Following their championship run in 1998, it didn't take long for the Chicago Bulls to become unrecognizable.
In a span of just six months, only Ron Harper, Toni Kukoč, Dickey Simpkins, Rusty LaRue and Bill Wennington remained on the Bulls. Other members of the championship team left either because they became free agents, were traded, cut or chose to retire.
Under general manager Jerry Krause, the Bulls made a 180-degree turn with the aim of rebuilding the franchise and facing the new millennium leaving behind all the success they achieved. As a result, the Bulls went from winning the title to finishing last in the Eastern Conference in less than a year, snapping a streak of 14 straight postseason appearances.
The breakup of the Bulls cannot be understood without mentioning the 1998 lockout, the third in NBA history. Not only was the 1998-99 season limited to just 50 games, there was only a brief free agency period in mid-January of 1999, which left the Bulls with hardly any room to maneuver following Jordan's retirement.
The first season post-championship was a real failure. The team was put in the hands of Kukoč, who responded well by averaging 18.8 points, but he didn't receive a lot of support, with the team's second-highest scorer being Harper at 11.2 points per game.
It was a season to be forgotten, with the low point coming on April 10, 1999 in a home loss to the Miami Heat. In addition to tying the team's season-high losing streak at seven, the Bulls scored only 49 points, the least in an NBA game since 1953 when the 3-point line or shot clock existed.
Under the leadership of new head coach Tim Floyd, the team would finish the season with a record of 13-37.
Rebuilding through the draft
Following the lockout-shortened season, management was determined to inject energy into the Bulls with fresh faces and promising youngsters. The team was literally a blank canvas, and Krause's plan included rebuilding the team with the team's own high picks in the draft, as well as a few picks from other teams.
With the first pick of the 1999 NBA Draft, the Bulls selected Elton Brand who would instantly become the most recognizable face on the team. Courtesy of the Luc Longley trade, Ron Artest (16th pick) would join Brand to form a duo which, at that time, the Bulls believed had a future together.
"It's a lot of pressure playing for the Bulls with the heritage and the championships," Brand said after he was drafted. "I'm ready to take that challenge, to go hard and fight and prove all the naysayers wrong. I think I will be remembered as the person who brought the Bulls back."
The power forward became the team's best player and was named the Rookie of the Year, but it didn't amount to many wins, as the Bulls finished the season with a 17-65 record.
During the 1999-00 season, the team would trade Kukoč in exchange for Bruce Bowen, who was cut a few weeks later, and a draft pick that would later become Chris Mihm.
After another difficult campaign, the Bulls hoped to acquire free-agent stars such as Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in the offseason of 2000. However, the two seasons following the 1998 championship took a toll on the image of the team and they only ended up with the services of Brad Miller.
The following 2000-01 season, the Bulls finished with a record of 15-67. The year after, Floyd resigned after a 4-21 start.
The start of a new era
In the summer of 2001, the Bulls witnessed the abrupt end of an era before it even had a chance to begin. On June 27, Krause traded the team's best player Brand in exchange for Tyson Chandler and Brian Skinner, who was later traded for Charles Oakley.
Brand's trade was followed by other deals - Jake Voskuhl to the Phoenix Suns for Soumaila Samake and a 2003 draft pick that would become Matt Bonner; Artest, Miller, Ron Mercer and Kevin Ollie to the Indiana Pacers for Travis Best, Norm Richardson, Jalen Rose and a 2002 second-round draft pick, which became Lonny Baxter.
That led to another forgotten season that saw three coaches (Floyd, Bill Berry, Bill Cartwright) and a record of 21-61, which - believe it or not - was the franchise's best since 1998.
Those trades, along with the 2002 NBA Draft, where the team picked Jay Williams with the second pick, and a free agency where the team signed Donyell Marshall to a three-year, $15 million dollar contract, would be among the last under the Krause regime. He would be replaced by John Paxson after he resigned due to health problems.
Krause left after 18 years with the team, witnessing both success and failure.
Paxson would remain the general manager until 2009 when he was promoted to vice president of basketball operations. Between 2002 and 2007, the franchise witnessed an era of relative success, appearing in three postseasons with the likes of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon and, of course, Derrick Rose.
"I am really excited to accept this challenge and look forward to working with the basketball operations staff," Paxson said in a statement. "The Bulls organization has meant a lot to me over the years and getting the chance to help lead the team back to the upper echelon of the NBA is a true honour."
The post-Jordan era for the Bulls might be remembered as a time when high draft picks were wasted, the teams never had an identity and trades were constant.
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