Jerry Krause: I didn’t break up Bulls. Health and salary issues did

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The Bulls effectively announced the conclusion of their dynasty in 1997.

Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said he and Phil Jackson agreed it’d be Jackson’s last season as coach. Michael Jordan had already said he wouldn’t play for any other coach. No more Michael Jordan, no more dynasty. The terms were clear.

So, the Bulls went on one more run – a “Last Dance” – and won the 1998 championship. If breaking up this team weren’t already dubious, doing so immediately after another title seemed even more misguided. Didn’t management reconsider?

Krause in his unpublished memoir, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

I’m now going to take you to a place no Bulls outsider has ever been, a meeting in early July 1998. It was attended by Jerry Reinsdorf, myself, (assistant general manager) Jim Stack, Al Vermeil, the team doctors and surgeons, (VP of finance) Irwin Mandel and (assistant to the GM) Karen Stack. Vermeil knew more about the condition of the players’ bodies than even the medical people. He had continually tested them in and out of season during the entire championship run. We had asked then-trainer Chip Schaefer to submit a written report on the team’s health.

The first question I asked was how much did people think we could get out of Luc Longley, a free-agent-to-be who we’d had to rest periodically over the last few years because of unstable ankles. Al and the doctors thought he would break down quickly.

Next question: Rodman? Each person in the room was concerned that Dennis’ off-court meanderings had caught up with him, that he was playing on fumes at the end of the season.

We go to Pippen. He’s had two major surgeries in two years, one of them late in the summer to purposely defy our instructions to do it earlier and not miss regular-season time. He wants to rightfully be paid superstar dollars. Is he worth the risk, especially if we can’t find a center and a power forward, and he and Michael have to carry the load for a new coach? I seriously doubt it.

Put yourself in our shoes as we walk out of that room. What would you do? Did we break up a dynasty or was the dynasty breaking up of age, natural attrition of NBA players with little time to recuperate and the salary-cap rules that govern the game?

As the summer wore on and players were locked out of the training facilities by the league — that would mean the NBA season would not start until late January — things got even worse. Michael sliced a finger on a cigar cutter that would’ve prevented him from playing an entire season.

I suggest reading the full article for more details of Krause’s explanation, including the salary issue.

Keep this in mind, though: The Bulls had Bird Rights on every player mentioned. Salary-cap rules would’ve allowed Chicago to re-sign all its own free agents. It would’ve been expensive, but legal. Of course, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf had spending limits. That was a key consideration in breaking up the team. It’s unfair Krause so often took all the blame for decisions that also involved Reinsdorf. (That’s an issue with “The Last Dance” documentary, too.) Even in death, Krause – with this excerpt – is still shielding Reinsdorf.

Krause was involved, too. And his logic has flaws.

It’s so difficult to build a championship contender, and Krause helped do it. Teams shouldn’t take that window for granted while it’s open.

Even if Krause were right about the team’s low odds in 1999, what did rushing into rebuilding get the Bulls? They were awful the next five seasons. They went the next dozen years with just two winning seasons.

At least Chicago would have had a chance of meaningful success in 1999 – depending on Jordan’s finger.

This is the first time I’ve seen it described as a full-season injury. Jordan himself said, “The doctors said I couldn’t play for about two months.” Jordan also said he decided to retire before cutting his finger, which happened while vacationing in the Bahamas. If Krause and Jackson had resolved their issues and Jordan planned to return for another run, Jordan probably would’ve been training rather than vacationing.

Pippen (Rockets), Rodman (Lakers) and Longley (Suns) all declined with new teams during the 1999 season. Maybe that would’ve happened similarly in Chicago. But Pippen and Longley had significantly differently roles. Particularly, Pippen fumed about being third option behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley in Houston. Rodman benefited from the structure of playing for the winning Bulls. Toni Kukoc was also ascending and could’ve supplanted Rodman as starting forward.

Kevin Pelton of ESPN analyzed how the Bulls would’ve fared if they kept their core intact in 1999. He projected them as the top team in the Eastern Conference, though not the league. If they met the actual-champion Spurs in the NBA Finals, the Bulls – with all their playoff experience – certainly would’ve had a fighting chance.

Pelton’s method accounts for aging, but not the specific medical issues of Bulls players. Krause’s insight there matters.

But a player’s long-term health is difficult to predict. There are no certainties. Remember, Krause explored replacing Jackson in 1996 and trading Pippen in 1997. With either move, Chicago’s run could’ve ended even sooner.

I don’t share Krause’s conviction that 1999 was the right time.

Still, it’s interesting to read Krause make his case. Again, I recommend reading the full excerpt.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

San Antonio Spurs v Denver Nuggets
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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.