the Bulls lucky that Michael Jordan turned into Michael Jordan? Of course they were. MJ is the greatest of all time. However, he was still a 6’5” shooting guard and rarely, if ever, has any NBA champion been built around a similar player. Though he was not as great a player, it would have been far easier to build a team around Hakeem Olajuwon than MJ, and you might note that no one ever criticizes Houston for drafting the Dream over Jordan. Now, having MJ might guarantee you a title, maybe even two, but six? It takes more than one great player, even the greatest of players. To respond to Quinn, it might be hard to "screw it up" if you have Jordan, but that doesn't mean it's easy to win a title.
If you still want to believe in “luck,” then do you take away the San Antonio Spurs’ title for “lucking” into Tim Duncan? That was pure lottery right there. How about the Rockets’ two titles, didn’t they “luck” into Hakeem? The Celtics into Bird? The Lakers into Magic? Luck is universal or it isn’t, pick a lane. Personally, I absolutely think it’s a factor in sports that many fans don’t want to accept. We criticize our GM’s when their crystal balls fail, but talent evaluation is an inexact science and luck plays a big part in it.
Getting MJ was one piece but the Bulls made a series of bold moves, including hiring little-known Phil Jackson to be the head coach, trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright, identifying Scottie Pippen from Central Arkansas and working a draft day trade to get him, and drafting and developing a player many thought was too slight in Horace Grant. They stocked their bench with quality names like Hodges, Levingston, Perdue, Williams and Armstrong. And that was just the first time.
Some complain the Bulls let MJ go, but first, he left them and the entire NBA. Even without the GOAT, Bulls put together a team that I believe would have gone to the Finals and possibly won it were it not for the worst call in the history of the NBA. Part of how they did it was identifying and drafting Euro star Toni Kukoc. More luck?
When MJ returned, alongside he, Pippen and Kukoc, they re-stocked the team with names like Longley, Harper, Kerr, Myers, and Wennington. Seeing that something was still missing, Krause made a bold move to bring Dennis Rodman to Chicago. More luck?
The breakup of the Bulls left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The mega egos of Krause and Phil were no longer compatible. I think Jerry Reinsdorf is a very solid owner, but his inability to step in and keep the group together should keep him out of the Hall of Fame in my opinion. However, success leading to inflated egos that can’t co-exist happens all the time in sports, business and popular music. Not keeping the group together, hardly makes Reinsdorf a bad owner, nor the Bulls a bad organization. Krause was fat and ugly with a poor public persona, including his infamous quote of “organizations win championships” so when it came to him vs. the handsome, charismatic, athletic Phil Jackson, who do you think fans painted as the bad guy in this situation? Some went further, jumping on Reinsdorf's cheap reputation and saying it was about money, which is pretty much what fans say any time their team doesn't do what they want it to do. As written above, I have searched the internet and found no evidence that Reinsdorf wanted to break up the team. I have found some accounts that he didn't.
Krause vs. Jackson: Who would you believe?
Following the breakup of the championship team, the Bulls went through a lot of lean years, much like the Celtics did following the breakup of their own team. Krause saw this happening to the Celtics and tried to avoid it by proactively breaking up the team and acquiring draft picks and assets. It didn’t work out. A first overall pick netted Elton Brand, who, despite becoming a solid 20-10 man as a rookie, was a good but not great player. Krause correctly identified Brand's limitations and did what Krause was known to do – made another bold move, this time trading Brand for the pick that would become Tyson Chandler. Krause thought he could build a championship squad around twin towers Chandler and Eddy Curry. Although Chandler turned into an outstanding player, it happened after he left the Bulls. Meanwhile, Eddy Curry turned out to be a knucklehead, replacement coach Tim Floyd was a disaster, and Krause was finally let go. The thing with bold moves is that they don’t always work, or they’d be called “no brainer” moves. I can’t say I disagree with his thinking, though, that they had a better chance to win building around a couple of athletic 7-footers instead of Elton Brand. Just didn’t work out. This makes the Bulls a bad organization?
Since then, the Bulls have had changes in management and coaching. They drafted a number of nice players, but none quite became the superstar the team needed. They wanted to trade up for Dwyane Wade before Miami correctly turned them down, but it’s not like the Bulls front office didn’t see the talent, they just didn’t have the pick. When they did have the pick, their #2 overall choice in Jay Williams wrecked his career on a motorcycle. This makes the Bulls a bad organization?
In coaching hires, they missed big time by hiring Vinnie Del Negro, but hit big time by hiring Tom Thibodeau. They “lucked” into drafting Derrick Rose, but how’s that luck looking now? Even before his injuries, Rose was never more than a fringe-top 5 NBA player, and that’s despite his MVP award. He has never been as good as LeBron or Durant or Kobe, nor as unstoppable as Dirk Nowitzki or Dwight Howard. Some act like the Bulls have failed by not winning a championship with Rose but I don’t see how a 6’2” fringe top-5 player guarantees any team anything. It’s not like they’ve been bad, they made the Eastern Conference Finals in Rose’s last healthy year. This is a bad organization?
No, they're a very good organization, in fact one of the best NBA organizations. Hardly a player passes through without good things to say. So where do the Bulls rank? Only eight teams that have won NBA title in the past 30 years so you have to start with those eight. The only one to not win multiple is the Dallas Mavericks, so it’s rather easy to rule them out of the group. The Detroit Pistons are in shambles, another team ruled out. We’re now down to six NBA teams and I think it’s fair to say the Bulls are one of the six best organizations in the NBA. The Spurs have emerged as the league’s best organization in my opinion, while the Lakers are the Lakers, but after those two teams, the Bulls have arguably as good an organization as any in the NBA.