The Chicago Bulls have had a history more interesting than most NBA teams.
After years of struggling and inconsistent play, this team landed a future star in Michael Jordan in 1984. The Bulls became one of the league’s best teams in the ’80s, but they were never good enough to win championships. However, a series of big moves and hirings turned them into the team of the ’90s, winning six NBA Championships by pulling off a pair of three-peats.
After their sixth NBA Championship, the Bulls made a bold decision in rebuilding by moving on from their standout veterans. The Bulls have then gone through a series of winning years, followed by frustrating years, followed by title contention and then more years of frustration and inconsistency.
So what has gotten the Bulls to points of greatness and despair? Here’s a look at the eight best and 7 worst moves in Chicago Bulls history.
15. Best: Drafting Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler with the final draft choice of the first round in 2011. Butler was a standout at Marquette, and the Bulls were hoping he’d be a nice complement to reigning MVP Derrick Rose. Butler would turn out to be far more, becoming the face of the franchise as Rose struggled with knee injuries.
The three-time All-Star and three-time member of the All-NBA Defensive Second Team has averaged over 20 points a game every season since 2014-15, after three inconsistent years to begin his career. Butler also averages three assists per game and owns an impressive .445 field-goal shooting percentage.
Replacing a former MVP like Rose is almost always an impossible task, but drafting Butler provided the Bulls with one of the league’s slickest shooters. Butler is a Certified G and Bonafide Stud — and you can’t teach that.
14. Worst: Trading Reggie Theus
Reggoe Theus was a star at the University of Las Vegas, and he enticed the Bulls enough that they drafted him ninth-overall in 1978. Theus was a versatile player, capable of playing either shooting guard or point guard. He’d play with Chicago from 1978 to 1984, and would play on a pair of All-Star Games during his tenure in The Windy City. Theus was among the top players on the Bulls well before Michael Jordan arrived.
But Theus fell out of favor in Chicago, as newly-hired coach Kevin Loughery often benched often benched the star. As a result, he was traded to the Kings in exchange for Steve Johnson and a trio of draft selections. Johnson lasted a year in Chicago, while Theus went on to dominate the rest of his career.
13. Best: Drafting Horace Grant
The Bulls needed to provide Jordan with a decent side kick, and the best teammates of his career were years away form joining Chicago. The Bulls hoped Horace Grant could provide some help for M.J., drafting him 10th-overall in 1987. Grant solidified the power forward/centre position in Chicago and became a key part of their first three-peat in the ’90s.
Grant was a standout on defense, being named to the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1993 and averaging double-digit rebounds per game in two of his seasons with the Bulls. Grant averaged 12.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in 1991, helping the Bulls win their very first NBA Championship.
He followed it up with 14.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in 1992, averaging 11.3 points in the playoffs and helping Chicago win its second-straight title. Grant also averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in 1993, and the Bulls would win their third-straight NBA title. Grant would spend seven productive seasons with the Bulls, averaging double-digit points per game in six of those years.
12. Worst: Trading Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver has been one of the most productive and versatile forwards since the New Jersey Nets drafted him in 2003. Korver, a 2015 All-Star Selection signed with the Bulls in 2010 and had a couple of decent seasons there. In 2010-11, he averaged 8.3 points per game and shot .415 percent from downtown. He followed it up with 8.1 points per game and shot .435 from beyond the arc.
But the Bulls weren’t satisfied enough to keep Korver, even though he had helped them earn the first seed in 2011 and 2012. He was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for cash in the 2012 offseason and made the Bulls regret the trade.
Korver averaged over 10 points per game in his first three years with the Hawks, and has remained one of the best shooters in the league since the trade. Chicago gave up a big part of their success with very little in return. Not a smart move on their end in any way, shape or form.
11. Best: Drafting Derrick Rose
After going a disastrous 33-49 in 2008, the Bulls secured the first-overall pick and selected point guard Derrick Rose out of Memphis. This was a stacked class that also included Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert, among others. Luckily, the Bulls didn’t mess up this selection.
D-Rose became a force right away, winning the 2009 Rookie of the Year award after averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists per game. Rose kept elevating his game and won the NBA MVP in 2010-11, scoring a career-best 25 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as Chicago went an NBA-best 62-20.
Rose averaged 21.8 points per game in 2011-12, before a knee injury forced him to miss the entire second half of the season. Rose missed all of 2012-13 and was unable to stay healthy during his time in Chicago after that.
Nonetheless, he became the new franchise face and brought some glory moments back to Chicago that had been missing since the Bulls dynasty was broken up in 1998. He was worth every bit of the first-overall selection, even if he’s no longer on the team.
10. Worst: Firing Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau was hired to be the new head coach of the Bulls for the 2010-11 season, and the hire would pay dividends immediately. Thibodeau guided the Bulls to an NBA-best 62-20 record, as Derrick Rose took home the league MVP. Chicago reached the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Despite Rose missing most of 2011-12, Thibodeau once again used his mastermind defence in leading Chicago to the top seed in the East with 50 wins and 16 losses. With Rose sitting out for all of 2012-13, Chicago went 45-37 and reached the second round of the playoffs, before losing to the Heat.
Following a 48-34 record in 2013-14, Thibodeau led Chicago to a 50-32 record in 2014-15, as the Bulls narrowly defeated LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. However, the Bulls fired Thibodeau after the season, and replacement Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been a successful replacement.
Chicago went 42-40 in 2015-16, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Bulls are fighting now just to finish above .500 in 2016-17. Probably should have kept Thibodeau while they had him.
9. Best: Acquiring Bob Love
Bob Love was drafted 33rd-overall by the Cincinnati Royals in 1965, but he struggled in his brief tenure there. The Milwaukee Bucks selected Love in the 1968 NBA Expansion Draft, but wound up dealing him to the Chicago Bulls for very little in return. A forgotten commodity, Love became a superstar in Chicago, playing in three All-Star Games and being named to the All-NBA Second Team in 1971 and 1972.
Love averaged well over 20 points per game with Chicago from 1969-70 to 1975, and averaged well over six rebounds per game during his time with the Bulls. Love was among the league’s best two-way forwards and became the franchise star this team had lacked for so many years.
8. Worst: Drafting Eddy Curry
The Bulls were three years removed from their last NBA Championship, and had a chance to draft a franchise-changing star with the fourth-overall pick in 2001. They selected centre Eddy Curry, but he would only end up playing for four years with the team. Curry showed potential, but never became the full-grown star that was expected of him.
He did average double-digit points in three of his four seasons in Chicago, but Curry wasn’t the rebound standout he was supposed to be. He never averaged more than 6.2 rebounds per game in any season with the Bulls.
Chicago could have drafted other standouts like Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas. As such, an early first-round pick went to waste for the Bulls.
7. Best: Hiring Phil Jackson
At first, many people questioned why the Bulls fired Doug Collins in 1989. He went 137-109 and took them to the playoffs in his three seasons there. Collins was replaced by assistant coach Phil Jackson, who went on to become a head coach in a class of his own.
Seeing the talent on the Bulls, led by Jordan, Jackson implemented the triangle offence on the Bulls, which changed the NBA forever and made Chicago a force to be reckoned with. Jackson injected a new form of energy into this Bulls’ team that “couldn’t win the big one”, over powerhouses like the Detroit Pistons.
Jackson would coach the Bulls for nine seasons, leading them to the playoffs every year and winning six NBA Championships with them. Jackson was the mastermind of Chicago’s dynasty, and perhaps they would have never accomplished a pair of three-peats had he not been on the sidelines the entire time.
6. Worst: Signing Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace was a key piece of the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 NBA Championship team. Wallace shut down the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, giving the Pistons its first NBA Championship in 14 years. He was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner and named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team five times. Wallace averaged well over 10 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game during his heydays with Detroit.
But Wallace entered free agency in 2006, and the Chicago Bulls pried him away from The Motor City with a four-year deal worth $60 million. Wallace averaged 10.7 rebounds and two blocks per game in 2006-07, his worst totals since the 1999-2000 season. Wallace only averaged 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 2007-08.
5. Best: Signing Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman was a key part of the Detroit Pistons’ NBA championship teams in 1989 and 1990. He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991 and named to the All-Defensive First Team four times. The Bulls loved what Rodman had, and acquired him from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Will Purdue and cash.
The Bulls were looking to load up on another run, as Jordan was suiting up for his first full season since in three years. Rodman became a mega defensive star on the Bulls, averaging 14.9, 16.1 and 15 rebounds per game in 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98, respectively. Rodman was able to shut down the likes of Karl Malone and John Stockton in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals.
He, Jordan and a player to be named later formed quite the big three — arguably the best in NBA history. Rodman spent just three seasons with the Bulls, but won the title every year with them. Not a bad investment for Chicago.
4. Worst: Trading LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few standouts from the 2006 NBA Draft, and the Bulls got him behind Andrea Bargnani at number two overall. He’s become one of the more established players in the NBA, reaching five All-Star Games and being named to the All-NBA Third Team three times. Aldridge has averaged 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his career thus far. Sounds like a solid draft choice by the Bulls, right?
Not exactly, because Aldridge has yet to play a single game for the Bulls. When they drafted Aldridge, he was flipped for Tyrus Thomas, and Viktor Khryapa. Thomas was inconsistent for four years with the Bulls while Khryapa played in just 42 games with the Bulls over two seasons.
3. Best: Trading for Scottie Pippen
Every Batman needs his Robin. Kobe Bryant had Pau Gasol long after Shaquille O’Neal did. Bill Russell had Bob Cousy. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Tim Duncan had Tony Parker. LeBron James had Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. Isiah Thomas had Bill Laimbeer. But perhaps no sidekick was greater than Michael Jordan’s — Scottie Pippen.
The Seattle SuperSonics drafted Pippen fifth-overall in 1987 and only had to give up Olden Polynice and draft selections in return. Pippen became a crucial part of Chicago’s success and six NBA Championships. He was named to seven All-Star Games, three First Teams, eight Defensive First Teams and averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in his career.
Pippen took the Bulls on his back in 1993-94 and 1994-95, while Jordan was retired. It’s safe to say without the Pippen trade, Chicago would not have won six championships. Pippen bailed out Jordan any time he had a bad night.
2. Worst: Breaking Up The Dynasty
In 1998, the Bulls won their sixth NBA Championship in eight years, defeating Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. Though their core players were ageing (Jordan was 35, Pippen 33 and Rodman 37), the Bulls had shown they were more than capable of winning championships. Age is only a number, after all.
But management was concerned that this team wouldn’t be able to compete much longer, and they decided to rebuild. Jordan retired, Rodman was not re-signed by the Bulls (he’d join the Los Angeles Lakers), and Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets.
Head coach Phil Jackson also left town, and the Bulls had to use their bench players to form a new starting five. Chicago unsurprisingly struggled big time from 1999 to 2004, and they’ve yet to win a championship since capping off their second three-peat.
Clearly, they were wrong in choosing to rebuild. The core was good enough to compete for more titles, but ownership didn’t see it that way. It’s been almost 20 full years since Chicago last reached the NBA Finals.
1. Best: Drafting Michael Jordan
Sorry if we didn’t surprise you.
But any time the greatest of all-time plays for your team, that move you made to get him will always be number one on your list. In the Chicago Bulls’ case, Michael Jordan was drafted third-overall in the 1984 draft after dominating at North Carolina. M.J. didn’t need long to cement himself as the best player on the planet, either.
In his rookie season, Jordan averaged 29.3 points per game. The following year, he averaged 43.7 points her game — the highest of his career. He was the key part of the Bulls six NBA championships (1991-93 and 1996-98). Jordan was the NBA Finals MVP in all six of those series, and won five league MVPs. Jordan also won 10 NBA scoring championships, in case you weren’t impressed enough.
30.1 points per game, and a legacy that’ll forever be enshrined. Chicago’s choice to draft Jordan brought relevancy and dominance to a franchise that struggled for years. He forever marketed and revolutionized the beautiful game of basketball like no other.
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