For the Bulls, it all goes back to top pick Derrick Rose in 2008
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It’s possible that the worst thing to happen to the Bulls in the last 10 years is also the thing that was once considered the greatest: drafting Derrick Rose.
Despite a 1.7 percent chance of picking first in the 2008 draft, the Bulls got the first Ping-Pong ball from the hopper and chose Rose, the Memphis All-America guard. Straight out of Englewood, Rose was just what the city needed — a locally born superstar who could lead the Bulls out of darkness.
It worked for a while, with the Bulls going 41-41 in Rose’s first two seasons, then blazing to 62-20 in the third. In that season, the Bulls won 21 of their last 23 games and finished with the best record in the league, and Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history.
The Bulls did well in Rose’s fourth season, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, and their championship dreams soon faded like melting ice. Abruptly, the Rose dream was over — the guard broke down with more injuries, got traded to the Knicks, then played with the Cavaliers and Timberwolves, and Chicago began the dreaded process of rebuilding and, sigh, tanking.
On Tuesday night at the Palmer House, the Bulls landed the seventh pick in the 2018 draft, one Ping-Pong ball below the sixth place they had ‘‘earned’’ by going 27-55.
The seventh pick is not a great one, but it’s not terrible, either. Serious homework is needed to avoid a dud. The Bulls have had four No. 7 picks since 1980, taking troubled guard Quintin Dailey in 1982 and big man Chris Mihm (traded to the Cavs for Jamal Crawford) in 2000. They did better with Kirk Hinrich in 2003 and Luol Deng in 2004.
Whom will they snag this year?
Center Wendell Carter Jr. from Duke? Oklahoma mad gunner Trae Young? Texas center Mohamed Bamba?
That last player, a 7-footer with raw, crazy potential and an absurd 7-9 reach, could be the surprise of this draft. Or he could be Greg Oden 2.0. That’s where homework kicks in.
If nothing else, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman should know that Bamba, who turned 20 this week, had 22 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks against Kansas this past season. They should also know how cool it would be to feature Bamba drinking a Bahama Mama in a Bulls promo ad.
At any rate, the Bulls are a long way from being a glory team. When Michael Jordan was winning six titles for the Bulls in the 1990s, he had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Ron Harper, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and even sharpshooting Paxson himself as teammates. If the Bulls think Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are comparable sidekicks, then God bless them for their optimism.
Those three are competent, maybe even dynamic, players under the right circumstances. But they have nothing of Jordan’s caliber anywhere near them, nor is Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg a man who inspires as much confidence as did the odd but singular Phil Jackson back in the day. Nor is the seventh pick likely to give the Bulls that rare court talent that turned Jackson into a genius because his main pupil was nothing less than the Albert Einstein of hoops.
But back to the Rose conundrum.
If the Bulls had had the seventh pick in 2008 instead of the first, they could have taken guard Eric Gordon, who went to the Clippers with that pick. How would that have worked out for the Bulls? Well, Gordon averaged 18 points this season and is still playing for the Rockets in the Western Conference finals.
It wasn’t wrong that the Bulls placed all their eggs in Rose’s basket — he did win that MVP, remember — but there’s the risk every team takes.
When Rose broke down, so did all the Bulls’ plans for years. Deng, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler — all for naught. And now the rebuild.
This hasn’t been quite as bad as what, say, the 76ers did to get where they are now. Their 10-72 record in 2015-16 helped them to 52-30 this season and a few wins in the playoffs, but, man, it came with a lot of ridicule and stupid jokes.
But that’s how the draft works. The worst teams get rewarded the most — which is unlike anything else in the capitalist system — but there’s also trickery, theory and dumb luck involved.
Here’s hoping the Bulls have at least one of those up their sleeve.
Legendary Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their gritty, no-holds-barred takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.