For Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, the Chicago Bulls' pair of
underage 7-footers, NBA life offers educational opportunities
every day. Last month, for instance, Chandler learned about the
potential benefits of a home security system when, a little after
3 a.m., he was awakened by a strange noise downstairs in his
North Shore apartment. "First thing I do is grab my pool stick in
one hand and an iron in the other," he says, mimicking the stance
he assumed with these unlikely weapons--a pose that made him look
like a freakishly tall conquistador.
Chandler crept down the stairs cue-first. But instead of
confronting the intruder--or a malfunctioning kitchen appliance--he
made a break for the back door. Once outside, he did what any
sensible person would do: He drove to the nearest hotel and
"And you never even called the cops?" asks strength and
conditioning coach Erik Helland, who has been listening as
Chandler tells the story at the team's practice facility, the
Berto Center, in Deerfield, Ill.
"Uh, no," says Chandler, who still doesn't know what made the
October 28, 2002
"What about your alarm?"
"I haven't figured out how to use it yet."
Helland walks away shaking his head. By now, though, after a
season with Chandler, 20, and Curry, 19, he should be accustomed
to such stories. Earlier in the summer it was Curry who was
stopped outside the Berto Center by a policeman, who told him
that his new all-terrain vehicle wasn't legal for city driving
and that he'd have to get it off the street. Instead of pushing
it a few blocks away to his condo, Curry left the truck in the
Berto parking lot. "That was two months ago," says Helland. "It's
still out there."
Ah, raising children. "Sometimes we forget that these are kids,
and they're going to make the mistakes that kids make," says
Chicago coach Bill Cartwright. He pauses and looks at his young
charges, who are trying to do wheelies on their stationary bikes,
then continues, "Our job is to make sure they aren't making the
same mistakes five years from now."
If they are, it won't be because the Bulls didn't try. Ever since
general manager Jerry Krause picked Chandler and Curry second and
fourth, respectively, in the first round of the 2001 NBA
draft--the first time a team selected two high school players in
the same year--he has molded the team around them and assembled a
crack squad of coaches, mentors and former NBA centers to
instruct the duo on and off the court. Last February the Bulls
acquired All-Star guard Jalen Rose to relieve the scoring
pressure on Chandler and Curry; in June, Chicago drafted point
guard Jay Williams of Duke to get them the ball. "They've done
everything possible for us," says Chandler. "We can never look
back in 10 years and say it's the team's fault if things don't
work out. It's entirely on us."
There is a lot riding on those undeveloped shoulders. Mired in
four seasons of post-Jordan malaise, Chicago (21-61 in 2001-02,
last place in the Central Division) has asked fans to wait for
the dawn of a new era of success--even if there is no timetable
for it. Sure, teams have been built around players who arrived in
the NBA straight from high school (most notably the Minnesota
Timberwolves with Kevin Garnett) but never has one franchise bet
so much on a pair of teenagers, let alone two big men,
traditionally the slowest developers in the NBA.
The challenge facing the Bulls, then, is this: How hard can they
push Chandler and Curry without risking their investment--either
by burying them on the bench (see Jermaine O'Neal in Portland) or
by asking too much too soon and perhaps crippling their
confidence (see Kwame Brown in Washington)? "There's no road map
for this, and we know that," says Krause. "We're trying stuff,
and if it doesn't work, we'll step back and reevaluate." He
pauses. "Basically, we're winging it."
Class began in the summer of 2001, at the first Bulls scrimmage.
The boy kings arrived full of themselves. Chandler, at 7 feet and
220 pounds (he has since grown an inch and a half), had been
dominant at Dominguez High in Compton, Calif. Curry, a Mack truck
of a young man at 6'11" and 285 pounds (he has since added an
inch), had been the nation's most sought-after recruit, a
bruising inside force for Thornwood High in suburban Chicago.
Against NBA veterans, they soon found, those credentials were as
worthless as an MIT degree at an arm-wrestling match. Says Curry,
who still watches tapes of those practices for motivation, "Even
the guys who had looked slow on TV were fast."
The duo appeared similarly lost in summer-league play and not
much better in the first few months of the season. Chandler had
his moments on defense, where his pterodactyl-like wingspan and
launchpad hops allowed him to make up for his poor footwork. But
he was helpless on offense, so worried about the plays that he
recalls feeling "like a robot out there." Curry was the
opposite--comfortable with the ball in his hands, displaying a
nice array of post moves, but dead weight on defense, always one
rotation behind and two steps too slow. As a result, practices
often resembled Biddy Ball clinics. "We started with junior high
drills, man-you-ball stuff, and went from there," says the 7'1"
Cartwright, a Bulls assistant before replacing Tim Floyd as coach
last December, another move Krause made with Curry and Chandler
Krause had expected to treat the new kids as a pair and even meet
with them regularly as a twosome. However, after discovering how
different their personalities are, he soon jettisoned that idea
and started seeing them separately. Chandler is gregarious,
emotional and kinetic, though prone to getting down on himself.
Curry is mellow, quiet, the well-mannered child of a matriarchal
family. "Tyson's very intelligent and mature, so we talked about
team stuff and different players," says Krause. "With Eddy I
talked about growth and maturity, the mental aspect of the game."
Krause gave each a copy of Bill Russell's latest book, Russell
Rules. The message was clear: The psychological part of the game
is just as important as the physical part.
Even so, one can't play in the NBA without a body that can
withstand the NBA grind, and the players' conditioning was
another area of concern. (In his 19.6 minutes per game, Chandler
averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds; Curry, in 16.0 minutes,
racked up 6.7 points and 3.8 boards.) Despite their natural
athleticism--Chandler is one of the fastest players on the team,
while Curry is a former gymnast--both tended to burn out during
relatively short bursts of playing time.
So last summer Chandler and Curry spent their mornings at the
Berto Center, lifting weights under Helland's supervision. As a
result, Chandler gained 10 pounds of muscle that is noticeable,
if not yet tight-black-T-shirt-worthy. "I've been working out for
two years," he says, squeezing his arms in a mock
Schwarzeneggerian pose, "and I still don't have a chest muscle in
my body!" Regardless, a year ago he didn't know how to do a squat
lift; now he can put up 240 pounds. "Ideally, I'd like to see him
get his weight up [20 more pounds] to 250," says Helland, who
compares Chandler's narrow hips and skinny frame with that of a
young David Robinson. "Right now we're working on creating a
strong lower base."
Curry, on the other hand, has plenty of base. Blessed with big
joints and a heavy hip structure (the only comparison Helland can
think of is an LSU-era Shaquille O'Neal), Curry spent the
off-season turning fat into muscle. He is a leaner, more defined
295 pounds and has even hired the Bulls' training chef, Steve
Jackson, to cook his meals. "I tell him what I want, and he makes
it healthy," says Curry. "I say fried fish, he bakes it."
On the hardwood Chicago's aim last summer was to improve the
players' consistency. To that end Krause hired eight-year veteran
pivotman Bob Thornton in July. Thornton became the Bulls' third
Professor of the Post, after Cartwright and another former
center, Bill Wennington, who was brought in a year ago as a
coordinator of player development--essentially a guidance
counselor for the oversized kids. Thornton's focus was teaching
three go-to moves: a spin to the middle, a turnaround jumper, and
a jump hook or baby hook. For each move he also taught them a
counter, an option if the shot is overplayed. Because Krause and
Cartwright envision Chandler as a power forward capable of
defending small forwards, Chandler was also put through guard
drills on the wing.
Chandler's versatility is a luxury as well as a challenge for the
Bulls. On many teams he would be forced to play on the low block
simply because of his size. Traditionally in twin towers lineups,
such as the San Antonio Spurs' teaming of David Robinson and Tim
Duncan, an established player has been joined by a younger one
who complements him. With Chandler and Curry, though, Chicago has
two players who are so raw that they can be molded to the team's
designs--or, in this case, vice versa. Krause did it once before,
but with a lone guard named Jordan. "We built around Michael, and
that was unheard of then," says Krause. "This time we saw the
opportunity to get two exceptional 7-footers and bring them in at
the same time. We wanted two kids who could grow up together."
Working in Chicago's favor is the fact that both players are gym
rats. Three or four nights a week during the summer Curry
returned to the Berto Center after a morning workout to play
full-court with his high school buddies, using an access code to
enter the gym. Then, if he'd wake up in the wee hours, unable to
sleep, he'd go back and shoot 100 free throws. Chandler likewise
haunted the practice facility, often watching tape with the
assistant coaches or dropping in on Krause to talk strategy. "Not
just being nosy, I'd watch tape with him, talk about the future
of the team," Chandler says. He'd return at around 11:30 p.m.,
just as Curry was leaving, with two childhood friends, Keith
Brooks and Rock Perry. The trio, who call themselves the Workout
Bandits, would play ball, swim, sit in the Jacuzzi and watch
tape. "It was fun, but Eddy and I did it for a reason," says
Chandler. "Last year we didn't expect to make a difference. This
year we do."
Cartwright will give them every opportunity. Provided they can
stay in shape and out of foul trouble, each could see 30 minutes
or more of playing time every game. Curry should be the team's
primary post-up option--the role the team sees him in for the next
decade--and Chandler its best defensive player. Asked about this
meshing of talents, Curry smiles and looks over at Chandler. "I
guess some people are skilled offensively, some defensively," he
says. "But together we got defense and offense."
Tyson nods. "Com-bi-na-tion, baby."
"Yup," says Curry. "We a combination."
"Like shrimp fried rice."
"Like peanut butter and jelly."
"Give me the number four combo plate!"
And on they go, gleefully rattling off analogies, the future of
the Bulls still rooted squarely in the present.
Here's a shortlist of young giants--in addition to baby Bulls
Curry and Chandler--who look poised to have breakout seasons.--C.B.
Player Age Team Hgt. Wgt. NBA season
Brendan Haywood 23 Wizards 7 feet 268 Second
Proved himself an able shot blocker and rebounder as a rookie but
hit the wall in February, then had surgery to repair loose
cartilage in his right knee. Spent the summer lifting weights.
With added scoring threats in Washington's lineup he'll get
easier buckets--and with Popeye Jones gone, he'll get more
Jerome James 26 SuperSonics 7'1" 285 Third
Immense yet athletic; dunked on an 11'4" rim while playing for
the Harlem Globetrotters. Excellent shot blocker (4.48 rejections
per game as a senior at Florida A&M) but undeveloped offensively.
Prone to foul trouble and putting on pounds: His new three-year,
$15 million contract includes a weight clause.
Rasho Nesterovic 26 Timberwolves 7 feet 250 Fifth
Slovenian began to come into his own in 2001-02, playing all 82
games and averaging 8.4 points and 6.5 rebounds. Has nice touch
around the basket, effective hook shot. Confidence and
consistency remain his biggest needs. Improvement could yield a
huge payoff: Unrestricted free agency beckons next summer.
Zach Randolph 21 Trail Blazers 6'9" 253 Second
Destroyed the competition in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer
league for second year in a row. Only averaged 6.0 minutes last
season but led the league in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes
(13.9). Will struggle for playing time in crowded Portland
frontcourt but has NBA body, hands and instincts.
Jake Tsakalidis 23 Suns 7'2" 285 Third
Rap used to be that his defense was good but his offense was
deplorable: tentative, bad hands, couldn't finish. After Stephon
Marbury showed faith by using him in high pick-and-rolls late
last season, Big Jake began racking up double doubles, cashing in
on easier looks and taking it to the hole with more authority.
The Bulls have two 7-foot kids who can be molded to their
designs--or vice versa.