NBA lottery doesn't always guarantee success
Do you remember the post-Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls?
You probably don't, as that era coincided with the Milwaukee Bucks seeing an uptick in their standing in the conference, culminating with that run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000-01.
I do. Growing up in the "Jordan Era" and watching the Bulls go from losing a total of 166 games over eight years to losing 341 from 1998 to 2004, it's hard to forget such awful basketball.
Needless to say, this was a shock to the system as a Bulls fan, even one who aged out of high school and into college.
People hated general manager Jerry Krause. Hated. Him. Granted, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Jordan fed into that after they left, but the on-court results were hard to ignore, as well.
What I didn't understand then as a fan, but as a seasoned sports journalist knows now, is that Krause had vision.
He knew that the only way to rebuild the Bulls back to a championship level, they had to "tank" (though I never remember that word being used as it is now) and boy did they ever.
The point was to collect as many high draft picks as possible.
In 1999, the Bulls won the lottery, selecting Duke's Elton Brand No. 1 overall. Krause had also acquired the No. 16 pick, which he used on St. John's Ron Artest.
In 2000, Krause shrewdly collected two (!) top eight picks and selected Marcus Fizer No. 4 and Chris Mihm No. 7, who he flipped for Jamal Crawford (picked No. 8).
Now, this goes to show just how much luck plays into it. Two top eight picks in 1999 gets you point guards Steve Francis, Baron Davis and Andre Miller or forwards Wally Szczerbiak and Lamar Odom.
The 2000 draft class was weaker, as Joel Przybilla, Etan Thomas, Keyon Dooling, Jerome Moiso and Courtney Alexander were top 13 picks.
That's just bad luck.
But, Krause was smart enough to see the potential in a 24-year-old free agent center in Brad Miller, so he was brought in that summer as well.
Anyway, Krause determined very, very quickly (one season, in fact) that the "core" of Miller-Brand-Fizer-Crawford-Artest and former No. 6 overall pick Ron Mercer (another free agent) weren't going to mature into a title contender.
So, he blew it up again.
In the summer of 2001, he worked a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, who picked Tyson Chandler No. 2 overall (instead of Pau Gasol) in exchange for Brand, the Rookie of the Year and already a 20/10 player.
The Bulls then picked fellow high schooler Eddy Curry, a local star from Thornridge High School in south suburban Chicago.
The two, 18-year-old, 7-footers had to be mesmerizing. Curry was a traditional post. Chandler projected differently, an athletic big who could cover the wing.
History shows this was a good draft, but the strength of it was outside of the top five picks. All-Stars Joe Johnson (No. 10), Zach Randolph (19), Gerald Wallace (25), Tony Parker (30), Gilbert Arenas (30) and Mehmet Okur (37) weren't deemed top prospects at the time.
Of course, none of this worked. Curry would prove to be unmotivated and lazy for most of his career. Chandler was slow to develop offensively and battled back injuries at a young age.
Krause "retired" in 2003, two years after taking Curry and Chandler.
Would things have been different for the Bulls had he decided to just stick with his initial plan?
Artest (now Metta World Peace), Miller and Brand turned into All-Stars. Crawford has played on six teams but has been the league's Sixth Man of the Year and has averaged over 17 points a game seven times.
Could they have developed under Tim Floyd, or a more seasoned coach?
Maybe. But it's hard to look at all those guys and see them winning a championship, though. So Krause gambled on what could have been greatness, two teenage 7-footers with varying skill sets. He had to do it.
After Krause left the organization, the Bulls made the playoffs in eight of the next 10 years. In the two terrible seasons in that decade, they drafted 19-year-old future All-Star Luol Deng No. 7 overall in 2004 and then won the lottery again in 2007-08 and picked a future Most Valuable Player in point guard Derrick Rose.
Two years after selecting Rose, the duo (along with eventual two-time All-Star Joakim Noah, picked No. 9 overall in 2007), keyed a 62-win season and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
By looking to our neighbors to the south, Bucks fans can see just how fickle rebuilding through the draft can be. While collecting top draft picks is the way to rebuild a team, it is the way to build towards a conference championship (outside of LeBron James coming to your franchise), it's hardly a blueprint.
You have to find the right players from the right draft class. And, you have to get lucky. The Bulls had no business getting the No. 1 pick and being in position to select Rose. But they did, and nearly reached a Finals in the James Era.
Many feel this upcoming draft contains such difference makers, and that Bucks will get that No. 1 or 2 pick to select one. But there's no guarantee any of the players who come out will be franchise changers and unfortunately, it will likely take several years to find out if they are. Odds are they will not, however, and the process will have to start all over again.
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