The Chicago Bulls didn’t just have one rock-bottom year to kick off a rebuild like most teams in this series.
The Bulls had a full-on three-year garbage fire where not only were they absolutely unprepared for the departure of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, they so completely botched any attempt at a rebuild that when they finally ended up in the playoffs in 2005, it felt more like a “where did these guys come from?” moment than just about any short of the Bobcats’ playoff appearance in 2014 two years after the worst season in NBA history.
But the emergence of that squad is a story for another day. Let’s look at the bottom of the barrel in Bulls history.
The On-Court Record
In 1998, the Bulls won their sixth title in eight years.
In 1999, they went 13-37 in the 50-win lockout season.
Then in 2000, they went 17-65.
And in 2001, they finally crash landed at 15-67.
They started the season 1-13 after starting the previous year 1-15.
Between January 4 and the All-Star break, they lost 16 in a row.
Surprisingly, they went 5-6 in their first 11 games after the break before losing 17 of their next 18 to land at 12-64.
With the tank job complete, they staggered to a 3-3 record the rest of the way, winning the games in which they had nothing to play for and neither did the other team.
Their minus-10.1 Net Rating was the league’s worst, the offense dead last and the defense third up from the bottom.
And again, this completed a three-year stretch where they went a combined 45-169, a loss total held down only by the fact that they didn’t have to play 32 more games in 1999, a year where they surely would’ve lost at least 20 of them if not more.
The Featured Players
Incredibly, Chicago had only three players on the roster older than 25.
Even more incredibly, where most bad teams field a slew of players as they cycle through roster moves or get ravaged by injuries, the Bulls only ran 16 guys out all year. Only eight guys played over 1,000 minutes, showing a tenacious willingness on the part of the coaching staff to give the kids some run in the starting lineup.
Throw in the year Brad Miller had (.114 WS/48, 0.3 VORP) and you’ve got a decent—not great, but not “worst in the league”—Big Three that you’d expect to anchor a 30-win team.
Sadly, the 15.4 Win Shares those three guys combined for were completely squandered by the rest of the squad putting up a combined 2.1 WS…total. Brand had 6.1 WS, Hoiberg 5.9, and Miller 3.1. Each had more than the entire rest of the team besides the three of them…combined.
Marcus Fizer was the fourth overall pick in the 2000 draft and immediately established himself as a bust, posting minus-0.7 WS.
Crawford, for his part, didn’t look at all like a guy who’d be a perpetual Sixth Man of the Year later in his career. His minus-0.9 WS were worst on the team. Kevin Pritchard once said of Lance Stephenson that “some nights he was the best player on our team, some nights he was the best player on the other team.”
That was Crawford in a nutshell, his ability to shoot his team out of games truly astounding in his debut campaign.
Dear gods, Tim Floyd deserves mention as not just one of the worst coaches in NBA history (49-190 coaching the Bulls, including 4-21 before he was mercifully fired in the 2002-03 season) but in the history of sports.
Yeah, he coached the ’04 Hornets to a 41-41 record, but Hue Jackson got the 2011 Oakland Raiders to an 8-8 record. Doesn’t mean it’s what he’s remembered for, not when he went a combined 3-36-1 coaching the Cleveland Browns for two and a half seasons in the NFL.
It’s between those two guys and the mind-bendingly stupid Maury Wills (who netted himself a footnote in Secret Base’s excellent history of the Seattle Mariners with his 26-56 managerial record in parts of 1980 and ’81) for the worst coaches in the history of sports, at least in the United States. I’m sure there’s some soccer manager out there who managed to take a first-division team in one country or another and get them relegated three times in a row or something until they were playing matches against teams full of accountants or strip club bouncers or the like.
Floyd was impressively awful.
Fire Floyd, get better. This seems as good a starting point as any for explaining how the Bulls climbed into the playoffs within a couple of years of firing him.
Come to think of it, Floyd and Jackson have that in common. Not so much Wills—here in Seattle, the question is not if the Mariners will choke but HOW they will choke in September. Because they always find a way, and they weren’t even good enough to do that until Ken Griffey Jr. showed up in 1989.
In fact, in the 13 seasons between 2005 and 2017, Chicago made the playoffs 11 times and only one of the two seasons in which they fell short was a losing season (2008, and that collapse was timely in the sense that it netted them Derrick Rose.)
Sure, they were a garbage fire between 2018 and 2021, but as they head into this season, they’re coming off a 46-win season and a playoff appearance.
But for three years there around the turn of the millennium…yikes.
NEXT: Cleveland Cavaliers. Hoo boy…