Day 15: What If?
I still remember Michael Jordan’s last shot with the Chicago Bulls. I was 7 years-old. Unfortunately, every memory of Jordan and that era of Bulls teams is pretty vague in comparison to my memories of the Bulls teams to follow. I started religiously watching basketball during the 1998–1999 shortened NBA season. Over the course of the next four seasons, The Bulls went a combined 66–296 (22%). They were terrible, but I watched nearly every game.
I can spend all day going through the list of players the Bulls overpaid to get, wrongly traded away or traded for. In 2002 though, Jason or Jay Williams was going to put the Bulls back on the map. At this time I was heavily into watching college basketball as well. I HATED Duke, and I hated Williams. He was the best option for the Bulls to draft that year though, and he was good. With him, Jalen Rose, and some other pieces the Bulls were able to win nine more games his rookie season (30–52) than they did the previous one. Though he was not the most consistent player, you could slowly see how his progression could greatly benefit the Bulls.
Unfortunately in June of 2003, he was involved in a major motorcycle accident that in turn ended his playing days with the Bulls and the NBA. That year the Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich. For obvious reasons, I will never forget that draft. Jay Williams got hurt the week before which changed the way the Bulls approached the draft. Lebron James was the first pick of the draft. Three of the next four drafted are future Hall-of-famers, but the Bulls did not select until seven.
One of the biggest “what ifs” I always think about though, is what if the Bulls were able to complete a trade with the Raptors for the fourth pick? With Williams’ injury, the Bulls were aggressively pursuing Dwyane Wade, but were at the edge of where he was projected to land. The Bulls knew the Heat were interested in him at five, so they tried their best to get the fourth pick. Until recently I believed what held the trade from being completed was the Bulls’ reluctance to include stretch four, Donyell Marshall. Once learning he was not the reason, I am not sure how close the Bulls were to actually getting a deal done.
Fast forwarding to now, I feel like the “what ifs” have endlessly accumulated. What if the Bulls did not trade LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas? What if Derrick Rose never got hurt? What if the front office and Tom Thibodeau never had a rift form between them? These are only a couple examples in a long list of “what ifs.” With the 2016 trade deadline just passing, I decided to write this because of how upset people are with the Bulls. I too am upset that the front office did near to nothing to better a team that has no identity. Thing is that this is nothing new for me. I have been there when this team was at the bottom of the league. I was there when they had no superstars, no real leadership, and the coaching was terrible. I am also a huge Cubs fan, so losing and disappointment is almost expected.
This Bulls team has underachieved this year, but overachieved since Rose was drafted. I wish I can say that they will be fine and figure this thing out, but I really do not know. Maybe it is time for a rebuild. Maybe they should think about being a seller this offseason. If that 2003 offseason taught me anything, it is that anything can happen. Things can all fall apart at once, even when things seem to be looking up. If you are a true fan though, you will hang on no matter what happens. Complaining is not going to fix anything.
The Chicago Bulls are too storied of a franchise and too big of a market to be down for too long. Even if the Bulls decide to rebuild, I can almost guarantee that they will be a contender again within two years, especially with the escalating cap space, and a weak eastern conference. Being a Chicago sports fan has taught me that all you can be is patient. Yeah you get tired of seeing the teams lose/underachieve and probably only care about the Blackhawks when they are winning Stanley Cups. But what makes you a true fan is appreciating when things are good, and looking forward when things are bad. Things change for the better as fast as they can change for the worse. You just have to stay prepared for both.