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Thread: 4-20-04

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    Member Ragnar's Avatar
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    Default 4-20-04

    The curse of Krause

    By Chad Ford
    Tuesday, April 20

    Jerry Krause is sitting in the bleachers of a high school baseball stadium about three rows above the dugout in Omaha, Nebraska. After a few dozen hot dogs, he picks up the phone, calls his new boss, George Steinbrenner, and gives him the low down on the latest prospects.

    One 17-year-old pitcher has the biggest hands he's ever seen, Krause gushes. Another may be only 5-foot-3, but he has a "short neck," Krause opines.

    A few minutes later he calls back hyper ventilating about a 7-foot skinny junior high school catcher who can hit the hell out of a wiffle ball. "Trade Jeter for him!" Krause screams. "Trade Jeter for him!"

    Four hundred and sixty eight miles away, John Paxson sits in the Berto Center, banging his head lightly against his mahogany desk, still trying to clean up Jerry's last mess.

    The undersized power forward with the biggest hands Krause had ever seen now plays for the Clippers and averages a double-double a night. The guy with the short neck, Marcus Fizer, is packing his backs after four miserable years in Chicago. The skinny 7-footer? Tyson Chandler looked great against scared, 6-foot-3 suburban kids in junior high. Against NBA talent? Not so much.

    The hit list of Jerry's handiwork doesn't stop there. There's Eddie Robinson, who Krause gave millions to sit on the bench. There's Eddy Curry, whose offseason workout regime consists of Twinkies and Kool-Aid IVs. And don't forget Jamal Crawford, the 6-foot-5 point guard who isn't allowed to play the point.

    Jerry's kids were supposed to lead the Bulls to another dynasty in the post-MJ era. Paxson's step kids need to be sent back down to the minors.

    At the start of the season, every pundit out there, including Krause and Paxson, believed that after years of turmoil, the Bulls were finally ready to win. Insider predicted a seventh seed in the East. Others were even more generous. Then the Bulls started playing games and it quickly became apparent that they still had a lot of growing up to do.

    Major trades, a coaching change and a new organizational philosophy did nothing to improve the Bulls' bottom line -- their won-loss record. The Bulls finished in a familiar place two weeks ago -- with the second-worst record in the league.

    Paxson, with just one year of experience under his belt, is now in the hot seat. Something has to be done this summer. Everyone knows that it's time to move at least one of his three young players. The problem is that no one can agree on who and when.

    Visions of Jermaine O'Neal still dance in everyone's head. After four lackluster seasons in Portland, the Blazers traded away O'Neal to Indiana for veteran Dale Davis. Within months O'Neal began dominating in a new system and within two years, became a legit MVP candidate. Davis? We don't know either.

    That's the curse of building around high school kids who aren't ready for the league. There's an old saying in the league that a player is what he is after three seasons. That doesn't hold true with the young kids. Chandler and Curry are both 21. We might not now what kind of players they're going to be for another two or three years. In an ideal world, they'd be finishing their junior years of college and considering the NBA. Instead, they're already labeled as busts.

    The Bulls have spent three years trying to build around them. If they give up now, they're admitting that the last three years were a waste. If they wait another year or two to give them more time to develop, they could be making the problem worse. If Chandler and Curry don't develop -- Paxson just delayed the inevitable by two more years.

    Thank Krause for that. His decision to build totally around youth, without veteran leadership to teach the kids how to win, created a generation of losers who brush off a defeat with ease. Krause's monumental error in Chicago fundamentally changed the way other GMs around the league view high school players now.

    You no longer build around them (unless their name is LeBron). You add them to a core of veterans who can teach them the game. Paxson tried to correct the mistake this year, adding good veteran role models like Scottie Pippen, Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams to the mix. But, judging from last year's results, it was too late.

    Can the Bulls ever get this thing right? Here's a look at what to expect as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

    Bulls Summer Blueprint

    DRAFT: Once again the Bulls possess one of the top picks in the draft. Everyone in Chicago is crossing their fingers that the Bulls end up with the No. 1 pick and a chance to draft Emeka Okafor. Paxson has tired of the high school experiment and wants a blue collar, college educated player (much like Kirk Hinrich last year) to show the Baby Bulls how to win.

    There is no better fit than Okafor. He's the anti-Eddy Curry/Tyson Chandler in almost every imaginable way. All three players emerged from the same high school class. Curry and Chandler were considered blue chip prospects. Okafor was barely on the radar screen. While Okafor was getting an education and leading his college team to a National Championship, Curry and Chandler were playing matador with opposing centers. If Paxson hits the jackpot with Okafor, he can afford, at that point, to do almost anything with Curry and Chandler.

    The problem is . . . the Bulls only have a 20 percent shot at winning the No. 1 pick. The No. 2 guy is a high school phenom -- Dwight Howard. Though Howard reportedly doesn't have many of the issues that Curry and Chandler had coming out of high school, the Bulls just don't want to drink that Kool-Aid.

    In fact, the only other high lottery guy who they'd probably consider is Duke's Luol Deng. The Bulls need a real small forward. Deng has played only one year of college, but he' mature beyond his years. If Okafor or Deng aren't available (it's not even clear if Deng will be in the draft) the Bulls' best shot is to trade the pick and hope that a combo of the pick and one of their young players brings them back the veteran they so desperately need.

    FREE AGENCY: Free agency will hit the Bulls fairly hard. Jamal Crawford and Marcus Fizer are restricted free agents. Kendall Gill is an unrestricted free agent. Scottie Pippen is mulling retirement.

    The Bulls have no interest in re-signing Fizer. They will not offer him a tender offer, meaning he'll become an unrestricted free agent before the summer. Crawford is a different story. Despite a very rocky relationship with his coach, teammates and management, Paxson is telling everyone that he intends to match any reasonable offer for Crawford.

    It's probably a bluff. Skiles wants a gritty two guard who can lock his opponent down on defense. That's not Crawford. Crawford's value is really at the point. He's not going to play the position in Chicago with Hinrich running the show. Someone will offer Crawford a contract for more than the mid-level. The Bulls would be nuts to match it. Paxson is probably bluffing in hopes of working out a sign-and-trade.

    The Bulls are over the salary cap, meaning that the most they can offer a free agent is the mid-level exception. They'll probably hold off on signing anyone until they get the trade issues worked out. A lot of it depends on what their young players can get them in return.

    TRADES: The Bulls should be very busy this summer. Paxson knows that it's time to break up the Bulls. Who should he trade? Apparently, he feels Curry has the most upside and will concentrate on moving Chandler. They'd love to get a more experienced small forward or two guard back in return, but would probably settle to move Chandler and one bad contract (either Robinson or Williams) for a veteran who can contribute now and a future pick.

    Curry could get them more on the market, but the feeling among the Bulls is that he's still salvageable and his stock is too low to make him worth trading now. Crawford will be used as trade bait in sign-and-trade scenarios.

    Davis also is an asset. He has two years and $27 million left on his contract, but a team desperate for a big man (read Dallas) may be willing to swallow it. Some combination of Chandler, Crawford and Davis could get the Bulls an all-star-caliber player in return. The Mavericks have shown interest in all three players in the past and would likely think about sending home town hero Michael Finley the Bulls' way.

    Would the Sonics be interested in that combo for Ray Allen? If the Bulls were to swap Curry for Chandler in the above scenario it might make some sense for both teams. The Sonics would add size and a guy who can play multiple positions in the backcourt. The Bulls would get a veteran all-star caliber two guard to play in the backcourt with Hinrich. Paul Pierce of the Celtics could theoretically be available in the same scenario.

    The Bulls could probably make a play for Tracy McGrady if they substituted Curry and Williams for Davis and Chandler in the above scenario. Curry, Crawford, Williams and their first round pick might be enough to make the Magic seriously consider a trade.

    COACHING: The Bulls were awful with Bill Cartwright and they fared no better with Skiles. Skiles' tough, no nonsense approach was supposed to make a huge difference, but the results never showed on the court. The only difference? Now Bulls players were being insulted in the papers every night. Paxson will give Skiles a full year to see if he can implement a system that makes sense for the team. However, if year one was any indication, Skiles will be out of a job soon.

    FRONT OFFICE: Paxson has taken some lumps for his performance. I think it's pretty unfair. He's trapped in a no-win situation. It's quicksand that Jerry Krause was all too happy to escape. He can't use the excuse this summer. He's got to make some tough decisions -- but I believe that he understands them. It's impossible to know for sure whether to give up on Chandler, Curry and Crawford -- but the Bulls would be irreparably damaged if they wait another season or two with no tangible results. Something has to change. Paxson knows it. His decisions will shape the Bulls for years to come.

    Meanwhile, Krause just reports to Steinbrenner that a 14-year-old center fielder just passed his specialized IQ test and personality profile with flying colors. Brace yourself Yankee fans.

    Around the League

    Mash mulling retirement? Jamal Mashburn missed 63 of the possible 82 games this season for the Hornets. In all he's missed 110 of 328 games since being traded to the Hornets. That's a lot of games and a lot of frustration. But apparently Tim Floyd's decision to leave Mashburn of the team's playoff roster was the last straw for Mashburn.

    "This is something I've dealt with for the past couple years," Masburn told the Miami Herald. "It's been real difficult. It kind of shows you what pro sports is all about. Sometimes it's not the athlete's best interest that's in mind. They just want you out there on the court. Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands. That's the sad part about it."

    Mashburn, 31, says his knee is very fragile and he's not sure he should keep pushing it. "I have to make a decision over the summer," he said. "I've been told with my knee that it's serious. [Retirement] is definitely a viable option. I've been playing for 11 years, and I want to be able to walk when I get older."

    If Mashburn were to retire for medical reasons, his $9.4 million salary wouldn't come off the books in New Orleans until after the 2004-05 season.

    Free Ron Artest: I'm not usually in the business of obsessing about who the NBA does and doesn't fine or suspend. I've said before that Stu Jackson has a thankless job, and the last thing he needs is a bunch of backseat writers flipping out every time the league decides to suspend somebody. Still . . . the decision to suspend Ron Artest for tonight's game is ridiculous.

    Yes, Artest did leave the bench and took several steps onto the floor. That is technically a violation of the rule. However . . . Artest clearly recognized his mistake several steps in and ran back to the bench. He never became involved in the scuffle. He never came close to being involved. The rule worked. Artest remembered and corrected himself before he did anything that could be perceived as a problem. Suspending him for a playoff game? Taking away the Pacers' second-best player and most important defender in a home game? The punishment doesn't fit the crime, Stu.

    Second . . . how can Artest be suspended, but the guy who deliberately started the fight by intentionally throwing Jermaine O'Neal to the ground, Brandon Hunter, isn't suspended? How can a guy who starts a fight be given a pass while the guy who unintentionally wanders onto the floor -- but does nothing -- get suspended for a game? The whole thing makes the league look pretty bad.

    Finally . . . why did John Carroll feel that need to personally call the league and lobby (both Jackson and the press) for Artest's suspension? It gave the appearance that his team was so desperate, so woefully overmatched, that the only way it had a real shot a winning a game was to get a player from the other team suspended.

    Lenny Wilkens was much classier dealing with a much more serious violation, the intentional foul and injuring of Tim Thomas. He left it up to the league and was polite when he learned that Jason Collins wouldn't be suspended for his crime.

    While I don't agree with Rick Carlisle's assessment that Carroll sent Hunter into the game to intentional provoke O'Neal into doing something stupid . . . his actions lobbying the league for the suspension of another player for a technicality gave more credibility to Carlisle's theory.

    Keep Kiki! After a month long effort in the press lobbying for the return of Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, the writers have turned their attention to Kiki Vandeweghe. Upon learning that he's being paid in the bottom 15 percent of the league and has just two more years left on his deal -- the cry for a hefty pay raise and an extension is an appropriate one.

    Vandeweghe is one of the top five GMs in the league. He's smart, unconventional, patient and treats his staff and players with real respect. Last year, Vandeweghe refused to take a swanky office up with owner Stan Kronke, preferring to have a smaller office (with no windows) down near the practice court. He didn't want to give his players the impression that he was spending the franchise's money on himself. He wanted them to know that the players were the center of the franchise, not the front office.

    It took a lot of guts for him to blow up the team the way he did in Denver. In a league filled with retreads and conventional wisdom, Vandeweghe's out-of-the-box thinking in Denver has turned a moribund franchise into one of the most exciting in the league.

    Harrison in the draft: Colorado center David Harrison hired John Elway's agent, Chris Emens, on Monday, ending his college career at Colorado. "I looked at the season I had this year, and I just felt like I have a great opportunity to get picked in the first round," Harrison told the Denver Post. "I just felt it was my time to go pro. I always thought I would be in college for about three years, so I felt like this was perfect timing."

    "I am crazy," Harrison said. "I'm crazy about winning. I'm crazy about playing as hard as I can. I think I offer a lot to an NBA team, my size and my physical ability. I've just got to show them what they want, and then I'll be on the team."

    Harrison claims that he'll play at the Chicago pre-draft camp in June. We'll see. Typically, prospects of his stature skip the event. Once Emens realizes the drill in the NBA, I'm sure Harrison will sprain his ankle or something a day or two before.

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    Default Re: 4-20-04

    [quote]That's the curse of building around high school kids who aren't ready for the league. There's an old saying in the league that a player is what he is after three seasons. That doesn't hold true with the young kids. Chandler and Curry are both 21. We might not now what kind of players they're going to be for another two or three years. In an ideal world, they'd be finishing their junior years of college and considering the NBA. Instead, they're already labeled as busts.

    The Bulls have spent three years trying to build around them. If they give up now, they're admitting that the last three years were a waste. If they wait another year or two to give them more time to develop, they could be making the problem worse. If Chandler and Curry don't develop -- Paxson just delayed the inevitable by two more years.

    Thank Krause for that. His decision to build totally around youth, without veteran leadership to teach the kids how to win, created a generation of losers who brush off a defeat with ease. Krause's monumental error in Chicago fundamentally changed the way other GMs around the league view high school players now.

    You no longer build around them (unless their name is LeBron). You add them to a core of veterans who can teach them the game. Paxson tried to correct the mistake this year, adding good veteran role models like Scottie Pippen, Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams to the mix. But, judging from last year's results, it was too late. [quote]

    Memo to Chad Ford: That's what Donnie Walsh did years before Krause started drafting high schoolers.

    It makes Jerry look even dumber, of course, but it also makes Chad Ford look like an amateur when he slants stuff that way.
    Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
    Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
    Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
    Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
    And life itself, rushing over me
    Life itself, the wind in black elms,
    Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you


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