SPORTS

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March 1, 2002

Jerry Krause deserves apology

Salty goat testicles? Pardon me, but I must disagree with my fellow columnist Jesson Yeh and emphatically state that Jerry Krause deserves much better than that. Granted, I won't be too vulgar in my response, no matter how good internal strife and dissention are for the staff of a newspaper that's locked in a life-or-death battle with the CWN. Still, I must state that I hold the opposite opinion about almost everything Mr. Yeah declared in his "Open Letter to Mr. Jerry Krause" last Friday, and I'll tell you exactly why.

Most of the outrage there came in reaction to the Bulls' general manager's latest trade, but his alleged past faults were vaguely mentioned as well. Did he have to "break up" the dynasty? The question still remains as to whether that was even his choice. I, for one, am still skeptical that he "forced Michael Jordan into retirement." In fact, I don't believe that anyone, especially not some general manager, had the power to do that but Michael Jordan himself. But even if Krause did have some influence in the decision, I will go on record and say this: it was the RIGHT THING TO DO. Apparently, shortly afterwards, all Bulls fans promptly and conveniently acquired amnesia and forgot how the Bulls almost lost to the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, or how they barely edged out the Jazz for their last championship. Yes, that Bulls team could have stayed together for another year and lost somewhere deep in the playoffs. Or it could have stayed together for two more years and lost in the second round. Or it could still be together and be posting spectacular .500 records, sort of like today's Washington Wizards. See what I am hinting at? The "they should have stayed together" argument isn't even valid. Forget about it already.

Moving on: as we all well know, Krause has been widely vilified for most of his major post-dynasty moves. Let's go in order: he drafted Elton Brand and Ron Artest in 1999, acquired Jamal Crawford for dynasty holdover Toni Kukoc the next draft (as well as Marcus Fizer), signed Eddie Robinson to a pretty big contract the last off-season, traded Brand for high schooler Tyson Chandler, drafted another high-schooler, Eddy Curry, and a second-round steal, Trenton Hassell.

In last week's article, Mr. Yeah stamped the Brand-for-Chandler trade in particular as worthless because Chandler "has thus far produced nothing." Here is what I say: you should instead point to the drafting of Elton Brand as worthless. Remember a little guy named Steve Francis that the Bulls didn't draft instead, the same guy who will be a perennial All-Star, and more importantly, a DIFFERENCE-MAKER (something Brand will never be) for the Rockets the next decade or so? Drafting Brand was a mistake, simple as that — by far the biggest one Krause has made in the last five years. I respect Krause for admitting to it and for correcting it by trading for Chandler, now a 19-year-old whom one scout called "the most athletic 7-footer to ever come into the league." Of course Chandler has done "nothing" so far compared to the average NBA star, but what do you expect, he's friggin' 19 years old, fresh from high school! Oh yeah, did I mention he's already starting, holding his own, and occasionally outplaying stars like Antawn Jamison? The kid has drive; you can see it in his eyes. He already makes more spectacular defensive plays every game than Brand did in a year. In short, Chandler has the potential to become thrice the player Brand will ever be. Remember, we are trying to become a championship team here, not the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As for Krause's other moves, the only one that I might not condone at this point was signing Eddie Robinson to a big contract. So far, that guy has either been constantly injured or jacking up shots like a madman while providing little help in other areas of basketball. Still, he is only 25 and extremely athletic, so the potential is definitely there for improvement. On the other hand, Krause accomplished as much as he possibly could in the extraordinarily weak 2000 draft by getting Fizer (a capable scorer) and Crawford, who is still an unknown but might turn out to be the best player to come in that year. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Curry has the potential to become the best center in the league when Shaq retires.

Potential, shmotential. That's all the Bulls had until recently, and I was getting kind of restless to see results. Well, with his trade for Jalen Rose, Krause provided results. While it was a seven-player trade, only two names stand out significantly: Rose and Ron Artest. (Ron Mercer and Brad Miller are replaceable, while Travis Best might leave after this year). Now, anybody who thinks Artest could ever be a player of Rose's caliber should apply for shock therapy for delusion. Sure, he might be the best mid-size defender in the league, but a "future all-star," as Mr. Yeah confidently declared? No way in hell. All-defensive team, yeah. All-star, no. Defense in the NBA (if there is such a thing) can be learned by those who are athletically talented; offense cannot. If you can't beat someone one-on-one, that's how it will always be. And Artest cannot get around a defender for the life of him, but rather chooses to trip over himself when he has the ball. He will never be the centerpiece for a championship team.

Not so with Jalen Rose, a player in his prime who is signed for the next five years. He is a star, plain and simple, and just as much of a leader as Artest (not to mention that he backs up his talk much more impressively). This guy was the man in the NBA finals for the Indiana Pacers two years ago, and a player who can get 20, 5, and 5 every night (or more like 25, 6, and 6 on the Bulls). He's not the defensive stopper Artest is, but can hold his own. Besides, the Bulls need his services much more than Artest's. When you are a talented youngster on a shit team (Chandler, Curry, Crawford) where nobody can consistently play with the opposition's best player, you start to doubt whether you will ever be able to play up to that level. By acquiring Rose, the Bulls removed these doubts. For example, Chandler has already been infected with what he calls Rose's "they ain't nothin'" attitude when it comes to the other team. And isn't this what it's all about, catalyzing the enormous hidden talent that is contained within the Bulls' roster?

My advice to Bulls fans like Mr. Yeah is stop worrying about negligible properties such as defense and complementary players for now. All that will come in time, and I am absolutely confident that Crawford, Chandler, and Curry will be some of the best defensive players in the league if they develop as expected, not to mention some of the best offensive players, as well. For now, we already have a poor man's Ron Artest in rookie Trenton Hassell, allegedly one of only two players to block Rose's shot this season (the other one being Shaq). More significantly, Jerry Krause gave the Bulls one of the best players and personalities in the NBA. I personally attended Rose's first game as a Bull, a win that sent fans into a frenzy, and I can say that I witnessed real NBA basketball in Chicago for the first time since 1998. So please, lay off the salty goat testicles already.