The Bulls That Could Have Been
In 1999, the city of Chicago was in mourning. The run of the Chicago Bulls had ended with the second out of three retirements from Michael Jordan. The existing team was completely blown up so that Jerry Krause could exercise some hubris and attempt to build a team from scratch. They were dark times. Chicago fans will still probably contend that the horror lasted until the coming of Derrick Rose. With the NBA draft lottery coming back up, it can actually be argued that (had it all been left alone) the Bulls were actually building a strong team. They just pulled the trigger too early with disastrous trades and lost confidence.
Right after the break up of the Championship Bulls, Chicago drafted both Elton Brand and Ron Artest in the 1999 NBA draft. Essentially, this was hitting the draft out of the park. Brand and Artest (who are both still in the league) were major factors on teams throughout the 2000s. This is especially true on the defensive end. If the Bulls had simply stood pat, that is two fifths of a core which could have been built from.
In the 2000 draft, the Bulls originally selected Chris Mihm with their first round pick. The part that did not make sense? The Bulls instantly traded rights to Mihm for Jamal Crawford. It should be one of the most hard and fast rules in the NBA. You never trade big for small. Mihm actually had a nearly ten-year career in the NBA. Mihm is 7 footy 2 inches tall. It is exceedingly rare to have a big man play as well as start for that length of time. Shooters may hate to hear this, but building a strong durable front line is the hardest part of team building in the NBA. As a backup, Jake Voskuhl was serviceable for nearly a decade in the NBA as well.
The important thing about the Chris Mihm trade is that it still did not address the need that the Bulls had at center. This led to the folly of an attempted ‘two towers’ concept in the 2001 draft. If you look at the 2000 draft, it was a weak draft in which the Bulls had six picks. However, if they had kept Mihm, they would not have been looking for a high draft pick at center or to trade for Tyson Chandler as well.
If the center position had been adequately filled by Mihm and the trade for Crawford had not been made, the Bulls could have addressed those issue with the 2001 draft. The 2001 draft was rich with prospects and they would have probably had the exact same draft position.
The importance? With a need at shooting guard in 2001 and the 4th pick, the Bulls would have been free to take one of the top two prospects at shooting guard who were available. The next two shooting guards in order who were taken were Joe Johnson and Jason Richardson. If you pair either one of those guards in the 2000s with Mihm, Artest, and Brand; then you would surely have a playoff team in 2002 and beyond. Even more damning is what happened at the bottom of the draft.
One pick before the Bulls picked at the bottom of the 2001 NBA draft was Tony Parker. You can argue that Parker was not on the board and that the Spurs international scouting department is beyond compare. Lets just say that Parker was off the board. It is the pick behind where the Bulls picked Trenton Hassell to address shooting guard that becomes intriguing. The very next pick was Gilbert Arenas.
If the Bulls had addressed the shooting guard position with Richardson or Johnson at the top of the first round and taken Arenas for point guard at the bottom, then you have a nucleus of starters in the NBA for literally a decade. It is not even a stretch of the imagination. Think about a line-up that looks like this through the 2000’s: PG Gilbert Arenas, SG Jason Richardson, SF Ron Artest, PF Elton Brand, and C Chris Mihm. That would have been the lineup in 2001.
Why is that important? That team could have gelled for two years together before you hit the 2003 draft. Assuming that the Bulls would have had a lower playoff position in the draft in 2003, they would have been ahead of the curve when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh came upon the league. Outside of James’ run to the finals with Cavaliers in 2007 and Wade’s title in 2006, these were years that the Bulls could have potentially been major players until 2010. The assumption there is that you would have still had the Big Three in Miami.
However, it is conceivable that those Bulls would have easily challenged in the Eastern Conference. These were years when the bullies on the block were the Detroit Pistons and a golden age for the New Jersey Nets. The Eastern Conference was wide open and the Bulls could have dominated at least the Eastern Conference for about four of five years with that corps. The post-Jordan Bulls dropped the ball, but not nearly in the way that people traditionally think that they did.