Originally created 05/07/99

Bulls go from first to worst



CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls should have known on the very first day of practice they were in for a rough year.

It wasn't just that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were gone. Or that there were so many new people milling about the practice facility it looked like a Welcome Wagon get-together.

Nope, the omen came when rookie coach Tim Floyd met his players -- and told them to go home because they didn't have enough players signed to practice.

"I know this much, there were a lot of different situations we had to deal with," Floyd said. "All I know is that next year is going to look like Palm Beach with three days in between games, time to prepare. I'm saying that now and you'll probably remind me of that in April of next season, but there are a lot of things about next year that I'm looking forward to."

Like winning a few more games, maybe. The Bulls went 13-37 in this lockout-shortened season, the worst record in the Eastern Conference and third worst in the NBA. They finished 20 games behind Indiana -- the same Pacers team that Chicago beat last year in the Eastern finals.

Their .260 winning percentage was the lowest in franchise history, beating out the 1975-76 squad, which finished 24-58 with a .293 winning percentage. That team was 15-35 after 50 games.

Their average of 81.9 points was the lowest scoring average in NBA history since the inception of the shot clock. Entering this season, the lowest average was 87.4 points in 72 games by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1954-55, the season the clock was adopted.

"I knew it was going to be tough, I knew we were going to lose some games," Dickey Simpkins said Thursday after cleaning out his locker. "I didn't know we were going to lose some games by as many points as we did. I didn't know we were going to set some records like we did."

That the Bulls were going to be bad this season was a given. When Jordan retired in January, management decided it was best to gut the team and start over rather than throw a bunch of money at Pippen, Rodman, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr for one last go-around.

That left the Bulls with Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, a few backups and a bunch of anonymous players they picked up in the sign-and-trade deals for Pippen, Longley and Kerr. They barely knew each other's names, let alone the triangle offense, when the season began. With 50 games packed into a three-month span, there was time to play and travel and that was about it.

Forget rest, forget practice, forget anything but marginal improvement. And it showed in the box scores. Chicago won its second game -- OK, so it was against the Clippers, one of the few teams lowlier than the Bulls -- and then lost the next seven.

There were blowouts, awful, one-sided games throughout the season that are better off forgotten. There was a 49-point game against Miami, the lowest output since the shot clock, and a 47-point loss to Orlando in early April, the most lopsided defeated in franchise history.

"It was a hard year," said Bill Wennington, one of the few veterans left. "We really didn't have a lot of practice time, which made it difficult for us to get in an offensive flow and learn this offense because this is an offense of recognition. The only way you can get better at it is to run it and go over it in practice. We just didn't have that time this year."

The Bulls will get more time next year, but the road won't be much easier. Kukoc and Brent Barry are among just a handful of players under contract, and most of the free agents who could make a difference have already re-signed with their current teams. There are some good prospects in the draft, but not a Tim Duncan-like player who can come in and make a difference right away.

Give it time, Floyd said.

"This was a first step in what I hope will be a championship process," he said. "If I didn't feel like that's what I wanted to accomplish personally when I came, then I wouldn't have come here."