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Carlos Boozer did not mince words when comparing his Chicago Bulls teams to this year’s up-and-coming squad.
June 14, 1998. Over 23 years ago. That was the last shot Michael Jordan would take in a Chicago Bulls uniform, Byron Russell nudged away for championship number six after Karl Malone did not see Jordan coming for the crucial steal.
It was the last time the Bulls stood atop the NBA mountain.
The Carlos Boozer-era Chicago Bulls led by 2011 MVP Derrick Rose never won an NBA championship. They never made it to the NBA Finals. There was one trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 where they ran into LeBron James and the Heatles.
The Bulls won Game 1 before bowing out in five games. It is the closest the Bulls have come and the series was tighter than five games would indicate. The Bulls had leads in the fourth quarter in Games 4 and 5 and each game was tight down the stretch.
“In the moment that haunted me for the whole summer,” Carlos Boozer told FanSided’s Da Windy City podcast. “We felt like we had a team that should be cutting the nets down hoisting a trophy up especially in 2010 (2011) and again in 2012.”
2012 was supposed to be the year. The Bulls finished the regular season tied for the best record in the NBA with San Antonio — tops in the Eastern Conference 50-16. It was a strike shortened season that started on Christmas Day after a 161-day lockout.
The NBA wanted to jam as many games possible into the shortened season, a short-sighted decision that resulted in many players battling injuries. The Bulls played 12 back-to-backs as well as three games in three nights twice.
Rose battled injuries all season, the most serious was a groin injury that cost him 12 games in March. His body was never right, but Rose was on the court for Game 1 of the playoffs even with the Bulls up 16 after a Rose basket with 2:25 left.
One minute and three seconds of game clock later, Rose did a jump cut in the lane that would effectively end the Bulls chances of winning a championship in the Rose, Joakim Noah, Boozer-era. Torn ACL, season over. The Bulls upset by the No. 8-seed Sixers in six games.
Everything could have been different for the Chicago Bulls if Derrick Rose stayed healthy
“I feel like our team was literally a D Rose healthy being away from winning one or two championships,” Boozer said. “In 2010 (2011 playoffs) we had D Rose and we just couldn’t get the job done, we put that on the chin and we take our hats off to our opponent. Moving forward we never had him in the postseason to upset those guys. I think it haunts all of us that we know if we would have kept D Rose healthy we would have at least got one.”
Boozer’s time in Chicago ended after four seasons. There would be one more playoff series win, but no trips past the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Fast forward to now and the Bulls finally have another chance at a deep playoff run led by MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan. Health will once again be a key factor. Zach LaVine is managing knee discomfort, Lonzo Ball has yet to return from arthroscopic knee surgery and Patrick Williams is eventually due back from a season long wrist injury.
The talent is there to at least make it very interesting in a wide open but highly competitive Eastern Conference. So which team at full strength was the better Bulls team?
“Our team, hands down.,” Boozer said. “One of the biggest reasons is, people forget we were number one in defense all year. This team is very good offensively but I think they are 0-16 ( 5-15) against the top teams in the league so they really haven’t beaten anybody good yet. DeMar DeRozan is having an MVP caliber season, Zach LaVine is one of the toughest guys in the league to guard, Vucevic is very talented but come on bro we got D Rose with the city on his back!”
Few would dispute Boozer’s points but that could change if the pieces come together quickly for the 2022 Bulls. For the record, Boozer will be cheering them on.
“I’m rooting for this group,” Boozer said. “They have come together, they came on very strong, they just gotta get over the hump against the good teams if they can find that mojo come playoff time they should be alright.”
The quest for the Bulls first championship since Michael Jordan ‘retired’ continues.