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The Start Something Big
Chris Ballard
October 28, 2002
Staking the future on two raw 7-footers—TYSON CHANDLER and EDDY CURRY—the Bulls hope the growing pains are brief and the payoff is huge
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October 28, 2002

The Start Something Big

Staking the future on two raw 7-footers—TYSON CHANDLER and EDDY CURRY—the Bulls hope the growing pains are brief and the payoff is huge

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The challenge facing the Bulls, then, is this: How hard can they push Chandler and Curry without risking their investment—either by burying them on the bench (see Jermaine O'Neal in Portland) or by asking too much too soon and perhaps crippling their confidence (see Kwame Brown in Washington)? "There's no road map for this, and we know that," says Krause. "We're trying stuff, and if it doesn't work, we'll step back and reevaluate." He pauses. "Basically, we're winging it."

Class began in the summer of 2001, at the first Bulls scrimmage. The boy kings arrived full of themselves. Chandler, at 7 feet and 220 pounds (he has since grown an inch and a half), had been dominant at Dominguez High in Compton, Calif. Curry, a Mack truck of a young man at 6'11" and 285 pounds (he has since added an inch), had been the nation's most sought-after recruit, a bruising inside force for Thornwood High in suburban Chicago. Against NBA veterans, they soon found, those credentials were as worthless as an MIT degree at an arm-wrestling match. Says Curry, who still watches tapes of those practices for motivation, "Even the guys who had looked slow on TV were fast."

The duo appeared similarly lost in summer-league play and not much better in the first few months of the season. Chandler had his moments on defense, where his pterodactyl-like wingspan and launchpad hops allowed him to make up for his poor footwork. But he was helpless on offense, so worried about the plays that he recalls feeling "like a robot out there." Curry was the opposite-comfortable with the ball in his hands, displaying a nice array of post moves, but dead weight on defense, always one rotation behind and two steps too slow. As a result, practices often resembled Biddy Ball clinics. "We started with junior high drills, man-you-ball stuff, and went from there," says the 7'1" Cartwright, a Bulls assistant before replacing Tim Floyd as coach last December, another move Krause made with Curry and Chandler in mind.

Krause had expected to treat the new lads as a pair and even meet with them regularly as a twosome. However, after discovering how different their personalities are, he soon jettisoned that idea and started seeing them separately. Chandler is gregarious, emotional and kinetic, though prone to getting down on himself. Curry is mellow, quiet, the well-mannered child of a matriarchal family. "Tyson's very intelligent and mature, so we talked about team stuff and different players," says Krause. "With Eddy I talked about growth and maturity, the mental aspect of the game." Krause gave each a copy of Bill Russell's latest book, Russell Rules. The message was clear: The psychological part of the game is just as important as the physical part.

Even so, one can't play in the NBA without a body that can withstand the NBA grind, and the players' conditioning was another area of concern. (In his 19.6 minutes per game, Chandler averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds; Curry, in 16.0 minutes, racked up 6.7 points and 3.8 boards.) Despite their natural athleticism-Chandler is one of the fastest players on the team, while Curry is a former gymnast—both tended to burn out during relatively short bursts of playing time.

So last summer Chandler and Curry spent their mornings at the Berto Center, lifting weights under Helland's supervision As a result, Chandler gained 10 pounds of muscle that is noticeable, if not yet tight-black-T-shirt-worthy. "I've been working out for two years," he says, squeezing his arms in a mock Schwarzeneggerian pose, "and I still don't have a chest muscle in my body!" Regardless, a year ago he didn't know how to do a squat lift; now he can put up 240 pounds. "Ideally, I'd like to see him get his weight up [20 more pounds] to 250," says Helland, who compares Chandler's narrow hips and skinny frame with that of a young David Robinson. "Right now we're working on creating a strong lower base."

Curry, on the other hand, has plenty of base. Blessed with big joints and a heavy hip structure (the only comparison Helland can think of is an LSU-era Shaquille O'Neal), Curry spent the off-season turning fat into muscle. He is a leaner, more defined 295 pounds and has even hired the Bulls' training chef, Steve Jackson, to cook his meals. "I tell him what I want, and he makes it healthy," says Curry. "I say fried fish, he bakes it."

On the hardwood Chicago's aim last summer was to improve the players' consistency. To that end Krause hired eight-year veteran pivotman Bob Thornton in July. Thornton became the Bulls' third Professor of the Post, after Cartwright and another former center, Bill Wennington, who was brought in a year ago as a coordinator of player development—essentially a guidance counselor for the oversized kids. Thornton's focus was teaching three go-to moves: a spin to the middle, a turnaround jumper, and a jump hook or baby hook. For each move he also taught them a counter, an option if the shot is overplayed. Because Krause and Cartwright envision Chandler as a power forward capable of defending small forwards, Chandler was also put through guard drills on the wing.

Chandler's versatility is a luxury as well as a challenge for the Bulls. On many teams he would be forced to play on the low block simply because of his size. Traditionally in twin towers lineups, such as the San Antonio Spurs' teaming of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, an established player has been joined by a younger one who complements him. With Chandler and Curry, though, Chicago has two players who are so raw that they can be molded to the team's designs—or, in this case, vice versa. Krause did it once before, but with a lone guard named Jordan. "We built around Michael, and that was unheard of then," says Krause. "This time we saw the opportunity to get two exceptional 7-footers and bring them in at the same time. We wanted two kids who could grow up together."

Working in Chicago's favor is the fact that both players are gym rats. Three or four nights a week during the summer Curry returned to the Berto Center after a morning workout to play full-court with his high school buddies, using an access code to enter the gym. Then, if he'd wake up in the wee hours, unable to sleep, he'd go back and shoot 100 free throws. Chandler likewise haunted the practice facility, often watching tape with the assistant coaches or dropping in on Krause to talk strategy. "Not just being nosy, I'd watch tape with him, talk about the future of the team," Chandler says. He'd return at around 11:30 p.m., just as Curry was leaving, with two childhood friends, Keith Brooks and Rock Perry. The trio, who call themselves the Workout Bandits, would play ball, swim, sit in the Jacuzzi and watch tape. "It was fun, but Eddy and I did it for a reason," says Chandler. "Last year we didn't expect to make a difference. This year we do."

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