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Krause in his unpublished memoir, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago: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

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.