It's the end of the Bulls as we know it.
This is not a misprint. Your two-time defending world champion Chicago Bulls are probably going to break up by next week's NBA Draft.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause are going to be two of the most unpopular men in Chicago during the off-season despite last Friday's NBA championship that brought the team's fifth NBA title in seven years.
Michael Jordan is still the greatest player on the planet and maybe the greatest of all-time - Wilt Chamberlain, notwithstanding - but how long will His Airness continue his throne?
Reinsdorf and Krause have to make some tough decisions and it all starts with all-star forward Scottie Pippen. The 6-foot-7 forward has one year left on his contract and the Bulls' management duo is worried that if they do not trade Pippen now he will walk away as an unrestricted free agent after next season and Chicago will receive no compensation.
The Bulls are entertaining some sensational offers for Pippen. Philadelphia is offering rising star Jerry Stackhouse and the No. 2 pick. Reinsdorf is afraid, once Jordan retires again, of going back to the pre-Jordan times when Chicago only had 6,000 fans in the seats.
If Reinsdorf pulls the trigger, not only would Chicago have Jordan's replacement when he retires in Stackhouse, but could also add a quality power forward in Utah forward Keith Van Horn. Van Horn, at 6-foot-10, could develop into a Kevin McHale-type player with a jump shot.
The Bulls owner and GM, as unpopular as they are sometimes, are worried about the Bulls dynasty falling into the depths of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers after Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired. The Lakers have recovered with the signing of Shaquille O'Neal and are back to being a contender while Boston has still not recovered from the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis.
Other offers for Pippen include Boston offering power forward Dino Radja and the No. 3 pick; Denver offering power forward Antonio McDyess and the No. 5 pick; and Golden State offering power forward Joe Smith and the No. 8 selection. McDyess, Smith and Stackhouse have one year left on their contracts and are unhappy with their current teams.
As much as Michael Jordan and the rest of the Chicago fans dislike the move, it only makes sense for Reinsdorf and Krause to pull the trigger if the Bulls hope to remain a championship team for many years to come. A foresight deal like this is better for the long-range success of the Bulls.
Jordan wants Pippen in Chicago for at least one more year and then the two of them could leave together - Jordan into retirement and Pippen to another team. The Bulls could offer Pippen a long-term deal, but he might decline on principle.
Remember 1993? The Bulls had just won their third consecutive title and Pippen was upset about the amount of money the Bulls were offering a Croatian forward named Toni Kukoc who had not helped the team to any of their three consecutive titles.
Jordan went into retirement and Pippen refused to go into Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals because the play was drawn up for Kukoc. Kukoc made the shot, but current Bulls assistant and then-center Bill Cartwright was livid.
What's to say that once Jordan goes back into retirement, that Pippen wouldn't regress into the waning, immature player he was without Jordan. Pippen is great at being Robin, but he's no Batman.
Pippen, Krause and Reinsdorf know that the forward has only one season left before he could get away with his ultimate revenge: walking away from Chicago as an unrestricted free agent.
It's not going to happen.
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