With the Chicago Bulls ascension to the top spot in the Eastern Conference with their win over the Washington Wizards last night, the time has come to ponder just where they would be if they weren't quite so lucky three years ago when the ping pong balls bounced their way.
The Bulls had a terrible season in 2007, finishing 33-49. This was a team going nowhere – fast.
Scott Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve, and assistant coach Jim Boylan ran the club for the rest of the season.
The Bulls missed the playoffs, four games behind the 37-45 Atlanta Hawks that year. The thought is it's better to make the playoffs than end up in the lottery, just for the experience your team gains from it.
KC Johnson, the Bulls beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, once said those exact words to me, and what I am about to write disproves that thinking.
The Bulls overcame tremendous odds with only a 1.7 percent chance of getting the first pick, but fate smiled on them May 20, 2008.
Getting the top pick is not always what it's cracked up to be. The Bulls finished first in the 1999 draft and ended up with Elton Brand. He was a nice player, but certainly no difference-maker.
Still he was a lot better than some others that went No. 1. Kwame Brown was bestowed the honor in 2001, though it wasn't much of an honor for the team that drafted him, the Washington Wizards.
Despite winning the lottery, the Bulls had a dilemma on their hands – Who to draft?
The Bulls had a glaring need for an inside threat, and the prevailing wisdom is to take a good big man over a good little man. Until late in the season, Beasley was the overwhelming choice to be the first pick in the draft if he came out.
Rose had a late surge, leading his Memphis Tigers to the championship game before losing in overtime. His stock rose exponentially, and put him in the running to be the top choice.
Rose's doubters said he didn't have an outside shot, and wasn't a very good defensive player. He was a good citizen though, and no one could contest that.
Beasley on the other hand had a reputation of being hard to handle. He went to several different schools in high school, and had run-ins at almost every one of them. But he was supposedly a one-of-a-kind talent.
So who do you take?
Fortunately, the Bulls made the right choice and picked Rose. He's now considered the leading candidate for the MVP award, while Beasley is on his second team in Minnesota and still a head-case.
But what if the Bulls went with Beasley? Or even worse, what if the ping pong balls didn't go their way and they ended up with the 9th pick in the draft, where they would have been slotted?
D.J. Augustin ended up going 9th. Would the Bulls be the top seed in the East right now if either one of them ended up in Chicago?
They could have had Brook Lopez with the next pick, and he would have been a better choice than Augustin, but the Bulls already had a center in Joakim Noah from the previous draft.
And the question still stands – How good would they have been without him?
Would they even be in the playoff hunt?
Would Carlos Boozer have come to the Bulls without Rose being there?
Would Tom Thibodeau, a favorite for Coach of the Year honors, have chosen the Bulls under those circumstances? He had other options.
Would Kirk Hinrich still be the point guard, and would the Bulls have overpaid Ben Gordon to stay and keep the Deng, Hinrich, Gordon trio intact?
Would that group ever win anything, or would they be in that Bermuda Triangle called "NBA hell?" Not bad enough to get the top pick, and not good enough to ever go anywhere in the playoffs.
For everyone rejoicing now about the Bulls and the promise of future championships awaiting them, I thought it might be interesting to think about what might have been.
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