To me, the Bulls are one of the most interesting teams to dissect in the recent history of the NBA.
The Jordan/Jackson era ended in June 1998, with their sixth Championship. Since that time, they have made some of the best picks in the NBA draft, and some of the worst picks and trades in NBA history. Here are their first round picks for those 8 years:
1999 - Elton Brand (1st), Ron Artest (16th)
2000 - Marcus Fizer (4th), Jamal Crawford (8th), Dalibor Bagaric (24th)
2001 - Tyson Chandler (2nd), Eddy Curry (4th)
2002 - Jay Williams (2nd)
2003 - Kirk Hinrich (7th)
2004 - Ben Gordon (3rd), Luol Deng (7th)
2005 - None
2006 - Tyrus Thomas (4th), Thabo Sefolosha (13th)
Their combined record in the first 6 post Jordan seasons was 119-341, a little more than .250. That's a 21 win season. Which explains why they continually had high lottery picks. And of course, the fact that they were continually starting over plays a role as well. Elton Brand begat Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry begat Tyrus Thomas, etc.
In eight drafts, they've had 7 top 4 picks, 11 lottery picks, and 13 first round picks. In 1999 they drafted two all stars, but traded both of them before that could happen. In fact, the members of their starting front court in 2000-2001 (Brand, Artest and Brad Miller) all went on to All-Star careers after the Bulls traded them for the likes of Tyson Chandler and Jalen Rose.
Marcus Fizer and Jay Williams are two of the three worst top 5 picks of this decade (though in Jay's case it is not the Bulls fault he crashed his motorcycle). Nikolosz Tskitikjdafkdsf is the third.
For several drafts, it looked like they were simply trying to correct the mistakes of the prior one. Jamal Crawford was drafted to be their point guard in 2000, then Jay Williams in 2002, and finally Kirk Hinrich in 2003. And why they thought it was a good idea to trade Elton Brand (22 at the time and averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in the NBA) in order to draft Tyson Chandler (18, with similar averages... AT DOMINQUEZ HIGH SCHOOL) is one of the all time mysteries in NBA history.
But they've been on a roll since 2003. Hinrich was yet another terrific player in that historically good draft, and then came the Bulls 2004 draft, which has got to be one of the great coups of all time. Not only did they get Gordon and Deng, both receiving all-star consideration this season; they also got Chris Duhon, a significant contributor, off the bench. 2004 was also Andres Nocioni's rookie season, although he was a free agent signee. That's 4 players in their current rotation who joined the team as rookies the same year. That doesn't happen very often.
This explains in large part why the Bulls went from averaging 21 wins over the first 6 post-Jordan seasons to 47 wins in 04-05 and 41 wins in 05-06, qualifying for the playoffs each time.
With so many talented players contributing on their rookie contracts (i.e. on the cheap), the Bulls made a splash in free agency this summer, prying Ben Wallace away from the Detroit Pistons, to everyone's surprise. What a mistake.
Look, I like Ben. I appreciate what he does on a basketball court. But somehow, this one guy in the history of basketball was able not only to overcome the fact that he is a truly horrible offensive player and get some minutes, but to transcend the situation and make FIVE straight all NBA teams. He's good. He was a big part of the Pistons championship. But he should not have made a single all-NBA team - not without a shred of offensive talent. Let him make all defense every year. Fine. But All-NBA should be reserved for complete players.
Anyway, I've always found Ben to be overrated. The Bulls made him overpaid. Of course, he was an established star in a good situation in Detroit. The only way to get him was to overpay him. I just don't think Ben Wallace is the player Chicago needs.
Chicago was already a good defensive team. And they have a terrific perimeter based attack on offense. But they won 47 games in 04-05 with Eddy Curry scoring on the low block, and 41 games in 05-06 without him. That's minus six games when they lost Eddy Curry, and Eddy Curry doesn't do anything well other than score.
Adding Ben Wallace in theory makes their defense even better. But their defense was already good. Even in today's NBA with the emphasis on perimeter scoring and rules that favor perimeter play, you still have to have SOMETHING near the basket, don't you?
But here's the big problem. 4/$60M is a lot of money, and Ben is 32 years old. Even though some people actually predicted a championship for the Bulls this year, that's simply not going to happen. Hinrich's extension kicks in next season, Nocioni will be a free agent this summer, and Gordon, Deng and Duhon in summer 2008. It seems to me that signing Ben Wallace doesn't win a title now, and makes it harder to win a title later, because it makes it harder to keep all of their young, currently underpaid, core.
Like I said, I love dissecting the Bulls.
But I guess I should also post a game preview.