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Bullish on Bulls

Chicago will win first championship of post-Jordan era

Posted: Wednesday September 20, 2006 4:52PM; Updated: Thursday September 21, 2006 12:54AM
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With Ben Wallace in the fold, the Bulls will win their first title since a certain No. 23 left town eight seasons ago.
With Ben Wallace in the fold, the Bulls will win their first title since a certain No. 23 left town eight seasons ago.

It has been eight long, Jordan-less years since Chicago so much as won a playoff series, much less competed for an NBA title. Bulls fans have witnessed futility at its highest level: From 1999 to 2002, Chicago won 66 games and sank to the lowest depths of the NBA. Put in perspective, that is three fewer wins in that span than Chicago won in 1997 alone.

That said, the Chicago Bulls will win the NBA championship this season.

The Bulls have dumped Jerry Krause, Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright and replaced them with John Paxson and Scott Skiles. The former is a shrewd decision-maker (his fleecing of the Knicks for two first-round picks for Eddy Curry was highway robbery), while the latter has spent the last three years rebuilding the Bulls' confidence while straddling the line between volatile and stabile.

Most important, they are no longer "Michael's old team." They have acquired their own identity, one that can be succinctly defined as a team built to win now. This is something that has been building for nearly two years.

Under Skiles, Chicago has become a defensive juggernaut (opponents shot a league-low 42.6 percent from the field last season) and will be even more impenetrable with the additions of four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace and three-time All-Defensive Team forward P.J. Brown. While the Bulls' offense has been roundly criticized, many scouts felt Chicago was among the most dangerous teams in the league last season thanks to outstanding perimeter shooting. "They can make a 10-point lead disappear in less than a minute," says one Eastern Conference scout. "They can run waves of shooters at you that are dangerous as soon as they cross half-court."

Those shooters -- namely Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni -- are exactly what the Bulls are banking on. And for the first time since Elton Brand left town in 2001, Chicago knows what it will get from its frontcourt. Wallace will provide double-digit rebounding on a nightly basis, and Brown, close to a 10-5 guy throughout his career, will play solid defense and knock down the occasional baseline jump shot.