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Bulls' sixth gives way to drafty feeling

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Posted: Thu June 11, 1998

NBA Mailbag

The repeat three-peat is complete. The Bulls have achieved Six-cess. They have discovered the Joy of Six. They are dripping with Six-appeal. Is there any other way to say it?

One more tip of the cap to Chicago for winning its sixth NBA championship in eight years, and to Michael Jordan. We can only bow down with our arms outstretched: We are not worthy. Jordan and the Bulls seemed to unanimously consider this the most satisfying championship of the six because it was the one that was the most in doubt and because it could have been their last game together (more on that later).

As an achievement, this one may rank at the top, but this might have been the weakest of the Bulls' six championship teams. They rode Jordan more than ever, and Michael had just enough to get them to the promised land. The Bulls got next to nothing from their centers in the Finals (poor Luc Longley was horrendous at both ends of the court) and they only sporadically got help from the bench. Chicago should thank its lucky stars for forward Toni Kukoc, who was the unsung hero of the Finals.

  Jordan and Jackson Fans are clamoring for more Jordan next season, but Jackson's return is in doubt.    (John Biever)
But despite all that, the Bulls once again proved that they are the best, because Michael is the best. I, for one, will never pick against him again. Jordan has had better Finals performances overall—he was great against the Lakers in 1991 and Portland in 1992—but this will no doubt be his most memorable. The way he literally stole Game 6 away from Utah is the stuff of legend. That game was symbolic of Jordan at this stage of his career. He wasn't flawless by any means—he made only 15 of 35 from the field—but when he had to be, when it was really important, he was the best player on the floor. He picks his spots these days, and he always seems to pick the right ones.

And no, I don't think he's done. I think Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman will all be back in Chicago next season, playing under a new coach. Pippen really wants to keep playing with Jordan, and as long as Scottie stays, Michael will, too. There have already been reports of the Bulls preparing to offer Pippen two years at about $35 million. If that's anything close to the truth, Pip will stay. That means Jordan definitely comes back and Rodman probably does, unless the Bulls can find another rebounder relatively cheaply.

Coach Phil Jackson is going to be tempted to come back if Jordan and Pippen do, but I think Jackson will resist that temptation and take a year off, which everyone close to him believes he really needs.

As for the Jazz, Karl Malone is right when he says that people have been closing that window of opportunity on Utah for the last five years, and every year the players keep prying it back open. I see no reason to think they won't do it again next year. Free-agent reserve forward Chris Morris is the only significant player they're likely to lose, so they'll still have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Malone obviously still has plenty left—if he doesn't hurt himself in that ridiculous pay-per-view wrestling match he has scheduled against Rodman—and point guard John Stockton has one more year in him as well. Utah doesn't need to make any moves to be a formidable team again next year. What they really need is for the Bulls to break up.

Suddenly the draft is upon us. I haven't found anyone willing to argue with the consensus opinion that this year's crop is thin. Point guard Mike Bibby of Arizona and center Michael Olowokandi of Pacific are the only two players widely considered locks to be solid NBA players at the very least, and there is still some dissent about Olowokandi. But in every draft there is at least one mid-to-late first-rounder who turns out to be a real steal, like Tim Hardaway or Latrell Sprewell.

Two guys who could wind up in that category are Bonzi Wells, a 6'5" guard from Ball State who is very athletic and seems well-suited to the NBA game, and Matt Harpring, a 6'8" forward from Georgia Tech. Harpring passed on pre-draft workouts, which could cause him to slip down into the late first round, but he's as hard-nosed as they come, with strength and a good shooting touch.

On to your questions:

I have heard that Nets All-Star free agent center Jayson Williams is considering playing for the Bulls for the $1 million exemption, just so he can play with Jordan and likely win a ring. Why wouldn't other players desperate for a title (i.e. Barkley) want to play for less money in exchange for the chance to win?
—Ben Goldberg, Short Hills, N.J.

Don't put too much stock in that Jayson Williams rumor. Even though he admits he made a terrible mistake three years ago, when the Bulls tried to sign him instead of Rodman, he's in position to sign a huge contract with the Nets. It's unlikely that he will pass that up, even for the chance to play with MJ.

As for other players, a lot of them talk about how badly they want a ring, but most of them aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is. Barkley is a guy who I think would consider it, but I don't think the Bulls would be too interested. They want to get younger, and the Chuckster is 35. Also, even though Barkley could replace Rodman's rebounding, he isn't the passer or defender that Rodman is.

Would the Bulls' Jerrys [owner Reinsdorf and GM Krause] dare to break up the team now?
—Ron Garcia, Los Angeles

Sure they would. But if they do it, they'll try to make it look as though it wasn't really their doing, to keep from being tarred and feathered. They'll make Phil Jackson the kind of offer he can easily refuse, for instance, and when he turns it down they'll say, "Don't blame us, we tried to re-sign him."

Why are they williing to consider breaking up the team? Two basic reasons. One is ego: Krause has never gotten the credit he feels he deserves for his role in building this dynasty, and he's itching to prove he can create a champion without Michael, Scottie and especially Phil.

The other reason is money: It could cost Reinsdorf close to $100 million to keep those three and Rodman together. Yes, this team has made him a lot of money, but the Bulls also line the pockets of a lot of other entities, like the NBA, NBC, Turner Sports, even the Chicago Blackhawks (with whom the Bulls share luxury box revenue). Reinsdorf is getting tired of being the only one who has to pay to keeping them together.

Why isn't there more hype surrounding Mike Bibby as there usually is for the probable No. 1 pick?
—Stick, Tucson, Ariz.

It's because Bibby, although he's obviously a terrific player, isn't considered the kind of guy who can turn a team around or fill seats. The No. 1 picks who usually get the most attention are either big men who are expected to carry a team, or flashy players who will show up in the highlights every night. Bibby doesn't fall into either category. Top picks like Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan get hype. Others, like Pervis Ellison, Derrick Coleman and even Danny Manning, do not. Bibby falls into that second group, but don't worry, he'll get his share of attention—and play in plenty of All-Star Games.

Is a lockout inevitable?
—John Davis, Montgomery, Ala.

I'm afraid so. That's the bad news.

The good news is it probably won't extend into the season. The issue of tightening up the salary cap loopholes is going to require a long, hard fight, and neither side is going to make a major concession right away. But I think a lot of the other issues— the rookie salary scale, marijuana in the drug policy, etc.—can be settled sooner rather than later.

One encouraging sign is that the two sides have been exchanging proposals for weeks already. They're not stonewalling each other until the last minute. So my guess is that there will be a lockout, but that it will be long forgotten by opening night.

If you were Vancouver GM Stu Jackson, what would you do with the No. 2 pick?
—Ron Bertram, Vancouver

I'd trade it.

Assuming Bibby goes first, Olowokandi is the clear No. 2, and the Grizzlies just don't need him. They have Bryant Reeves locked up in a long-term contract, and he's a serviceable center. Olowokandi may one day be a better player, but that day is probably three or four years down the road, if it comes at all, and if I'm Stu Jackson, I don't want to wait that long. Vancouver has been building for the future long enough; it's time to get on with it already.

So I'd see what kind of package of veterans I could get for the pick from teams that need centers. I'd be talking to Washington about forward Juwan Howard or Orlando about guard Penny Hardaway or New Jersey about guards Kerry Kittles and Sam Cassell.

The Grizzlies need to get some established vets to help them start winning sooner rather than later, and to help convince small forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim not to leave as a free agent after next season.

Considering their success in the playoffs, how do you think the Pacers should draft this year?
—Eric C. Brown, Indianapolis

The Pacers have a very balanced team, they don't have a lot of glaring needs. They would like to get a center to give them insurance for Rik Smits and his bad feet (Smits is also a free agent, but he's not likely to leave Indiana). But there really isn't much in the way of centers out there, especially not at No. 25, where Indiana will pick.

So look for the Pacers to try to find a backup for Reggie Miller at shooting guard. Bryce Drew of Valparaiso, who has also shown an ability to play the point, and Felipe Lopez of St. John's, who has looked good in postseason camps, have drawn Indiana's interest.

The Warriors obviously need help at guard. Who is the best fit with the fifth pick?
—Michael Logsdon, Columbus, Ohio

Larry Hughes of St. Louis and North Carolina's Vince Carter will probably be the best backcourt players available when Golden State picks. Hughes has impressed a lot of scouts, but he's only 19 and he hasn't played against the kind of competition that Carter saw in the ACC. Also, Carter is probably the most athletic player in the draft, and his explosiveness could put more fans in the seats, which is something the Warriors definitely need. If they can't make a deal to move up and get Bibby, which now seems unlikely, I think they'll settle on Carter.

What should Rick Pitino do with the Celtics' first round pick (No. 10)?
—Charlie Thorpe, Alexandria, Va.

The word is that Slick Rick is trying to trade the pick because he doesn't like what he sees at No. 10. He'll probably pull something off, but I don't think it will move him high enough to draft Olowokandi or power forward Raef LaFrentz of Kansas, two players of whom Pitino is dreaming. If Boston stays at 10, Pitino will probably take a flyer on a big man who can run and jump, like UNLV's Keon Clark, or Nazr Mohammed, whom he coached at Kentucky. Both guys would be considered projects, however. Unless the Celtics uncover a real diamond in the rough, I don't think they're going to get a lot of help out of this draft.

The NBA Mailbag will return for the 1998-99 season. Thanks for your continued participation.  

Related information
Previous Mailbags
April 22: Feeling Bullish
April 29: First round is full of surprises
May 7: A look at what's ahead
May 14: Who's in, who's out
May 21: Here's something to root for
May 28: Whiners, whiners everywhere
June 4: Final-ly!
June 11: Bulls should feel joy of six
CNNSI's NBA Draft main page
Jackie MacMullan's Mock Draft
Position-by-Position Analysis
Commencement: Draft-Class Superlatives
SI's Seth Davis: 12 Intriguing Prospects
A Decade of Drafting
SI's Chicago Bulls Championship Six-Pack
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