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Pecking Order: Ranking my love for former Bulls in the Conference Finals

Matt Peck Avatar
May 20, 2022

What up, Bulls Nation.

First things first: See ya, Grayson. Damn shame about you going ice cold and getting routinely cooked and crossed over by the Celtics. Enjoy your summer. Actually, don’t. Fun summers are for cool people. And you are not a cool person.

As my guy Big Dave has dubbed me, Petty Peck had to check in real quick.

Moving on.

While some of you may still be languishing in the Bulls’ first-round exit, I’ve moved on. I’m excited to see what the Bulls front office does in the offseason. And I’ll be the first to admit they’ve got some work to do. But in the meantime, I’m too busy enjoying the NBA playoffs. There’s really nothing else like it, in my opinion. And we’ve reached the final four after some pretty spectacular conference semifinals.

There are some familiar faces among the four remaining teams. Faces that used to wear Bulls jerseys in years and eras past. So this week, I’ll be sharing with you my rankings of the love I still have for these individuals.

It’s the Pecking Order.

7. Otto Porter Jr. – Golden State Warriors – 54 games in Bulls career

The rankings start with the lowest level of love I have. In Otto’s case, it’s zero. I don’t necessarily dislike him or hold too much against him. [Although there was that video that went viral of him strolling through a crowded indoor party pouring champagne from the same bottle into several people’s mouths while a pandemic was raging across the country. Was that real???]

At the time he was traded to the Bulls midway through the 2018-19 season, I thought Otto was a smart and solid addition to the roster. A quality veteran who could make the right reads on offense, knock down some threes and play competent defense. The Bulls needed all those things when he arrived. When he was on the floor, he provided them more often than not.

But he was rarely on the floor. Spanning three seasons, Otto played in just 54 games for the Bulls. Sure, two of those were partial seasons as he was traded to Orlando along with Wendell Carter Jr as part of the Nikola Vucevic deal. But in that middle season, 2019-20, when the Bulls were actually trying to be a competitive team, he played in just 14 games. Always injured. Never available. A potentially good move that turned out to be a bust for the Bulls. I guess the silver lining is they needed his large contract to make the Vooch deal work? That’s assuming you were – and still are – a fan of the Vooch trade…

*Peck ducks*

Anyway, I can’t say it doesn’t piss me to tears [shoutout Mark K for teaching me some Aussie slang!] just a bit to see him giving meaningful contributions to the Golden State Warriors this season and in their playoff run. In one season with the Dubs, Otto played more games (63) than he did spanning three seasons with the Bulls. He’s also played in 11 of their 12 playoff games thus far.

How nice for him, and for them.

6. Luke Kornet – Boston Celtics – 49 games in Bulls career

We’ll always have this moment:

Shoutout Stephen Noh for the vid. Shoutout Leila Rahimi and Stacey King for this timeless moment.

As for Luke … yeah. Not much to say about his basketball contributions. I will say, however, that Big Dave, Sabine and I got to chat with Luke and his wife at a Bulls Charities event a few years ago. And they are delightfully kind and lovely people.

5. Daniel Theis – Boston Celtics – 23 games in Bulls career

Theis was only here for the final third of last season after arriving from Boston via trade. Now, he’s back in Boston where he’s spent the majority of his NBA career. He played some real minutes in their first-round series against Brooklyn, less so against Milwaukee in round two. We’ll see how much Ime Udoka uses him in the conference finals.

If you know me and my Bulls fandom, it’s not surprising to know that I was a big Theis fan when he was here. A tatted-up guy who crashed the boards and did a lot of the dirty work and not much scoring? Yeah, just a hint of Dennis in Daniel. Thus, my love.

Theis turned out to be just a part-season loaner, as the Bulls executed a sign-and-trade that sent him to Houston last offseason. We’ll see how long Javonte Green sticks around, but given how vital he was to the Bulls this season it appears as though he – not Theis -was the real target of that trade all along. The Bulls have a trade exception from the Theis deal, which they can use to sign a mid-tier veteran free agent this offseason. So his short Bulls tenure has one more gift to give.

4. Max Strus – Miami Heat – 2 games in Bulls career

The kid from Hickory Hills and the DePaul product who couldn’t quite make the “hometown hero” story come true with the Bulls.

In December of 2019, Strus tore his ACL playing in a G League game while on a two-way contract with the Bulls. He did make a full recovery from that ACL tear, which is a wonderful thing. The fact that he did so and then got picked up by the Miami Heat [ew] after being cut by the Bulls is less wonderful.

I’ve seen a lot of takes on Bulls Twitter recently, while Strus is giving the Heat solid contributions this season. “I can’t believe the Bulls let this guy go! What a terrible mistake!” So on and so forth.

Look. Again, if you know me, you know I held nothing back when critiquing the old front office. [*Collective sigh of relief that I just said “the old front office.”*] But I can’t fault them all that much for this one. Strus was an undrafted flier prospect with a torn ACL. Given where the Bulls were as an organization at the time – up shit creek, to put it gently – it’s not like they could afford to invest more time in Strus and hope that he a) made a full recovery AND b) turned into a solid, useable player.

It sucks for the Bulls that things transpired as they did, and he’s playing quality ball for a Bulls rival like Miami. But it is what it is. Mostly, I’m just happy for the guy.

3. Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat – 399 games in Bulls career

I can see the look on all of your faces, as you try to figure out why and how Jimmy Buckets is not even #2 – let alone #1 – on this list. Should be unanimous, right?

Well it’s my list. Not yours. So keep reading to find out, or don’t if you don’t want to. I couldn’t care less.

I know that Bulls Nation today is relatively divided on how we feel about Jimmy. There are the Jimmy Stans [shoutout again to Mark K, and to my pal Salim from Bulls Gold], who still occasionally cry themselves to sleep wishing we could go back and undo the Jimmy trade. They think trading Jimmy is one of – if not the -biggest mistake[s] in Bulls franchise history.

And there are those who were tired of Jimmy’s antics by the end, hated the hot mess that was the Three Alphas season and didn’t truly believe they could build a title contender with Jimmy as the main piece.

If pressed, I’d say I lean more towards the latter group. And have admitted as much several times since Jimmy was traded five years ago. But in retrospect, I think I’m pretty much in the middle of these two groups.

Do I fault Jimmy for the old front office not having the competency to do their jobs and build a winning roster around him? No. I fault them for that. But it was pretty clear, once Jimmy became the main piece, that they did not know how to build around him.

“We’re going to get younger, more athletic… [*fast forward to free agency*]

…Hey, we signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade! Aren’t you so excited, Bulls Nation?”

Thanks a heap, GarPax.

They took their prime two-way All Star whose biggest flaw was a lack of floor-spacing shooting range, and gave him two aging guards – one of them grossly overpaid – who also couldn’t shoot threes. Flawless logic! [*Peck facepalms*]

Then Wade got in Jimmy’s ear about “Heat Culture” and all that nonsense, convinced Jimmy he wasn’t strutting enough, and tore down the whole damn thing while Rondo, the young guys, Fred Hoiberg and the front office looked around helplessly. Sputtered to the 8th seed with a tiebreaker and got bounced in the first round after Rondo led them to a 2-0 lead before getting injured. Jimmy and Dwyane couldn’t take it from there? Not even one more win?

…And some of you wonder why I hated the Three Alphas season so damn much. It was a dumpster fire from top to bottom.

I had a lack of faith in the front office’s roster constructing abilities, and I was getting sick of Jimmy’s exploding ego. I was ready for it to be over. I also thought, at the time, that giving Jimmy a gigantic contract would be a waste, considering he and the flawed rosters around him would never get past LeBron in the playoffs. So why not start a rebuild now, and hope it takes off by the time LeBron’s dominance is fading? I also kept thinking about all the miles Tom Thibodeau put on Jimmy’s legs and wondered what he would look like towards the end of that contract…

In hindsight, Jimmy is still playing at an elite level when he wants to, especially come playoff time. And the Bulls are just now climbing back to relevance under new leadership while Jimmy has made perennial playoff trips for three different teams, and one trip to the Finals. And here he is now, back in the conference finals. [That 41-point Game 1. Wow.] Some of that credit goes to Jimmy, without a doubt. A lot of it also goes to Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. I think the “Heat Culture” thing is dumb. But Riley knows how to build competitive rosters. No denying that.

All that to say, I don’t feel a lot of love for Jimmy anymore. He moved on. The divorce was ugly, and left the Bulls in tatters. He was no innocent bystander, nor was he deserving of the lion’s share of blame. But to me, that era will always belong to Derrick and Joakim. Jimmy kept them afloat awhile longer as Derrick and Jo dealt with injuries, but the way he went about trying to take over that team always left a bad taste in my mouth. Rose and Noah led that team to the conference finals before Jimmy even got there, and that’s the farthest they would ever get. What, exactly, did Jimmy do that was so spectacular when it mattered in the postseason?

He’s gone on to prove with other teams just how dominant he can be in the postseason. And good for him. No one can deny how hard Jimmy works to reach this level of stardom. And maybe if the Bulls just signed him to a max deal and tried again to build different pieces around him, the Bulls would at least have more fun playoff runs to show for it. Title? Almost certainly not. But again, did any of you have faith in the old front office to bring those pieces together?

The horrible results of the post-Jimmy rebuild may well have been the final straw for the old front office. Would Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley be here right now if GarPax-built rosters with Jimmy at the helm had been making first or second round exits for the past five years? I shudder to think of the answer to that question.

Was the Jimmy trade a mistake? Maybe. Probably. Do I dwell on it? Not at all. His antics as his star rose and ego grew made it pretty easy for me to watch him go. And there’s no point dwelling on things from the past you can’t change.

Also. Michelob Ultra? C’mon, Jimmy. Do better.

2. Spencer Dinwiddie – Dallas Mavericks – 0 games in Bulls career

The one that got away. It hurts to think about. [I guess now is when I should take my own advice and not dwell on things I can’t change.] While I don’t fault the old front office all that much for Max Strus, letting Dinwiddie go was inexcusably poor decision-making. This guy fell in their laps in a trade for Cameron Bairstow [yeah, seriously, that’s how they got him in case you forgot] after a stint with Detroit, and absolutely balled out in preseason games and then the G League. He averaged 19.4 points and 8.1 assists for the Windy City Bulls.

Instead of promoting him to the real squad, they gave roster spots to Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams. Woof, woof, and wooo-hooooooof. Canaan and Grant are out of the league, and MCW spent this season playing spot bench minutes for the worst team in the league. Again, bravo GarPax!

Dinwiddie, like Strus, had to make a comeback from an ACL injury. But that wasn’t until long after he moved on from the Bulls. The fact that they never gave him his fair shot bugs me to this day. But seeing him pour in 30 points in a Game 7 victory for the Mavericks last weekend made me happy.

Good for you, Spencer. I’ll always be rooting for you.

1. Steve Kerr – Golden State Warriors – 378 games in Bulls career

“Oh c’mon, Peck! That’s cheating! You can’t include Steve, he’s not playing. He’s a coach.”

First, go back to the top of this column and check. I said “familiar faces” and “individuals.” Not players. Boom. Lawyered.

Second, and again, it’s my list. I’ll include whomever I want, dammit. Write your own column if you disagree with me. On this, or on Jimmy. I’ll look forward to reading it. [Petty Peck check-in #2.]

Spanning his five seasons with the Bulls, Steve shot 50.7% from the field and 47.9% from downtown. Those are insane numbers. Sure, the three-point shooting volume back then wasn’t anything near what it is today. You want a good laugh? Steve Kerr, known as one of the best marksmen of his NBA generation, averaged just 2.4 three-point attempts per game during his Bulls years. And that was his highest attempt rate by far compared to the other teams he played for. His career average was 1.8 attempts per game. Still, the man was money from deep.

But it’s not about the numbers with Steve. It’s about the role he played on a winning team. He dutifully played that backup point guard role to perfection. 378 games played for the Bulls and not a single start. That’s wild.

Mostly, it’s about the moments. And the championships. And the Bulls teams that raised me. Steve Kerr was unmistakably a big part of that.

“If he comes off, I’ll be ready.”

You all know exactly the moment I’m talking about just by quoting seven little words. The quick timeout exchange between Steve and The GOAT that led to Steve hitting that shot and the Bulls clinching title #5.

And then there was Steve’s epic retelling of that story at the Grant Park rally.

Seriously, how can you not love this guy?

I also absolutely loved Steve on the mic during the broadcasting part of his post-playing career. Colorful and insightful commentary while letting the play-by-play person do their thing. I’ll always remember him saying to Reggie Miller, “Reggie, will you get off me now, please?” in the aftermath of Taj Gibson’s monster dunk on Wade in Game 1 of the 2011 conference finals. Incredible.

Now, in his coaching career, he’s leading one of the great dynasties of modern sports. While being so likeably affable one moment and reflective and thought-provoking the next when the situation calls for it.

When I think about it, he’s been the longest-tenured person attached to my NBA fandom. Won three chips for my team during my childhood, and never left. He’s always been around. And I will root for him and be happy for him in his accomplishments always.

There’s the list. Hope you enjoyed it. Now let’s all enjoy these conference finals.

Go Mavs. Shoutout Sabine.

See Red. Be Good.

-Peck

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