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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER

It's About Rebuilding, Not Reloading

May 16, 1999|MARK HEISLER

Now, hop-scotching the league for playoff updates, let's go to Chicago. . . .

Chicago? Come in, Chicago.

Oops, we forgot. The lights are out. The crowds have gone home. Old habits may die hard but not as hard as the Bulls' dynasty, which is as stiff as the breeze off Lake Michigan in January.

These days, the Bulls are into that famous rebuilding project they've been looking forward to for so long. Despite Coach Tim Floyd's impressive debut, going 13-47 with a roster one Bulls official picked to go 0-50 in an inter-office pool, it won't be easy.

The assumptions owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause made years ago, which led them to daydream publicly about tearing their club apart for a whirlwind rebuilding effort, were either wrong or have become inoperative.

Once they thought they'd like to have their team broken up by the summer of 1998, when Kevin Garnett was expected to hit the market. Garnett was from Chicago, or at least had gone to high school there for a year, so why wouldn't he want to come?

Garnett figured out a reason, re-signing in Minnesota for $126 million. Then he went on ESPN's "Up Close" and said he'd never have gone to Chicago, "with the stuff Scottie [Pippen] has been going through. . . . They're really high-profile players and I feel they've been mistreated sometimes."

Nor are players, even superstars, keen to jump into a black hole. On top of that, the rules changed, rewarding players for staying put.

Next thing you knew, every kid the Bulls could have hoped to rebuild around, like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, had re-upped with his old team or, in the case of Antonio McDyess and Stephon Marbury, chosen another one.

Nor does anyone seem to consider the Bulls much of an alternative.

Said Detroit's Grant Hill, who'll be a free agent in 2000: "Chicago? That's the last place I would want to go to."

Said McDyess' agent, James Bryant, before his client went to Denver: "Houston and Chicago are out of the picture. Tony has analyzed the situation carefully and he's most at home with those two options: Phoenix is going to stay a winner and Denver is going to be a winner."

Said the Pistons' Jerry Stackhouse: "I didn't need to be the guy who followed Michael [Jordan] on a team that had won six championships. . . . There is a lot of uncertainty with that team. They had the dollars and the ability to get it done, but some things are a whole lot more important than money."

The only free agent the Bulls landed was Brent Barry, who had been turned loose by Miami. The Bulls gave him $27 million, after which Barry continued on his three-year slide.

So much for fast turnarounds.

"The plan was put in front of us to be a lot of money under the cap this year," says Floyd, "though Jerry [Krause] never said to me, 'We are going to do this really quickly.'

"Sure, a lot of players re-signed with their teams. Am I disappointed some of those guys might not be here? Sure. So it's going to be a process.

"It may take a year or two longer than I'd hoped. But Jerry never gave me a timetable and said, 'It will happen in year two, year three.'

"I just hope Jerry Reinsdorf didn't say year two or year three."

Or years four, five or six? Springtime came again in 16 NBA cities, but in Chicago they're settling down for a very long winter's nap.

FACES AND FIGURES

OK, everyone who thought Miami's Alonzo Mourning could outscore New York's Patrick Ewing, 71-40, and the Knicks could grab a 2-1 lead over the Heat, raise your hands. If nothing else, the upstart Knicks proved that Tim Hardaway is at least as valuable to Miami as most-valuable-player candidate Mourning. Mourning played well, but Hardaway missed 26 of 32 shots in the first three games. Then Hardaway put together a second-half run in Game 4, and the Heat evened the series. . . . Trailing, 2-1, Miami Coach Pat Riley started calling the Heat "a building team." Said Riley: "We've got a lot of good parts. If we can land some type of franchise player, I'm sure we would be interested." . . . Mind control: Heat and Carnival Cruise Line owner Mickey Arison, sitting at courtside in Miami for the Game 1 wipeout to the Knicks before a non-sellout crowd, was asked if this was his worst day in basketball. "You'll have to ask Pat," he said. . . . At one point in Game 1, the Knick reserves outscored the Heat reserves, 33-2, and at one point in Game 3, it was 40-8. The Knick subs were led by Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, both acquired by since-fired general manager Ernie Grunfeld. On New York talk radio, Knick fans began plotting a run to the Eastern Conference finals, since all they would have had to deal with was the Atlanta-Detroit winner, and calling talk shows to urge Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts to bring back Grunfeld next season.

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