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Inside the NBA | Mark Heisler / SUNDAY REPORT

Failure has gone to the Bulls' heads

December 03, 2006|Mark Heisler

On the bright side for the Chicago Bulls, weren't they awesome in the opener?

Unfortunately, things haven't gone as well for the rising young team since its 108-66 romp in Miami, culminating in last week's blowup when Ben Wallace defied Bulls Coach Scott Skiles by -- gasp! -- wearing a headband.

This started a nationwide debate, with Wallace branded a mutineer and hailed for standing up for his right, guaranteed by the Constitution and the collective bargaining agreement, to the headband of his choice.

Amusing as it is watching people run around in circles with the media following right behind, this is really about more than what Wallace wears, like the off-season move that everyone hailed going down in flames.

It's now dawning on Wallace and the Bulls that it was a Horrible Mistake for them to offer him four years and $60 million and for him to take it. No one wants to say that, however, so instead they put on a morality play.

Bulls General Manager John Paxson announced: "I can't allow this to fracture our team." Unfortunately, he couldn't keep the crowd from fracturing, with many Bulls fans wearing headbands to the next game.

Wallace touched all the bases, saying he can't put himself ahead of the team, praising himself as a stand-up guy ("I'm man enough to take the punishment") while adding, "I'm not sorry."

Skiles said players always have problems with coaches, which is especially true in his case, even if he's a talented little tyrant and his Bulls play as if possessed.

If anything, Skiles liked the crisis atmosphere, suggesting his other players are too nice ("Normally when you're with a group, there are four or five altercations during a season. Grown men get into it"). Skiles once went after Shaquille O'Neal when they were teammates in Orlando, so at least he's sincere.

On behalf of modern headband wearers, Carmelo Anthony said "I don't think I can play" without his and LeBron James said he didn't know what he'd do without his.

Who knew it was so simple? Swipe their headbands and they're finished.

Wallace is famous for his Jimi Hendrix look with the headband helping his hair achieve maximum height, but he often featured other combinations: combed out without headband; braided with headband; braided without headband.

Attitude is everything for Wallace, who's really 6-7 1/2 -- the Boston Celtics tried him out at guard -- and entitled to a Samson complex. If putting wristbands on his biceps and a headband around his Afro makes him feel like a warrior and sells some posters, who could begrudge him that?

His one dimension fit with the Detroit Pistons, who, for all their problems scoring, were like Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns next to the Bulls. Wallace is now phoning home like E.T., pining to be rescued.

"I've been talking to Ben every day and I know he's frustrated," Chauncey Billups said.

"... For the most part, he don't bother nobody and don't say nothing to nobody. When he does say something, you know he's at his boiling point. I feel for him, man, I really do."

At 32, Wallace was already down from his career numbers of 15 rebounds and three blocks a game to last season's 11 and 2.2. Worse, he was starting to become high-maintenance.

The Pistons, who always talked about rewarding him with a maximum deal, offered $48 million and never budged. Doing what stars do, Wallace left.

Everyone thought it was a great move for the Bulls, until they went out on the court and found out it didn't work.

Their offense is even worse with four jump shooters and one player no one guards, which leaves an extra defender in the middle of the lane. After a night of watching them drive, jump in the air and throw the ball to the only player who was open, Wallace, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called it "latte."

When Wallace blasted Pistons Coach Flip Saunders before the season, the Detroit News' Chris McCoskey put the over-under on a Wallace-Skiles blowup at Thanksgiving -- and missed by one day.

Happily for the Bulls, all is not lost, although this season doesn't look as promising.

Yes, it's Kevin Garnett time!

If Garnett leaves Minnesota, friends say his preference is the Lakers. However, coming as a free agent means waiting until 2008 and taking a 40% cut. Otherwise it has to be a trade, with the Timberwolves determined to send him anywhere else.

If Lakers fans are aware of Garnett, he's an obsession in Chicago, like Moby Dick. The Bulls broke up their dynasty hoping to sign him in 1998. The Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith just acknowledged having traded him so many times, "I'm now listed with local media in the Timberwolves' media guide."

Going on nine years later, the Bulls look like the linchpin if Garnett is traded, with good young prospects to offer, such as Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon and the Knicks' No. 1 pick.

Garnett and the Bulls would rule the East. Wallace would even fit alongside KG, which is good, since at Ben's age and salary, he's not going anywhere.

In the meantime, Wallace and Skiles have each other.

Wallace didn't practice this week, claiming a sore neck, although he played in the Bulls' wins over the Knicks and Hornets. Wallace has three more years left on his deal, and Skiles has two. Talk about your duel of titans.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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