For the past five weeks, "The Last Dance" has captivated the nation's attention with its retelling of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls' quest for a sixth championship. Everything about the 10-part documentary , from the superbly-crafted soundtrack, the retro NBA jerseys and the '90s Bulls themselves. It sucks you into a world where the Bulls were at the top of the NBA hierarchy for an entire decade, and almost making you forget about the franchise's current state.
In the closing moments of Episode 10 of the documentary, a young Jordan projects about the potential future of the franchise and where he wants to see it go.
"I just want the franchise, the Chicago Bulls, to be respected like the Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics," Jordan said. "Hopefully this team and this organization can build a program like that."
After quickly recapping the dismantling of the Bulls' dynasty in the closing of the documentary, the last words on the screen are ... "and the Bulls started to rebuild."
It's been 22 years, and the Chicago Bulls are still rebuilding. After the Jordan era, the Bulls tried to find their next wave of talent, but failed miserably for six seasons. Then came the Ben Gordon-Luol Deng-Kirk Hinrich days, which resulted in postseason berths but early exits. Chicago then pivoted to a rebuild again, and this time landed the No. 1 draft pick in 2008 which it used to take Derrick Rose. The Rose era, which featured Tom Thibodeau as head coach, was the most success the Bulls experienced since the '90s. Rose won league MVP in 2011, the same season the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals after winning 62 games. However, injuries coupled with the presence of LeBron James in the East squashed any real chance of them capturing a championship.
The Bulls fired Thibodeau in 2015 after he and management failed to see eye-to-eye, and eventually traded Rose in 2016 after several injury-riddled seasons. Chicago had another star waiting in the wings in Jimmy Butler, however. In the three seasons he was the leading man for the Bulls, Butler made three All-Star Games and averaged 21 points. Although Butler was on the rise, Chicago failed to surround him with quality pieces to contend. Butler grew unhappy in Chicago, and the front office had doubts on whether he could be the go-to guy on a championship team, so the Bulls dealt him to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
When the Bulls traded away Butler for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen in 2017, they were essentially swapping a franchise star for future potential. Butler's on his third team since the Bulls, but he's pushed the Miami Heat to becoming the No. 4 seed in the East playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bulls are still spinning in circles hoping that the potential of the pieces they received in that trade comes to fruition.
The Bulls have been a far cry from what the Jordan era brought the city of Chicago in the '90s. There's no bona fide superstars like Jordan and Scottie Pippen to build around. There's no mastermind coach at the helm who players will buy into like Phil Jackson, and when visiting players come into town, they typically talk about the history of the franchise rather than the product on the court now.
Despite the lack of winning, the Bulls still rank among the top of the league in attendance every season. Although, when you walk inside the United Center you see more fans sporting Jordan and Pippen jerseys than LaVine and Markkanen ones. There's always a line of people ready to take pictures with the six championship trophies on the arena's main concourse, or with the iconic Jordan statue in the East Atrium. The winning history of the Bulls has kept fans coming to games, even when the product on the floor hasn't lived up to those championship expectations set by Jordan, Pippen and company two decades ago.
Before the NBA hiatus started on March 11, the Bulls were 22-43, eight games out of the playoffs and looking at their third straight losing season. They rank 29th in the league in offensive rating (105.8), and outside of LaVine, don't have another consistent scorer on the roster. The consensus is that bringing in a new coach could turn Chicago's fortunes around, but the ruling is still out on whether a core of LaVine, Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and rookie Coby White is something worth building around.
LaVine's been putting up career numbers this season (25.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds), but questions remain on if he can be the centerpiece of this franchise going forward. Markkanen, who showed tons of promise in his second season, significantly regressed in his third year and has missed a total of 59 games due to injuries. Similarly, Carter has already missed 60 games in two seasons. The one positive note that emerged this year for the Bulls was White, who acted as a spark plug off the bench, averaging 13 points a game.
While injuries put a damper on any chance at progressing toward playoff contention, the Bulls were outscored by 17.3 points in 28 games those four players were together on the floor this season. Obviously they need more time playing together, and a season without injuries would be ideal, but players are still unhappy about the direction of the franchise.
Markannen reportedly told the Bulls that discouraged him from shooting mid-range shots.if changes weren't made, and he's voiced his displeasure with how he's been utilized in the offense. LaVine also wasn't thrilled this season when the Bulls' analytics department
There is a sliver of hope on the horizon for the Bulls, though. Chicago used this pause in the season to do a spring cleaning of sorts to its front office. Just 10 days after the report of Markkanen being unhappy surfaced, the team Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas as their new president of basketball operations, and 76ers executive Marc Eversley as general manager.Gar Forman, and put John Paxson in a senior advisor role. The Bulls moved quickly in their process to fill their front-office vacancies, hiring
These long overdue changes signal that the Bulls are done being complacent and are serious about getting back into the playoffs again. Their next step is figuring out what to do with Jim Boylen. The Bulls are reportedly, but team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Paxson are throwing their support behind Boylen to remain head coach.
Since taking over for Fred Hoiberg in 2018, Boylen has posted a 39-84 record, and outside of him being passionate about the team, he hasn't given the franchise enough reason to keep him on. When he was promoted to head coach, there was a "ripped Boylen" to the new executives.that took place against him by the players, and when Karnisovas and Eversley asked the players about him, some of them reportedly
Perhaps the newly-run Bulls can find success under a new head coach and system, and the issues that have been plaguing this team for the past few seasons diminishes. If not, though, it's back to the drawing board. Either way, the Bulls are still trying to capture even a sliver of success they were so fortunate to have for an entire decade, when hoisting Larry O'Brien Trophies was expected and not just wishful thinking.