Over the years the Chicago Bulls have had a number of hits and misses. The NBA Draft ten years ago marks the time the Bulls transformed from a bottom of the barrel team to a hard-nosed playoff team with grit and tenacity.
Coming off of a miserable 23-59 season, the Bulls didn’t seem like they would become a contender anytime soon. During that season, Jalen Rose was supposed to be the All-Star centerpiece, Jamal Crawford was the team’s combo guard of the future, and legend Scottie Pippen was brought back to be the glue that held it altogether. The Bulls appeared to be a young team on the rise, and with former Bull Bill Cartwright at the helm as head coach, there was no reason to think otherwise. They even had a stellar young rookie point guard in Kirk Hinrich that was quickly embraced by fans. On top of that, big men Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry looked to become the franchise players that the Windy City had hoped for ever since they were drafted in 2001.
But early in the season, all of their hopes quickly went down the drain. The Bulls started the 2003-04 season 4-10, and Cartwright was quickly fired and replaced by Scott Skiles. About a week later, the Bulls made another huge move by trading Rose and Donyell Marshall to the Toronto Raptors for Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams. Pippen was also in and out of the lineup throughout the season with various injuries. The lone bright spot on the team turned out to be the rookie Hinrich for his defense and hustle. Fans and the media were both restless, but GM John Paxson was determined to change the culture of the Bulls.
Heading into the 2004 NBA Draft, the Bulls were linked to two players that they absolutely wanted — UConn guard Ben Gordon and Duke forward Luol Deng. The team was torn on which player to draft weeks prior to the draft but only had the 3rd overall pick in the first round. Nevertheless, with the Phoenix Suns looking to clear cap room in hopes to sign All-Star Steve Nash, they wanted no part in the draft and shipped their 7th overall pick for a future first round pick and cash. The Bulls were able to draft both of their guys. The team also swooped up another Duke player, Chris Duhon, in the second round. But the Bulls didn’t stop acquiring rookies after the draft. Shortly after, the team signed Argentinian forward Andres Nocioni who was coming off of a gold medal in basketball in the 2004 olympics.
There was nothing but low expectations for a losing Bulls team loaded with rookies on their roster. In fact, it seemed like deja vu when Chicago started the 2004-05 season at 0-9, and eventually 4-15. But almost like a light switch, the team was able to turn things around. They went 18-4 over their next 22 games, bringing their record to a respectable 22-19. The Bulls would go on to finish the season at 47-35 — 3rd best in the Eastern Conference — before falling to the Washington Wizards in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
Although they finished the season on a disappointing note, there was a lot to be proud of for Bulls fans all over the world. Gordon won Sixth Man of the Year, Deng averaged 11 points and five rebounds as a rookie, Duhon started 73 games at point guard, and Nocioni became a global fan favorite for the Bulls.
There have been many solid Bulls teams since the 2004-05 season. However, the draft ten years ago definitely has a place in the hearts of Bulls fans everywhere. It changed the fortune of the Bulls and molded a gritty defensive culture that the Bulls still possess today.