For most of the 1990’s, the Chicago Bulls were the team to beat. Arguably the NBA’s greatest dynasty, the Bulls won six championships from 1990 to 1998, completing two ‘three-peats’. Their lineup, studded with greats, was headlined by basketballs most iconic ‘Big Three’: Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan. To top it off, this team was coached by all-time great Phil Jackson. However, following the 1998 season, things went south for the Chicago franchise. Jordan retired, Pippen was traded, Rodman left in free agency and Phil Jackson resigned as coach. Twenty years on, the Bulls have never completely recovered from this, and are yet to return to the finals. 2011’s trip to the conference finals was the teams most successful season, however, Chicago is yet to figure out how to make it work long term. Why can’t the Chicago Bulls post-Jordan, figure it out?
Chicago’s Post Jordan Failures
There are many reasons for the lackluster performance of the Bulls over the past twenty years. There is a clear element of luck, and a lack thereof, which has definitely seen the Bulls falter. However, Chicago has also fallen victim to many mistakes and a large amount of mismanagement. The team’s struggles can be broken down into three categories. In part one of this two-part series, the coaching of the Bulls post-Jordan falls under the microscope, with the tenure of every coach broken down to see its impact on the success of the franchise.
Phil Jackson resigned at the end of the 1997-98 season in conjunction with the departure of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and a number of other significant players. Since then Chicago has had seven head coaches, all producing varying results.
Tim Floyd (1998-2001)
The first to take the reigns after the departure was Tim Floyd. Floyd faced with a tall order, inheriting a team which had been completely gutted and had to rebuild from scratch. Floyd was ultimately not up to the task; his overall record with the team was 49-190 (.205). He failed to return the team to the playoffs and resigned Christmas Eve 2001 following a 4-21 start to the season and fights with management and players.
Bill Cartwright (2001-2003)
Next up to bat following Floyd’s resignation was former Bulls player and assistant coach Bill Cartwright. Initially named interim head coach, Cartwright was promoted to permanent head coach before the 2002-03 season. The Bulls went 30-52 that season, and fired Cartwright 14 games into the following season, after a 4-10 start. His career record with the Bulls was 51-100 (.338). He would go on to coach for the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns. Afterward, he coached overseas in Japan and Mexico.
Scott Skiles (2003-2007)
Scott Skiles tenure with the Chicago Bulls was one of the most successful by a coach since the departure of Jackson. Preaching defense above all else, Skiles was able to get the team slowly back on its feet. 2005-06 saw him return the Bulls to the playoffs for the first time. Though they fell 6-2 to the Miami Heat in the first round, the team was a testament to the hard work of Skiles. He was also awarded the ‘Eastern Conference Coach of the Month’ for January 2004-05.
The Bulls would return to the playoffs the following year, sweeping Miami before losing 4-2 to the Detroit Piston in the Conference Finals. After a horrible start to the 2007-08 season (9-16), Scott Skiles was fired on the 24th of December. He finished his Bulls coaching career with a 165-172 (.490) record. Jim Boylan would act as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
Vinny Del Negro (2008-2010)
Vinny Del Negro became head coach of the Bulls on June 11th, 2008, after former Bull’s coach Doug Collins withdrew his name from consideration. His first season with the Bulls resulted in a 41-41 record, with the Bulls scraping into the seventh seed to take on defending champion Boston Celtics. This resulted in possibly one of the NBA’s greatest first-round series, with the Bulls forcing seven games on the back of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, however unfortunately losing.
Vinny’s second season was far less glamorous. Again winning 41 games, the Bulls made the eighth seed, where they were beaten in five by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Vinny Del Negro was dismissed by the Bulls on May fourth, 2010, finishing with a record of 82-82 (.500).
Tom Thibodeau (2010-2015)
Thibodeau’s tenure with the Bulls was objectively the most successful since Jackson. However, it was also possibly the most contentious. Under ‘Thibs’, the Bulls made the playoffs each of the five seasons, including a trip to the Conference Finals in 2011, where they were defeated by Miami in five. Thibodeau was the 2011 Coach of the Year, tied the most wins by a rookie coach (62), and lead Chicago to their first 50 win season since Phil Jackson.
However, it was also under Thibs that Derrick Rose’s injury problems started. Many blamed Thibodeau for this, saying he kept him in the game longer than necessary. Thibodeau has a reputation for overplaying his starters. Tensions inevitably grew between Tom and the front office, and he was fired on May 28th, 2015.
Fred Hoiberg (2015 – Present)
The team that Hoiberg took over was not ideal for his playstyle. Wanting to run with a read and react offense with perimeter shooters, core pieces of Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler made this difficult. Hoiberg’s first season saw the Chicago Bulls miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Bulls tried to retool the following season, trading Rose and losing Gasol and Noah in free agency. They then signed free agents Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. Hoibergs first trip to the playoffs ended in a first-round defeat to the one seed Boston Celtics. Bulls nearly upset the Celtics, before an injury to Rondo saw them lose in six.
The Bulls then committed to a full rebuild, trading Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th pick to become Lauri Markkanen. They waived Rondo, and Wade left in free agency. The new core went 27-55 last season, but show real promise, fitting the coaching style of Hoiberg. Hopefully, Hoiberg can develop this team, and finally return the Bulls to the promised land.
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