Would The Bulls Have Won The Championship In 1999 If Their Whole Team Came Back?
Following the finale of The Last Dance Sunday night, one question still remains, had Jerry Krause not been given his way and if everyone from the 1997-1998 team came back, would the Chicago Bulls win the championship in 1999, their fourth straight and seventh in nine years. That finals was originally won by the San Antonio Spurs, but one would have to think that if the Bulls were to come back once again, with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson and the rest of the team would give it a good run.
Writers at Azcentral, broke down the Bulls chances of winning their seventh championship, citing various reasons as to why the Bulls would not win the title despite everyone from 1998 coming back.
The first point they made was that Pippen needed to get paid as well as other guys on the team. In 1997-1998, other than Jordan, no player on the Bulls was paid more than $4 million by the team, with Pippen making under $3 millon and was the sixth highest paid player. In the documentary, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf called it “suicidal” to sign guys like Pippen to a long-term contract following that final season, as the returns would get less and less each year of the contract as the guy got older. Jordan said that if he and Jackson agreed to come back for 1999, then everyone else would have signed a one-year contract to go for the four-peat, including Pippen. There is no guarantee however that that would be the case as Pippen, despite being a perennial all star up to that point and being named to the NBA’s 50-greatest players list was severely underpaid and wanted to finally get what he deserved. Pippen would go on to be traded to the Houston Rockets prior to the 1999 season where he signed a five-year, $67.2 million contract.
The second point that was made was that a lot of the Bulls’ core was getting up there in age. In 1997-1998, of the 17 guys that made up the Bulls roster, the team had an average age of about 29.5, and 11 guys who were 29 or older, seven who were 32 or older. Given the advanced age of the Bulls roster and the fact that the Bulls had been to three straight championships prior to 1999, exhaustion would be a definite factor in the Bulls not winning a fourth straight title. The one thing working in favor of the Bulls is that 1999 was a lockout shortened season, so the team would have gotten an extended offseason, but the grind of winning three straight championships took a toll. That is evident by Jordan retiring following the Bulls first three-peat.
The third reason was that there were a lot of teams on the rise. I will talk more about the Spurs in a moment as they won the title, but you had the Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant, the Utah Jazz returned the majority of their core with Karl Malone, John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a young Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury and to round out the notable Western Conference teams, you had the Houston Rockets, who despite not having Pippen in this alternate reality, they still had Charles Bakrley and Hakeem Olajuwon. All those teams played the Bulls twice a year during a regular NBA season, so in a lockout shortened year it would be less, but all of them would give the Bulls trouble. In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat were the number one team in the conference with Alonzo Mourning, Dan Majerle, and Tim Hardaway. They were upset in the first round by the New York Knicks who made it to the NBA Finals and had Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell, to name a few. The 76ers had a young Allen Iverson, the Orlando Magic still had Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Horace Grant, other young stars in the conference included Grant Hill with the Pistons, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady in Toronto. Then there is the Indiana Pacers, the team that took the Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998, who still had Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Jalen Rose, Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin, among others. Overall, it would have been a tough road for the Bulls to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy once again.
The final point is that that if the Bulls did make it to the finals and took on the Spurs, there would be no way the Bulls would stop them. In the previous two finals, the Bulls struggled at times guarding Malone and that was mentioned in The Last Dance, so the fact that the Spurs had two elite big men in David Robinson and Tim Duncan, they would have given the Bulls fits and ultimately led to Jordan losing for the first time in the finals as the Bulls simply did not have the firepower upfront to combat both of those guys.
Now, I will say, had the Bulls core came back for one more title run, they would be a force to be reckoned with, but it would have been a challenging road.