#15 Chicago Bulls After a long and glorious run at No. 1, the deconstructed champs are back to square one

February 08, 1999

For forward Toni Kukoc, the strangest part of his team's 79-71
exhibition loss to the Pacers on Jan. 24--Chicago's first game
since the breakup of the world champions--wasn't Michael
Jordan's absence or all the new faces on the bench or even the
lack of emotion among the 21,805 spectators at the United
Center. "The weirdest thing was that we were losing," Kukoc
says. "In the last three years we only lost eight games at home."

Kukoc had better get used to it. With much of the cast that
brought Chicago three straight NBA titles gone, the Bulls face a
rebuilding job not seen in the Windy City since the Great Fire
of 1871. Even new coach Tim Floyd admits, "It's going to take
some time."

The good news for Floyd is that he still has Kukoc, a 6'11"
Sixth Man Award winner who played a key role in the Bulls'
recent title runs. Blessed with the ball handling, court vision
and shooting touch of a point guard and the height and post
moves of a power forward, Kukoc has averaged 13.3 points, 4.5
rebounds and 4.0 assists over his five years in Chicago despite
playing mostly as a reserve. With Jordan and Pippen gone, the
Bulls feel that Kukoc is ready to blossom into an All-Star.
"He's so versatile," says Floyd. "We'll use him as the push man
on the break, at point forward, on a wing and in the post--he
can play just about anywhere." One thing's for sure: Kukoc won't
be winning the Sixth Man Award again.

Floyd will also rely heavily on veteran guard Ron Harper,
another pivotal member of the Bulls' recent title teams, and
former Clippers and Heat guard Brent Barry, a gangly 6'6"
slasher whom Chicago signed to a six-year, $27 million
free-agent contract. Barry, a Slam Dunk Contest winner who wears
Air Jordans, won't make anybody forget His Airness, but he
should at least provide Kukoc an electrifying finisher on the
break.

On the defensive end, neither Kukoc nor Barry is known for being
a stopper, and the 35-year-old Harper is slowing down. With only
center Bill Wennington and power forward Dickey Simpkins--two of
the weakest defensive links from the Bulls' championship
teams--left to defend the post until veteran pickups Mark Bryant
and Andrew Lang learn the triangle offense, the Bulls will be
forced to double-team down low. "We won't have near the
versatility on defense that [last year's] Bulls team had," Floyd
admits.

Kukoc, so accustomed to winning, is trying to stay patient. But
as he took a moment during practice last week to reflect on life
after Michael and Co., he admitted it was going to be difficult.
"We realize that we're not going to be as good as we were and
that we're starting over," he says. "All I can say is, hopefully
things will get better soon." Don't count on it. For Kukoc and
the Bulls, this shortened season figures to be a long one.

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Airborne In the absence of Jordan, the Bulls hope that Kukoc will be their nascent star.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Toni Kukoc 28 13.3 ppg 4.4 rpg 4.2 apg 45.5 FG%
PF Dickey Simpkins 185 3.3 ppg 1.9 rpg 0.8 apg 53.9 FG%
C Bill Wennington 212 3.5 ppg 1.7 rpg 43.6 FG% 81.0 FT%
SG Brent Barry[+] 68 10.9 ppg 2.6 apg 2.9 rpg 42.1 FG%
PG Ron Harper 108 9.3 ppg 3.5 rpg 2.9 apg 1.32 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 29

G Corey Benjamin(R)[+] 204 19.8 ppg 2.2 apg 5.0 rpg 53.9 FG%
F-C Mark Bryant[+] 216 4.2 ppg 3.5 rpg 48.4 FG% 76.8 FT%
G Randy Brown 219 4.1 ppg 2.1 apg 1.00 spg 38.4 FG%

1997-98 Record: 62-20 (first in Central)
Coach: Tim Floyd (first season with Bulls)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Oregon State)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)