Phil Jackson’s theory of only spending seven seasons with a team before it needed a new voice had been stretched to nine. That’s two more years of extended exposure to his deteriorating relationship with general manager Jerry Krause.
Scottie Pippen delayed foot surgery to the eve of the 1997-98 season because he was tired of being underpaid from a contract that he signed, but was also dangled by Krause as trade bait.
Dennis Rodman skipped a practice during the 1998 NBA Finals to participate in Hulk Hogan’s wrestling shenanigans.
And Luc Longley, Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler needed new deals. Some wanted to get paid.
Most people didn’t need a 10-part documentary to know it’s not smart to doubt Michael Jordan.
Hearing him passionately declare he believes the Bulls could have won a seventh championship had ownership and management returned the principals from the second three-peat team is about as unsurprising as him making a game-winning shot.
Nevertheless, plenty of doubt surrounds his claim. From this view, the Bulls won the number of championships they were supposed to win.
This documentary reminded and reinforced how burnt out Jordan was in 1993 — even before his father’s tragic murder that summer. That first retirement that led to his baseball experiment (which rejuvenated him for the second three-peat) was necessary.
As for 1998, well, Jordan himself talked about how the Eastern Conference finals series versus the Pacers proved the toughest of the Bulls’ dynasty — Bad Boy Pistons aside. There were more tests like that coming in 1998-99, even if the season got shortened to 50 games by the lockout.
Maybe Jordan isn’t fooling around with a cigar cutter during the lockout and doesn’t slice a tendon in his finger if he knows everyone is running it back for the 1998-99 season. As it stood, that injury would have left his full availability and effectiveness for the season in question.
In ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” Jordan rightfully acknowledged that bringing Pippen back into the fold would have been the most difficult situation to navigate. Pippen was looking for a big payday. His agents even asked the Bulls to engineer a sign-and-trade with the Rockets so that Pippen could make an extra $25 million.
The Bulls would have been able to pay him roughly $14 million for a one-year deal.
Jackson, too, was done, rejecting Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s late invitation to return and taking a sabbatical to Montana.
An ineffective Rodman played just 35 more games over the next two seasons. Without the leadership and structure that allowed him to flourish with his individualistic ways within the construct of the team, his days as an impact player ended.
Longley’s body began to break down. And on and on and on.
Jordan’s passion and competitiveness is understandable and expected. He’s supposed to believe he could have willed the Bulls to another title.
The Spurs went 37-13 and defeated the eighth-seeded Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals. That Spurs team featured a young Tim Duncan, a still forceful David Robinson and depth, including two former Bulls in Kerr and Will Perdue.
Dynasties are hard for a reason. They don’t last. The Bulls rode theirs as long as they could.