Chicago Bulls haven't been good at learning from past mistakes

  • Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat is introduced before the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Chicago.

    Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat is introduced before the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Chicago.

Updated 2/17/2020 7:52 PM

Instead of "Run With Us," maybe a better slogan for the Bulls would be, "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

With a 19-36 record at the break, the Bulls are on pace for another No. 7 draft pick or something similar, but just 5 games behind eighth-place Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.


So, in theory, they're still a playoff contender.

They're hoping to get healthier soon, but it's likely Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle) is the only injured player ready to return this week. Otto Porter (foot) could start practicing, Lauri Markkanen (pelvis) probably will take another week or two to rest, while the status of Kris Dunn (knee) is unclear.

Over the next few months, the Bulls will hope to show progress on the court, while the ownership figures out how to retool the basketball-operations department.

In the meantime, it's amazing how many repeat mistakes the Bulls have endured, how many similarities the current swoon has to Jerry Krause's failed rebuild of the post-championship era. The thing is, Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Gar Forman didn't need to learn history. They lived though the 1999-2004 rebuild and ignored some valuable lessons.

Here are a few ways the Bulls' unhappy history repeated itself:

Neither rebuild was necessary: The Bulls could have built around all-star Jimmy Butler, a strategy that has worked well for Miami, which is 35-19 right now, nearly the exact opposite record as the Bulls. Back in 1998, the Bulls could have had five competitive years with Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc but chose to retool the roster instead.

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They thought they could game the system: Krause had a decent plan -- get a couple of high draft picks, then open up cap space in 2000 when a number of stellar free agents would come on the market. The Bulls were on track to be the only team with cap space that summer, but then Orlando made some trades, opened space and landed Florida native Tracy McGrady.

In 2017, Paxson thought by trading Butler for three assets (Zach LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen), the Bulls would jump-start the rebuild and get better without bottoming out like Philadelphia did during "The Process." The problem was, the Bulls didn't get any lottery luck and found out the hard way that once you lose that winning attitude, it's tough to get it back.

College coaches didn't pan out: The biggest mistake of the Krause rebuild probably was hiring Tim Floyd before the team even knew Phil Jackson's intentions. It made the Bulls look bad, and then the free agents weren't willing to put their faith in Floyd. Not that he was necessarily a bad coach, but he was unproven. Orlando had Doc Rivers at the time.

Like Floyd, Fred Hoiberg was pulled away from Iowa State when management got tired of dealing with Tom Thibodeau. Unfortunately for Hoiberg, he never had enough players who fit the style he wanted to play.


Good players getting impatient: LaVine is clearly frustrated by the lack of progress and was disappointed to miss the All-Star Game in Chicago, but he did a good job of being diplomatic last week. In the previous rebuild, there was similar frustration from Jalen Rose for not being selected to the 2003 All-Star Game.

One difference is LaVine should still have a bright future ahead. Rose was 30 at the time and that was his last realistic chance of being an all-star.

Will the Bulls avoid past mistakes when choosing a new basketball-operations hierarchy this summer, as expected?

Sources have suggested they're planning to go outside the organization, which would be a change, since Paxson went from radio analyst to general manager when he replaced Krause in 2003.

But Paxson and Forman might also stay in the organization, which could be awkward. The Bulls have never hesitated to make scapegoats of their coaches but have always been reluctant to move on from executives.

The best thing the Bulls could do in the coming months is pick a lane and stick with it. Add players who fit the style they want to play. Expand the scouting department and deliver some overlooked guys who become helpful players. And admit that building through the draft is an antiquated strategy in the NBA.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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