Jerry Krause

Jerry Krause had plans to sign Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady in 2000

Jerry Krause had plans to sign Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady in 2000

“And the Bulls started to rebuild.”

Those words emblazoned across the screen to end “The Last Dance” served as a reminder of the fate that awaited the franchise after the dynasty’s splintering. Michael Jordan retired again, Scottie Pippen embarked on a sign-and-trade to the Rockets, Phil Jackson slunk into hiatus and various role players departed by way of trade or release. The team won a combined 30 games over the next two years.

But, apparently, in the summer of 2000, Jerry Krause had a plan to catapult the Bulls back to prominence — light years ahead of schedule. 

Appearing on The Platform Basketball Podcast, Jamal Crawford detailed the scheme, which involved signing either two or all three of Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady.

“My rookie year, Jerry (Krause) thought he was gonna get Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady,” Crawford said on the show. “So, obviously, MJ just retired, right. We have all this cap space. And so we have all these rookies, and — go back and look, I guarantee you Grant, Tim and TMac were all free agents. And Jerry wholeheartedly believed we would get all three of them.”

Indeed, Duncan, McGrady and Grant Hill were all eligible to be signed that summer, and the Bulls sat “roughly $18 million” under the $35.5 million salary cap — primed and ready to strike.

Their courting of McGrady, specifically, involved meeting the 21-year-old at the airport upon his Chicago arrival with a band, the Luvabull dancers, Benny the Bull and chanting fans — a spectacle that prompted then-Orlando Sentinel columnist *checks notes* Skip Bayless to term them the “Hooterville Bulls.”

Of course, none came to fruition. Hill and McGrady teamed up with the Orlando Magic, but injuries quickly derailed their hopes of glory. Duncan re-upped in San Antonio and spearheaded one of the greatest dynasties in modern sports over the next decade-and-a-half.

The Bulls’ biggest free agent acquisition that summer was Ron Mercer on a four-year, $27 million deal. They flipped Mercer in February 2002, and finished above-.500 just twice in the aughts.

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Jerry Reinsdorf on why Bulls’ dynasty ended and Michael Jordan’s greatness

Jerry Reinsdorf on why Bulls’ dynasty ended and Michael Jordan’s greatness

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows Michael Jordan’s competitiveness as well as anyone.

It flashed again, and forevermore, in the final moments of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary. Jordan arched an eyebrow while listening to playback of Reinsdorf’s interview giving filmmakers an explanation for the dynasty’s end.

Then, Jordan passionately stated why he believes the principals should have been kept intact to try for a seventh championship in 1998-99.

“I was not pleased. How’s that?” Reinsdorf told NBC Sports Chicago in a phone conversation, when asked for his reaction to the scene. “He knew better. Michael and I had some private conversations at that time that I won’t go into detail on ever. But there’s no question in my mind that Michael’s feeling at the time was we could not put together a championship team the next year.”

Don’t get it twisted. Reinsdorf called his current relationship with Jordan “great” and said his favorite part of the documentary is that it should put to rest any doubt about the NBA’s greatest player of all-time.

In February, Reinsdorf found himself at the same Florida hotel as Jordan, now chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. Reinsdorf said he, Jordan and Derek Jeter spent three hours together, sharing laughs and conversation.

“We had a great time. I love Michael,” Reinsdorf said. “Michael is terrific.”

But to Reinsdorf, the revisionist history of the end of the dynasty is less so.

“I asked (coach) Phil (Jackson) to come back. Phil said no. Michael said I won’t play for anybody other than Phil,” Reinsdorf said, reiterating facts that were reported 22 years ago. “I met with Michael on the 3rd of July of that year and I said to him, ‘We’re in a lockout. Who knows when we’re going to play? Why don’t you wait until the lockout is over and maybe I can talk Phil into coming back?’ And he agreed.

“When the lockout was over, I still couldn’t talk Phil into coming back. And the big thing is Michael had cut his finger with a cigar cutter, and he couldn’t have played. So what’s all this talk about bringing everybody back when Michael couldn’t have come back?”

The flip side, of course, is that perhaps Jordan doesn’t pick up a cigar cutter in retirement mode if he knows his preferred coach and trusted teammates like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman will be re-signed once the lockout is over.

“OK, let’s take that hypothetical. Scottie had Houston offering him a multi-year contract. You think he would’ve turned that down to come back for one year? I don’t think so,” Reinsdorf said. “Dennis Rodman had gone beyond the pale. As it turned out, he played 35 games after that (in his career). Luc Longley was on his last legs. If we had brought that team back, they were gassed. Michael had been carrying that team.”

In his book “Eleven Rings,” Jackson wrote in great detail about Reinsdorf’s offer to return in 1998 and his theory about not staying with a team beyond seven seasons. Ultimately, he coached nine in Chicago but wrote about seeking transformation by moving on.

Reinsdorf once again acknowledged the part that Jackson’s frayed relationship with general manager Jerry Krause played in Jackson’s exit.

“Absolutely true. And Jerry saying he could go 82-0 and he’s still not coming back, that was pretty ridiculous,” Reinsdorf said. “I told Jerry he shouldn’t have said it, and I think Jerry realized that.”

The Bulls and Jackson endured a contentious contract negotiation in 1997, the second straight offseason that Jackson signed a one-year deal. The only difference between that summer and 1998 is that Reinsdorf was able to salvage the negotiations and convince Jackson to return.

“I flew out to Montana and even at that time, Phil said that was going to be his last year,” Reinsdorf said.

Reinsdorf, 84, long has accepted the dynasty’s end. He knows how difficult and rare they are in professional sports. Reliving it through the documentary has only heightened the feeling of appreciation for him.

“This is history. It makes for fascinating stuff,” Reinsdorf said. “And ‘The Last Dance’ obviously should establish in the mind of any person with normal eyesight that Michael was beyond a doubt the greatest of all-time. In my mind, anytime anybody wants to talk to me about comparing Michael to LeBron (James), I’m going to tell them to please don’t waste my time.

“I’m really pleased it showed how great Michael was to people who hadn’t seen him play. I’m truly tired of people trying to compare LeBron to Michael when it’s not even close. They should try to compare LeBron with Oscar Robertson or Magic Johnson. Michael was so head and shoulders over everybody, and that really came out in this documentary. He was a phenomenon. We may never see another like him.”

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Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

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.

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