You wonder if those other enduring heroes of the entertainment
world, the Rolling Stones, will sound like the Bulls when they
decide they are embarking on their last blockbuster tour: tired,
aching and swearing that wild horses couldn't drag them back to
the Chicago stage again.
Certainly the Bulls were hitting some of those Stones-like notes
at the start of what appears to be their final act. Though coach
Phil Jackson amended the "wild horses" comment he made at
Chicago's media day, his point was clear. He's not coming back
after this year, and we can blame that on owner Jerry
Reinsdorf's and general manager Jerry Krause's hearts of stone.
And if Jackson leaves, Michael Jordan says the Bulls can say
goodbye to their beast of burden too. Scottie Pippen, meanwhile,
can't get no satisfaction: He is in the final year of a contract
that pays him a relative pittance of $2.7 million a year, and
the Bulls have made it clear through vigorous trade attempts
that they have no intention of rewarding his decade of hard work
and good soldiering with a big contract.
Where will that leave the Bulls' dynasty next summer? Shattered.
As for this year, the 1997 NBA champions are still
together--Jackson, Jordan and Dennis Rodman each extracted fat
one-year contracts from a reluctant Krause--but they aren't
necessarily intact. The Bulls' list of woes is lengthy,
beginning with the toxic relationship brewing between management
and the team it seems intent on dismantling to prove Krause's
statement that "players and coaches don't win championships,
organizations do." Then there are the team's acute physical
problems. After undergoing soft-tissue surgery on the left foot
he injured in the Eastern Conference finals, Pippen is expected
to be out until at least mid-December. His absence will hurt the
Bulls in the short run (Pippen hasn't missed more than 10 games
in any of his previous 10 seasons), and it may seriously
jeopardize their shot at home court advantage in the playoffs.
"Scottie is so important to us," says Jackson, "it's hard to
imagine us being able to win a whole lot of games without him."
On the bright side, sixth man Toni Kukoc, who played only 57
games last year, because of his own foot problems, seems to have
put his ailments behind him despite his relatively brief
off-season, a period that he says felt like "a long weekend."
There's still concern about the physical state of Rodman, who
had a subpar postseason after spraining his left medial
collateral ligament in a March game against the Mavericks. His
desire might also be in question--until two weeks ago he was not
sure whether he even wanted to continue playing. Ron Harper,
meanwhile, is nursing the two fragile knees that have plagued
him for years. "I'm hurting, I'm tired," says Harper. "I don't
think we'll be blasting out of the gate this year. But you don't
win NBA championships in the first two weeks of the season."
Backup guard Steve Kerr agrees, noting that everyone on the team
could have used a little more rest. "It wouldn't necessarily be
a bad thing for Scottie to miss two months," he says. "It would
give him some rest and give people like Scott Burrell and Jud
Buechler some minutes and [ultimately] give us a stronger bench."
Burrell, a four-year veteran who came to Chicago from Golden
State in the Dickey Simpkins trade in September, performed well
defensively in the preseason, but he was having difficulty
getting comfortable with the Bulls' triangle offense. However,
he wants no part of any talk about his replacing Pippen. Says
Burrell, "Pippen is one of the best ever to play the game. I can
never do the things he did or can do."
Will the one man who is capable of carrying Pippen's load--which
amounted to 20.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game
last year--take it upon himself to do so in his quest for a
sixth title? Keeping the 34-year-old Jordan fresh may be
Jackson's biggest challenge this fall. "Someone else is going to
have to fill it up," says Jackson. "If Michael has to take up
[the slack], it's going to put a lot of pressure on him."
Jordan says the team's focus will be on getting healthy, not on
securing home court advantage come playoff time. "Nothing is
guaranteed by having home court advantage," he says.
"Personally, I'm pretty sure that when the playoffs come, I'll
He can only hope that his teammates will be ready, too. For time
is not on the side of the soon-to-be-superannuated Bulls.