Bulls Send Kukoc to Sixers
DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ As long as Toni Kukoc was still in a Bulls uniform, Chicago fans could fool themselves, pretending the championship days really weren’t that long ago.
Sorry, folks. It took two slow, torturous years to die, but the Bulls dynasty is officially over.
Kukoc, the last key player from Chicago’s second three-peat, was shipped to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday in a three-team deal that gives the Bulls another No. 1 pick.
``This is a very hard day for me,″ general manager Jerry Krause said, fighting back tears. ``But my job here is to rebuild this franchise to the point where it was. We think we’ve taken some major steps today to do that.″
The deal also sent Larry Hughes and Billy Owens from Philadelphia to Golden State, and John Starks from the Warriors to the Bulls. The 76ers shipped Bruce Bowen to Chicago.
While Kukoc, 31, was Krause’s favorite player, the trade was hardly a surprise. Chicago’s grand plan in the post-Michael Jordan era is to stock up on draft picks and get as far under the salary cap as possible to lure some big-time free agents this summer.
Krause had already sold off the Bulls’ other valuable pieces, working out sign-and-trade deals for Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley last season. By trading Kukoc and his $4 million-plus salary now _ and picking up the free-agent-to-be Starks _ the Bulls get a draft pick and avoid the pressure of having to re-sign Kukoc this summer when he becomes a free agent.
The Bulls now have three No. 1 picks this year, though the latest comes with strings attached. If Washington’s pick, which Golden State had left over from the Chris Webber deal, is in the top three, the Bulls have to wait for an unprotected No. 1 pick in 2001.
``The most important thing for us is the future,″ Krause said. ``We have committed to rebuilding this team. We’ve committed to looking at every avenue to rebuilding this team.
``We’re now in a situation where we can unequivocally, without moving another person, without doing another thing, be in a position to sign two $9 million players next summer.″
The Bulls also gave Kukoc the chance to win another championship _ something he certainly wouldn’t have done in Chicago. A potent scorer, he’ll complement NBA scoring leader Allen Iverson and make the 76ers a more serious threat in the East.
Kukoc, who missed 24 games earlier in the season with lingering back spasms, is averaging 18 points and 5.4 rebounds in 24 games this season.
He knows how to play the big games, too, something the 76ers hope comes in handy at the end of the year. He was a member of the Bulls’ last three championship teams and has played in 75 playoff games.
Kukoc, 31, was expected to arrive in Philadelphia today and play Friday night against Cleveland.
``His experience will help us tremendously this season, hopefully in the playoffs this year and in the future,″ said Billy King, the 76ers general manager. ``We’re not doing this just as a short-term thing. Our goal is to have Toni Kukoc finish his career here.″
The subject of trade rumors for much of the last month, Kukoc said he was excited to go to Philadelphia.
``The team is doing well and is probably going to the playoffs, so it’s exciting for me to be playing with these guys,″ he said in a statement released by the 76ers.
But what about the poor Bulls? Chicago went 2-22 and flirted with the NBA’s futility mark without Kukoc. After he returned, the Bulls went 8-12 with victories over Miami, Detroit and Indiana.
Starks might be aggressive and tenacious, but he isn’t quite the same offensive threat. Not to mention that the only triangle he knows right now is the one taught in geometry class.
``Jerry mentioned the burden he’s put on our coaching staff. What the heck, Jerry. Just one more since we came to town,″ said coach Tim Floyd, whose coaching tenure has been one big long crisis.
Still, Floyd understands the trade.
``I don’t think any team that’s been through a rebuild has had the benefit of four high draft picks, Nos. 1-16, early on in the first two years,″ he said. ``So I remain encouraged about our future, and I think we’re still going down the right road.″
But it’s a far different road than the one MJ and Friends traveled. Of Chicago’s last three-peat team, only Dickey Simpkins and Randy Brown are left. B.J. Armstrong and Will Perdue returned this season, but it’s been seven years since they collected any jewelry with the Bulls.
``I don’t know if sad is the right word. It puts things in perspective that this is a business,″ Simpkins said. ``It doesn’t last forever. Guys retire and guys get traded.″