With Bulls, D stands for decisions, not dynasty

June 14, 1991|By Bob Ford | Bob Ford,Knight-Ridder

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The final tears of joy and release had barely stopped tumbling down Michael Jordan's face on Wednesday night when he paused to consider the standard question posed of champions.

Can you do it again?

The life span of celebration is very short for winners in sport. You only have until next season to be washed in the warm waters of world championships. Come November, the Bulls will be just another team hoping to beat the odds, and will be labeled failures if they don't succeed.

"I don't know if I'll ever get back here again," Jordan, 28, said philosophically. "If I don't, I'll always have this one. I'm going to enjoy it."

Magic Johnson, the other half of the celebrity tag team that made the NBA Finals between Jordan's Chicago Bulls and his Los Angeles Lakers such a media extravaganza, offered an embrace and his congratulations.

"I'm happy for you," Johnson said as he hugged Jordan, who was still weeping and looking fully capable of solving Southern California's water problems all by himself. "You got one."

Jordan had indeed gotten one, overcoming the doubters who held that his enormous individual talents could never fit smoothly into a team concept.

Johnson, who quieted his questioners long ago, has five, if you're scoring at home. He very nearly got ring No. 6 this season, and it would be foolish to bet that Johnson doesn't get it before Jordan gets his second.

Despite all the deserved acclaim the Bulls will receive for their wondrous season, they are not necessarily on the verge of establishing a dynasty. Sustaining greatness is very difficult, although the NBA is coming off a couple of back-to-back champions: first the Lakers, then the Detroit Pistons.

The Bulls have difficult decisions to make. Guard John Paxson and center Bill Cartwright will become unrestricted free agents July 1 if the team does not re-sign them. Championships inflate contract values, and both men will be well-served to try the free-agent market.

The playoffs were very kind to both of them. Cartwright, considered gawky and slow to a fault, showed his ability to set screens, play defense and hit his unbelievably ugly baseline shot under the pressure of big games. Centers are not easy to come by (as the Bullets' front office can attest), and someone will take an expensive run at Cartwright despite his obvious deficiencies and his age (34).

Paxson enjoyed an incredible showcase for his moderate skills. He can play decent defense and hit wide-open shots. That's not exactly a stunning resume, but combine it with Michael Jordan as a teammate and it gets a lot better.

In the clinching game against the Lakers, Paxson hit five straight jumpers to ice the championship for Chicago. That, with his 65 percent shooting for the series, probably added $500,000 to the annual salary he can now command.

While the Bulls could re-sign either of these players regardless of the salary cap, the price of success will, in part, mess up the team's salary structure. Jordan makes less than $3 million per season, which is laughable, considering salaries these days. Scottie Pippen is getting a new contract, reportedly five years for $18 million.

Can renegotiating Jordan's contract be far behind? And where will Cartwright and Paxson fall into that equation?

The Bulls can't afford to lose too much of their nucleus. They played so well, and with fewer injuries than any other NBA team this season, that the bench players never developed an important role.

"We had a very fortunate year," said coach Phil Jackson, who took to wearing his New York Knicks championship ring around the locker room during the playoffs as a reminder for the Bulls. "Everything went our way."

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