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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Bulls Rebuild With Blockheads

January 05, 2003

Rebuilding, it's not always as much fun as it looks (cont.): No, the Chicago Bulls aren't all the way back this season either.

Not that this is going to be another of those columns in which we bash the same old guys for the same old stuff. This is where we bash them for new stuff.

In person, owner Jerry Reinsdorf is really a nice, warm guy, but he has a thing about taking care of little people who acknowledge his authority -- General Manager Jerry Krause -- at the expense of big people who challenge him, such as his old stars.

Reinsdorf opened himself to years of criticism by letting his dynasty walk away while it still reigned, although he has done enough time for that one. By now, he would have been rebuilding, in any case.

The Bulls now actually have some promise, not that you can tell from all the recent turmoil.

Jamal Crawford, who doesn't understand why he backs up rookie Jay Williams, rather than vice versa, just got upset at being taken out of a loss at New Jersey and went off on Coach Bill Cartwright, for the third time this season.

Three days later, No. 4 center Dalibor Bagaric, who didn't want to be put on the injured list -- he liked being active, even if he had played only three games -- failed to show up to work out with the other guys stashed on the list and was screamed at by assistant coach Bob Thornton, in front of reporters in the dressing room.

The same night, Eddy Curry didn't play in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs and went off on Cartwright, for the second time this season.

"I did everything he asked me to do and I guess this is how I get paid back," Curry said. " ... It's got to be personal because it has nothing to do with the matchups."

Curry, only two years removed from high school, where people cared if he was upset, said he needed a meeting with his agent, Krause and Cartwright "to get this straightened out."

Instead, Cartwright straightened him out, single-handedly. Curry apologized three days later, denying this would set him back.

"My confidence is still high," he said. "That's something that can't be shaken."

That night against the Portland Trail Blazers, he got 13 minutes, didn't score and didn't shoot.

This is either a massive coincidence or there's an element of dysfunction. We vote for dysfunction.

In the disastrous 2000 draft, Darius Miles claimed Krause had told him he couldn't wear cornrows there and the Clippers made the issue moot by crossing up the Bulls, taking Miles at No. 3.

A busy Krause then took Marcus Fizer at No. 4, acquired the No. 8 pick to get Crawford, who had played only half a season at Michigan, and selected Bagaric, a 7-foot Yugoslav, at No. 24.

All are disappointments, although Fizer now averages 10 points off the bench, Crawford retains some promise and Bagaric is still 7 feet.

Krause could have cut them loose after this season and dropped $5 million under the cap. Instead, still loyal, or determined to prove they were good choices, he picked up all three options.

However, Krause's 2001 deal, trading popular but only 6-8 Elton Brand for 7-1 fledgling Tyson Chandler, could still hit big. Krause has gotten a lot of heat, but a nucleus of Chandler, Williams and Jalen Rose gives the Bulls reason to hope.

Meanwhile, Crawford, Bagaric and failed free-agent signee Eddie Robinson are giving them earaches.

Williams is struggling too, instructed not to attack the basket from the top of the key and getting only 11 shots a game. In Phil Jackson's time, the offense kept teams from double-teaming Michael Jordan, which was good. Now it's more like Tex Winter's equal-opportunity scheme, which isn't as good, with young players to establish.

Nor does it help that Cartwright is frustrated and everyone around him says they have to turn this around fast, before the NBA dies in Chicago.

This is what they signed up for, and if they couldn't kill professional basketball in all those miserable years before Jordan got there, it will survive now too.

Just to cap the Bulls' year, the Trail Blazers came in with Scottie Pippen on New Year's Eve ("Should auld acquaintance be forgot

Pippen, pleased at hearing talk about the Bulls' retiring his jersey, said they should retire Dennis Rodman's No. 91 too, or as Scottie put it, "Who's going to wear his number, anyway?"

Of course, being Pippen, he took the opportunity to dump on Krause and Reinsdorf again.

"You let Michael Jordan go," he said. "You let Scottie Pippen go. And we're still playing.... How many big free agents have they signed? They got Jalen Rose in a trade. Guys don't want to play for Krause. They couldn't even get a guy like Grant Hill. Eddie Jones told them he'd sign and never got on the plane."

As if to illustrate the Bulls' potential, in the nick of time, before people started throwing themselves off bridges, Chandler had what the Bulls hope was his breakout game, going for 27 points and 18 rebounds as they smoked the Trail Blazers by 15.

Look at the bright side: If the dawn always comes after it's darkest, the Bulls are due.

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