When the confetti settled after the Chicago Bulls won their sixth championship in 1998, and definitively putting an end to one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports, it was time for the franchise to enter the post Michael Jordan era.
Most of the key figures in the dynasty, with Jordan retiring, Scottie Pippen going to the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade, Dennis Rodman being released and Phil Jackson taking a year off coaching before heading to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1999-2000 season. Even Steve Kerr moved on, heading to the San Antonio Spurs. It gave general manager Jerry Krause a shot at building another championship team after the '90s dynasty.
However, the rebuild was hardly filled with success. Krause wanted to prove he could build another contender from the ground up. As it turned out, the remainder of his tenure with the Bulls was filled with losing records, bad trades and a carousel of coaches who could never replicate the success Chicago had in the '90s. Here's a breakdown of the many rebuilds after the Jordan era, and what went wrong.
The short-lived Elton Brand era
In the 1998-99 lockout season, the Bulls finished with a franchise-low 13 wins. Krause's favorite European player, Toni Kukoc, led the team in scoring (18.8 points), but there was no lingering success this time around after Jordan retired. Tim Floyd took over as head coach for Phil Jackson, but the team was still running the same triangle offense the Bulls ran during their championship years. That offense doesn't work too well when you don't have players like Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Kerr on the floor, and Chicago found that out the hard way.
The rock-bottom season landed the Bulls the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, which kick-started their first of several rebuilds. Chicago took Duke standout Elton Brand first overall, and immediately he saw individual success in the league. Brand won Rookie of the Year, and averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first two seasons. However, that didn't translate to team wins as Chicago went 32-132 during that two-year span.
As good as Brand was early in his career, though, Krause had his eyes on bigger dreams. The mid-90s started a wave of prep-to-pros talent, which began with Kevin Garnett in 1995. The following year, Kobe Bryant was drafted right out of high school, and it quickly became the trend to spend high draft picks on players who were fresh off of high school graduation.
Despite the success of Brand, Krause decided to flip him on draft night for the chance to have two young top-five picks in the 2001 draft. The Bulls traded Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to No. 2 overall pick Tyson Chandler, and used their own pick at No. 4 to take Eddy Curry. In one trade, the Bulls decided to restart again, this time with two teenagers running the show.
"The decision to make the trade wasn't hard. Telling Elton was," Krause told the Chicago Tribune in 2016. "I knew Elton would be a solid NBA player for 12-15 years, however long he played. But Tyson had a chance to be a star. To me, that was the difference. We had a chance to get greatness."
The failed Chandler-Curry tandem
Brand continued to averaged 20 and 10 throughout his prime, but the Bulls, especially Krause, thought they hit the jackpot with Curry and Chandler, with hopes of securing an All-Star frontcourt for years to come.
"I thought Eddy and Tyson would work together beautifully," Krause said via the Chicago Tribune. "Tyson would have been at the four, Eddy at the five. You would have been off and running for a long time. That's what I thought at that time: We got the two best young big men. Here we go again."
A year after taking Chandler and Curry, the Bulls thought they struck gold again when they selected Duke phenom Jay Williams with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was projected to be a star in the league, after a college career that included a national championship and multiple individual awards. However, a motorcycle accident in the summer following his rookie season left Williams with a severed nerve in his leg, fractured pelvis and three torn ligaments in his left knee, including his ACL. The injuries became too much for Williams to overcome, and the Bulls waived him in 2004.
Instead of having Williams to pair with their two athletic big men, the Bulls struggled mightily early in the Chandler-Curry era. As expected for many high schoolers going straight to the NBA at the time, there was a significant adjustment period for both big men. Through their first three seasons together, the Bulls went 74-172.
The only bit of team success the Bulls had during this time was in the 2004-05 season, when the team won 47 games and made it back to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Curry averaged a team-high 16 points a game, but an irregular heartbeat forced him to miss the entirety of the playoffs. Chandler was relegated to a bench role during this season, and in Curry's absence the Bulls found success behind a different young tandem: Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon. The two young guards stole the show in the 2005 playoffs, averaging 21 points and 14 points respectively, but Chicago still lost to the Washington Wizards in the first round. With those two asserting themselves as the Bulls' future, Curry and Chandler were pushed aside.
Curry was traded to the New York Knicks in October of 2005, after refusing the Bulls' request to take a DNA test to see if he had a congenital heart condition. Oddly enough, the Bulls inked Chandler to a six-year, $64 million contract a month after dealing Curry, but he was traded the following year to the New Orleans Hornets.
By moving on from both Curry and Chandler in back-to-back years, the Bulls' final rebuild under Krause, who stepped down in 2003 due to health concerns, officially ended. Floyd, the coach Krause so badly wanted to replace Phil Jackson with, resigned in 2001 with a lowly 49-190 record. The dream he had of pairing two hyper-athletic 7-foot centers together never yielded any substantial success, and were traded for players who never made any real impact with the Bulls.
When Krause stepped down in 2003, former Bulls player John Paxson took over as general manager, and the focus was now on Hinrich, Gordon and Luol Deng. The Bulls made it to the playoffs twice more with this trio: another first-round exit in 2006, and a semifinals appearance in 2007. The talent was there, but the Bulls were missing their superstar. That's where the 2008 NBA Draft comes in.
After missing the playoffs in the 2007-08 season, the Bulls landed the No. 1 overall pick and selected Chicago native Derrick Rose. For seven straight seasons the Bulls were a postseason mainstay. Rose won Rookie of the Year, became the youngest MVP ever in 2011 and was a three-time All-Star in his first four seasons in the league.
The Bulls finally made it back to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, and despite falling to the Miami Heat in five games, it looked like they had the potential to win a championship with their league MVP, Joakim Noah and Tom Thibodeau as head coach. However, an ACL tear in 2012 completely derailed Rose's game and the Bulls' future again. Thibodeau was fired in 2015 after disagreements with the front office, and after several more injury-riddled seasons the Bulls traded Rose to the New York Knicks in 2016.
It was the Bulls' first successful rebuild after the Jordan era, but Rose's injury changed everything in Chicago. A new star in Chicago, however, took shape in Jimmy Butler. With Rose gone, Butler became the centerpiece for the Bulls and made three All-Star Games after taking over the team. Eventually, Butler grew frustrated with the front office's failure to build a quality team around him, and the Bulls were skeptical that he could be someone they can build a team around. Chicago opted to trade Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017, leading to yet another rebuild.
The Rose and short-lived Butler era were the highest marks of success the Bulls had seen since Jordan's last game in 1998, and it took many reroutes and pivoting to get there. It's not just players who Chicago had minimal success with, either. Since Jackson departed after the Bulls' final title, the franchise has gone through 10 different head coaches, with only Thibodeau posting a winning record (255-139) during his tenure. Other coaches who had a decent run in Chicago were Vinny Del Negro (82-82) and Scott Skiles (165-172), but nothing remotely close to the team's previous success.
Krause was never able to find the type of sustained success he built in the '90s with Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson, and even after him, the Bulls still struggled to obtain consistency. Even now, after trading Butler to Minnesota,and trying to find the recipe for success that came so easy to them in the '90s.