Bulls

Scottie Pippen says the Bulls dynasty would've won 'at least two' more titles had they stayed together

Scottie Pippen says the Bulls dynasty would've won 'at least two' more titles had they stayed together

The great Bulls dynasty of the 1990s ended abruptly but on a high note. Following their hard-fought NBA Championship win in 1998, Phil Jackson and management couldn't come to an agreement and they decided it was time for him to recharge, taking a step away from basketball. With their leader deciding to get out of the game, Jordan decided to call it quits again. With Jackson and MJ gone, the Bulls front office started their rebuild, trading away Scottie Pippen and not re-signing Dennis Rodman.

One of the great "What ifs?" in NBA history is what would've happened if the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman Bulls stayed together for a few more seasons?

Well, one man seems to have a pretty good idea of how things would've gone if the band stayed together for several more years.

In that same interview on ESPN's 'The Jump', Pippen goes on to say that not only would the Bulls have dominated the lockout-shortened (50-game) 1998-99 season but they would've gone on to win 'at least two' more titles.

Pippen elaborated, "I would have loved to have challenged ourselves to a point to where someone could defeat us."

The 10-time All-Defensive first-team selection and Hall of Famer stated that the teams that gave he, Rodman, Jordan, and company the most problems were the Utah Jazz, who were in the same age bracket as the Bulls, if not older. And in the NBA postseason, we do see veteran teams give fits to younger, inexperienced squads, so 'Pip' may have a point. 

When Rachel Nichols brought up that the lockout-shortened season would've helped the "old man" Bulls keep their legs fresh, Rodman stated, "That makes me mad, man...we had legs for 50 games. My God."

The Bulls were obviously dominant but could a 33-year-old Pippen, 37-year-old Rodman and 35-year-old MJ really have won two more titles?

We took a look at how the Bulls would've stacked up with the 1999 and 2000 NBA Champions, and the matchups are highly intriguing. 

The 1998-99 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs were led by a ridiculously effective frontcourt of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. In the 1999 NBA Finals the Robinson-Duncan duo combined for 44.0 points, 25.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 5.2 blocks per game. They dominated the Patrick Ewing-less New York Knicks but the Bulls would've presented a much different challenge. 

Similar to the Utah Jazz (and pretty much every team in the league if we're being honest), the Spurs didn't have any single player who could be looked at like a clear-cut perimeter stopper. This brings up serious issues when matching up with a Bulls team that was getting 64.4 points per game from the trio of Toni Kukoc, Pippen and Jordan. On the flip side, the Spurs would've had a clear advantage on the inside.

The Bulls were outrebounded in both the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals, and that edge on the glass is exactly what helped Utah extend those series to six games each time. Rodman is, of course, one of the greatest rebounders of all-time and was quite adept at guarding up a position (i.e. guarding much bigger players). So when factoring in Rodman's skillset and the way the Bulls would aggressively double-team Karl Malone in their series against the Jazz, the Bulls would likely have the advantage because at the time—despite being a player who was clearly prepared for high-pressure moments—Tim Duncan was only 22 years old.

For further examples that an experienced bunch would've taken down that Spurs team, look no further than the 1998 Western Conference Finals, in which the John Stockton-Karl Malone Utah Jazz that lost to the Bulls took down the Spurs 4-1. But when we look at how an aging Bulls squad would have faced off with the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers, things get a bit murky. 

The starting lineup of the Lakers was: Ron Harper, Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice, and '00 MVP Shaquille O'Neal.

The most interesting parts of this hypothetical matchup are how familiar the Lakers would be with the Bulls considering the presence of Harper in the lineup, the matchup of Shaq vs. the Bulls bigs and of course, what would've likely been a legendary battle between Jordan and a then 21-year-old Bryant.

Harper likely wouldn't have had an incredible impact, as the Bulls' triangle offense deemphasized the importance of a top-notch point guard. But the O'Neal-Bryant tandem had enough talent and skill to potentially overwhelm an aging Bulls team. 

Keep in mind that O'Neal led the charge (24.3 PPG) when the Orland Magic took down the MJ-led Bulls in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Chicago's center rotation (Bill Wennington, Luc Longley) was essentially the same in '98 as it was in '95, so a slightly older and wiser O'Neal certainly would've again been able to post gaudy numbers against the Bulls. But Rodman, who was not on the '95 Bulls, had a reputation as someone who could give much bigger matchups fits, even the massive O'Neal, so there is a case to be had that the Bulls could've slowed him down.

So it all comes down to Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan. 

The two legends faced off less than 10 times during their respective NBA careers and while '00 Bryant had not developed his 'Mamba Mentality' yet, he was fresh off an All-Defensive first-team selection while also being a 20+ PPG scorer. In '98, a 34-year-old Jordan put up 32.4 PPG on a 54.5 percent true shooting percentage, so he was still in top form. 

Ultimately, Bryant's athleticism would have played a major part in the Lakers' effort to slow MJ down, but we have seen over 13 different postseasons (33.4 PPG career playoff scoring average, No. 1 all-time), that there is no such thing as "slowing MJ down." 

The pure dominance of Shaq—and the fact that the Lakers would've had homecourt advantage—makes them look like the favorites, but Pippen, Rodman, and Jordan could easily frustrate O'Neal, forcing him to be more of a passer and high-volume free throw shooter.

We're taking the Bulls in seven games over the 2000 Lakers with an acknowledgment that it would be a hard-fought series, so maybe Pippen wasn't off with his prediction of two more titles had the Bulls dynasty stayed together longer. 

Four observations: Bulls take down Pistons in dominant effort

Four observations: Bulls take down Pistons in dominant effort

The Bulls took down Derrick Rose and the Pistons 109-89 behind a stellar effort from Lauri Markkanen. Four observations from the win:

First quarter fizzle, third quarter sizzle

The Bulls came out of the gates piping hot in this one, jumping out to a 19-6 lead behind seven quick points from Lauri Markkanen — those coming from two authoritative dunks and a three-pointer that bounced high off the back rim before dropping in. 

In just five minutes, though, the Pistons erased that deficit, riding a Langston Galloway heat-check to a 28-24 lead with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the first. Coby White stopped the bleeding with back-to-back three-pointers, and the two sides ended the quarter knotted at 30.

Jim Boylen talked before the game about limiting ‘streaks’ and credit to the Bulls for not letting that one be their undoing. From the beginning of the second quarter on, they generally maintained at least two possessions-worth of distance from Detroit before pulling away in the third.

The most exciting sequence of that stretch was lead by — who else? — White. Up nine, he ran a crisp screen-and-roll with Wendell Carter for an alley-oop, then followed that up with a pull-up transition three moments later to put the Bulls up 14 and force a Pistons timeout. They never looked back.

The starters pull their weight

After their last game against Milwaukee, Boylen said he considered riding a bench unit in crunch-time. But tonight, the starters pulled their weight.

For Markkanen specifically, this was exactly the type of performance the doctor ordered. He led all scorers with 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting (3-for-4 from three). It wasn’t a perfect game — a few bricked jumpers persisted, and at one point Andre Drummond sent him packing with a vicious block on a dunk attempt. Nevertheless, Markkanen posting a 20-point game for the first time since opening night is a welcome development.

Meanwhile, Tomas Satoransky bounced back from only logging 18 minutes in a hard-fought loss to Milwaukee to put up 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds (3-for-5 from three). He set up both of Markkanen’s first-quarter dunks and threw down a thunderous transition slam of his own to put the Pistons to bed in the fourth. 

Wendell Carter and Shaq Harrison were active and engaged on both ends all night, as well. Carter was up to the challenge of Drummond, finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds (five offensive), his ninth double-double of the season. Harrison had 11 rebounds of his own, three steals and punched home a breakaway reverse drunk that ignited the UC, to boot. He finished with a team-high plus-minus of +29.

The one exception was Zach LaVine, who — again — struggled. He scored five points on 2-for-11 shooting and was invisible for long stretches.

Bulls simply dominate

It feels surreal to watch the Bulls so thoroughly dominate an opponent. A look at some pertinent team splits from this one:

Three-point shooting

Bulls: 14-for-27 (51.9%)
Pistons: 8-for-33 (24.2%)

Rebounds

Bulls: 55
Pistons: 46

Fast break points:

Bulls: 18
Pistons: 9

Points in the paint:

Bulls: 48
Pistons: 36

Detroit looked dreadful. Next.

Who’s chopping onions in here?

Some old pals were in the house on a night the Bulls honored Luol Deng — and not just Derrick Rose:

Just before introducing some friendly ghosts of mid-2000’s past, the team also debuted a tribute video for Deng:

 

“I think the love in Chicago is different than everywhere else,” Deng said before the game. “You become part of the city. I miss that. I just miss the city.”

The city misses you too, Luol. Even in a blowout victory, the cheers during that part of the night were louder than for any in-game play.

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Bulls honor Luol Deng, who takes place among all-time franchise greats

Bulls honor Luol Deng, who takes place among all-time franchise greats

Luol Deng strolled down a United Center hallway, hugging Joakim Noah one minute and Derrick Rose the next.

In some ways, it felt like a golden era of Bulls basketball all over again.

But time marches on. And Deng returned Wednesday night to be honored for his decision to sign a ceremonial one-day contract and retire as a Bull last month.

“It’s what makes sense. Chicago means a lot to me,” Deng said pregame. “When you look back, just my career as a basketball player, coming here as a young kid, a young man I should say at (age) 19, it’s a lot of history here and I wanted it to end the right way and the best way to do it is with familiar faces and with people who know me very well.”

Acquired in a draft-day trade in 2003, Deng made two All-Star games and landed in the top-10 of virtually every major statistical category for all-time franchise leaders before getting traded to the Cavaliers in his 10th season.

Deng also played for the Heat, Lakers and Timberwolves. But he’ll always be associated with the Bulls.

“It’s so many good memories,” Deng said. “When you are going through it, you really don’t see it that way. You’re in the league, you’re trying to prove a point, you’re trying to the best player you can be. Every day ‘you can do this, you can’t do that, we need this, we don’t need that.’ You kind of forget the relationship you have and what you are building.

“And then you think back and what it meant to the organization, what it meant to the fans. I know we never won a championship, but there’s a lot of good memories of how hard we played, how hard we battled growing up in front of the fans. Those are things you look back on. I can’t have it anywhere else. Everywhere else where I went and played it’s after I’ve accomplished certain things. I’m [a] grown player. I’ve been in the league for awhile. For me to be here 10 years is such a blessing.”

Deng teamed with Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon to help change the culture and qualify for the 2005 playoffs, the franchise’s first appearance since the dynasty dismantled.

Gordon attended, as did former teammates Aaron Gray, Jannero Pargo, John Lucas III, Tyrus Thomas, Nazr Mohammed and Joakim Noah.

“I think the love in Chicago is different than everywhere else,” Deng said. “Anywhere that you get drafted I think people are attached to you. They watch you grow up and they kind of know who you are, your character. You’re not just a basketball player anymore. You become part of the city. I miss that. I just miss the city. I miss going to certain places.

“I remember I lived in Northbrook, but I had a place in the West Loop. And now you drive around and you see it and you see the changes and everything. So you miss it. You miss friends, family, all that.”

Deng and the Bulls picked the night in large part because Rose and the Pistons were in town.

“What we did together  -- Jo is here also and some of the guys from that team – I think for me, it’s weird,” Deng said. “When I was playing with the Bulls, I was watching Derrick back in high school and I was actually going to the games. Derrick ends up being on the team.

“And seeing Derrick, you know, MVP, from the city, it’s almost like you’re a teammate but I was rooting for Derrick with those guys and the team. I know last year when I was with Derrick (in Minnesota) I spoke with him a little bit about it, that I’m thinking about doing this. I didn’t know where he was going to be. But it means a lot to me that you know, those guys are here and that he’s here and Derrick is from Chicago.”

Deng, Noah and Rose were instrumental in leading the Bulls to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. Deng revived an old debate as to whether or not the Bulls could’ve beat the Heat, who prevailed in five games, if they had stayed healthy or won the 2012 title if Rose hadn’t torn his left ACL.

“Everyone has their own opinion and I’m not taking anything away from the teams that won it that year,” Deng said. “There’s two incidents that happened. The first one was obviously, we know about Derrick’s injury that year. But before that, people don’t remember with Omer Asik, when we had Omer, that season I think we won 62 games. Every time we had Omer play the whole fourth quarter, we beat Miami that year (three) times during the season and we won the first game (of the conference finals). But in the last few minutes of that game Omer broke his leg. I don’t know many people know that story, but we really couldn’t beat the Heat without him after that. We all knew it in the locker room and we had a hard time doing it, and I felt like we could’ve won that year.

“And then obviously the year when Derrick got hurt I think mentally we didn’t prepare ourselves what would happen if that happened. Because you just didn’t think of it happening. You thought about maybe ankle sprains or something. But to have your best player, which your whole team was built around, go down like that, we just couldn’t come back from it.”

Deng’s favorite individual highlight came when he made his first All-Star game in 2012.

“It’s crazy because when it happened for me it was like, ‘OK, I’m an All Star, I’m going to the All-Star, I felt great about it.’ I loved it. But it means a lot when you look back.

“With people saying Thibs (former coach Tom Thibodeau) playing guys a lot of minutes---for me, I think when Thibs came to Chicago it changed my career. As well as I’ve done in the past, I think it gave me almost like a label where people started to believe in how hard I played. And because we were winning, everything I was doing was highlighted a lot more than it would be when we were losing. So I appreciated that, and those teams under Thibs, when I go back, all those minutes that I played I’m so thankful for. Because not only did I play better and perform well under it, but it also, for the city, people appreciate night in and night out how hard I was playing with all those minutes.”

Deng said he came to terms with retirement recently and has plans to do more work with his foundation, which was powerful in Chicago when he played for the Bulls. Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Deng smiled.

“I want it to be more than just the game,” he said. “I know I am a professional basketball; I was a professional basketball player. But I think I tried to be, really, the best teammate that I could be. I tried to do a lot of stuff off the court. With the stuff that I’m doing now with my life and everything, I think I tried to do as much as I can while playing.

“The stuff that we did with the organization within the city---to me, it was a lot more than just basketball. So I want people to remember it that way.”

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