After 14 straight playoff appearances and 6 NBA titles in 8 years, the Bulls finished the 1998-99 season with the NBA’s worst record. It would be 7 years before they made the playoffs again (2005).
After their 6th title in 1998, Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson “retired” and Dennis Rodman was released. Scottie Pippen was traded to the Rockets for Roy Rodgers and a second round pick (became Jake Voskuhl in 2000). Rodgers appeared in one game for the Bulls, who would have been better off acquiring the fast food chain then the player. Steve Kerr was traded to the Spurs for Chuck Person and a first round pick that became Dalibor Bagarić.
The Bulls acquired NOTHING for 5 legends and were set up for a very long and challenging rebuild. Toni Kukoc averaged 18 ppg and was the “star” of the Bulls that year.
There were many reasons why the Bulls rut lasted so long. Beyond that, they had awful luck and decision-making in the draft.
Here’s a look back at 7 years worth of draft picks, ranging from 1999-2006.
1999 – Elton Brand #1
This made sense at the time and still does in hindsight. Steve Francis and Baron Davis went 2 and 3, respectively. Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry are notables in the top 10. In two seasons, Brand averaged 20.1 ppg and 10 rpg.
Bulls also drafted Ron Artest #16.
2000 – Marcus Fizer #4, Chris Mihm #7 (traded to Cleveland for Jamal Crawford)
Fizer averaged 10.5 ppg in 4 seasons with the Bulls. It was an odd pick, given he played PF, same as Brand. But if you think deeply, it made sense – Fizer played for Iowa State, where he was recruiteded by Tim Floyd, now the head coach of the Bulls. Regardless, wing/guards Mike Miller and DerMarr Johnson were the next two picks and would have been better fits.
With another top 10 pick, they drafted Chris Mihm, only to immediately draft him for Jamal Crawford, whom the Cavs drafted 8th. Crawford played 4 seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Knicks.
2001 – Tyson Chandler #2 (traded Elton Brand for him); Eddy Curry #4
In the Bulls’ defense, it could have been worse – Kwame Brown was the #1 pick in this draft. This is when the fascination and trend of drafting high school players with potential began.
Clippers drafted Chandler #2 and immediately traded him to the Bulls in a trade for Brand, two years after drafting him #1. Two picks later, the Bulls took ANOTHER center, Eddy Curry. Chandler had a nice 5 year run in Chicago, averaging 7 ppg, 7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, before being trade to New Orleans in 2006.
Curry’s career was bad and while it was mostly his own doing, he did lead the league in field goal percentage in 2004-05, the year the Bulls returned to the playoffs. However, his season was cut short due to an irregular heartbeat. That major health issue, along with inconsistency and weight problems, didn’t stop the Knicks from trading two first round picks and a package of players for Curry (more on those picks later).
2002 – Jay Williams #2
This one is just a bummer. Williams was college basketball’s player of the year in 2002 and helped lead Duke to a National title in 2001. His career lasted 75 games, where he averaged 9.5 ppg and 4.7 apg. Injuries suffered from an off-season motorcycle accident ended his career after one year.
2003 – Kirk Hinrich #7
Hinrich was the most successful Bulls pick during this time. He played 11 seasons in Chicago, mostly as a starter at point guard, but also played a bench role too. The disappointment for the Bulls is that 4 of the first 5 picks in 2003 are future Hall of Famers (Lebron, Carmelo, Wade, Bosh).
2004 – Ben Gordon #3
Dwight Howard went 1, Emeka Okaford went 2, leaving Gordon to go #3. Gordon was a member of UConn’s 2004 National Championship team, so a well-known scorer made sense for the Bulls here. He was great as a rookie, winning both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man in 2005. He averaged 18.5 ppg in 5 seasons, before signing a big money contract with the Pistons as a free agent.
2006 – LaMarcus Aldridge #2 (via Knicks in trade for Eddy Curry) – traded to Blazers for #4 pick Tyrus Thomas
This was one of the picks the Bulls acquired in the aforementioned Eddy Curry trade. The Knicks stunk, so the Bulls lucked in to the 2nd pick. However, like most of these picks, they messed it up. Aldridge is a 7x NBA All Star, while (outside of 2 games in 2015) Tyrus Thomas hasn’t played an NBA game since 2013.