Bulls Send Kukoc to Sixers
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Toni Kukoc, the last key player from the Chicago Bulls’ championship dynasty, was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday in a three-team deal involving Golden State.
The Sixers sent Larry Hughes and Billy Owens to Golden State, which dealt a No. 1 draft pick to Chicago. The Bulls, who have stockpiled three No. 1 picks for this year in the wake of their messy breakup, also got Bruce Bowen from the Sixers and John Starks from the Warriors.
The Sixers got a potent scorer to complement NBA scoring leader Allen Iverson, making them a serious threat in the East.
Sixers general manager Billy King called Kukoc ``a player who has won championships and who has played with the greatest player in the league in Michael Jordan.″
While Kukoc solidifies the Sixers’ position against more versatile, experienced Eastern teams, it might be short-lived. Kukoc, 31, is in the final year of his contract and the subject of an extension has yet to come up.
``His experience will help us tremendously this season, hopefully in the playoff this year and in the future,″ King said. ``We’re not doing this just as a short-term thing. Our goal is to have Toni Kukoc finish his career here.″
The deal marked the last gasp in a glorious run for the Bulls. Kukoc followed Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson out of town.
``The only player in the history of the franchise who was untouchable was Michael Jordan,″ said Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who fought back tears during a news conference in Chicago. ``The rest of the athletes can be traded. That’s the way life is.″
The Sixers said Kukoc would arrive in Philadelphia on Thursday and play Friday night against Cleveland. Presumably, he will start at small forward, but coach Larry Brown was home ill and wasn’t available to confirm that.
In recent weeks, Kukoc has said he wouldn’t mind being traded. There was speculation the Lakers would acquire Kukoc and reunite him with Jackson, his former coach.
``I told him, `I think you’re a piece that will help us continue to go in the right direction,‴ King said.
The draft pick that goes to Chicago is Washington’s pick left over from the Chris Webber trade. If it’s in the top three picks this year, the Bulls have to wait for an unprotected No. 1 pick in 2001.
``Our hope is that with this pick, we get a player who translates into long-term success,″ Bulls coach Tim Floyd said.
Hughes, drafted eighth overall in 1998, didn’t agree with Brown or fit in the Sixers’ offense with Iverson at shooting guard. He was nearly dealt to Miami as part of a deal for Jamal Mashburn several weeks ago, but it fell through.
``Trading Larry Hughes, it was difficult,″ King said. ``When we brought him in, there were high expectations. It didn’t work out probably the way we would have liked or the way Larry would have liked.″
The deal means Philadelphia has traded three of its last four No. 1 draft picks _ Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn and Hughes. Iverson was the No. 1 overall pick in 1996.
``The goal that Billy King and Larry Brown have been asked to accomplish is to win an NBA championship,″ team president Pat Croce said.
``I am very excited to be coming to Philadelphia,″ Kukoc said in a statement released by the Sixers. ``The team is doing well and is probably going to the playoffs, so it’s exciting for me to be playing with these guys.″
Playoffs are something Kukoc knows a little about. He was with the Bulls for three of their six championships in the 1990s, which will forever be known _ in Chicago and in basketball _ as the Jordan era.
Kukoc said recently, ``It would be nice to play again for a team that has a great chance to win a championship.″
With Kukoc in Philly, the Sixers have that chance. After playing alongside Jordan in Chicago, Kukoc now will find himself playing with Iverson, the defending scoring champion and self-proclaimed best player in the league.
Kukoc was sidelined with back spasms for most of the early season and only recently returned, sparking the Bulls to three straight victories.
Bulls general manager Jerry Krause has scoffed at the notion of Kukoc returning to Europe after the season, saying the player and his family were too Americanized. Kukoc acknowledged that Krause was right, and King said he thought that was unfounded speculation.
``My family, I can say, is pretty Americanized,″ Kukoc said. ``My son has lived pretty much all his life in Chicago, my daughter was born in Chicago, we all like Chicago. So he is half-right about that.
``But I still like to go home in the summer, and I’ve never actually said `no’ to the European teams. I’m keeping those options open, but only if I can’t find a team in the NBA.
``I’m intending to stay in the NBA.″
Kukoc is averaging 18 points and 5.4 rebounds in 24 games this season, although he is shooting a career-low 23 percent on 3-pointers.