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What it all meant (AKA Game Thread #38: Bulls/Knicks)

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Looking back, the true 'Baby Bulls' era ended when John Paxson took over before the conclusion of  the '02-'03 season and selected Kirk Hinrich in that June's draft. Sure, Hinrich and later Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were all young, but they came from established college programs with an assumed work ethic and attitude. Paxson claimed this as his method, a departure from his predecessor Jerry Krause, who prided himself as 'the sleuth' who could find the diamonds in each draft class. The 'Baby Bulls' were Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford, and Eddy Curry, the latter returning to the United Center with his Knicks teammates for the first time since being traded before the season.

When Hinrich was drafted, eyebrows were raised immediately (I know I was waiting for some sort of draft-day trade) as Paxson sent a signal to Crawford that his long-term spot was not assured. Sure enough, the same Paxson who criticized Crawford when he was the Bulls' radio announcer dealt him to the Knicks after that season. With Crawford's departure, and Paxson's own picks giving the Bulls success they hadn't seen in years, the same situation presented itself after the following season, with Chandler and Curry up for contract extensions. Would they get the NBA player's holy grail of that second contract? or be used in a sign and trade like Crawford?

While Chandler was a high school draftee like Curry, he exhibited the traits the Paxson/Skiles clearly valued above others: hard work and discipline. Curry was a different matter. The expectations had dropped by then, but while they were not Shaq and Garnett (seriously, we were lead to believe that at one time) Curry was Mr. Offense to Chandler's Defense. But on a team that out-hustled and out-defended opponents to 47 wins that season, it was Chandler who became the obvious guy to resign. Curry also had his role, a post presence that was force-fed early in games to start off the team. But his defense never matured, he never became the rebounder justified by his size. While he had a role, the idea of him and Chandler leading the Bulls towards a championship was reconfigured to emphasize the play of Paxson's guys.

The Bulls actually finished quite well last season after Curry was sidelined with his now-famous heart ailment. That said, given the market for big men in the NBA, Eddy's contract extension would've been as assumed as Chandler's was if not for the injury.  After a summer full of medical and legal banter between Bulls management and Curry's representation, a visibly tired and upset Paxson traded Curry the same place he sent Crawford: the Knicks.

In Pax's mind, it had to be done. Eddy was not going to play for the Bulls without clearance from their doctors, and their doctors required a DNA test for that to happen. But my point is not to revisit that whole ordeal, or even what his trade meant for this season's personnel. But to recall how on that day it was official that Krause's dream had died. Two seven-footers, reaching their prime at the point where Shaq would be fading, ready to take over the league. That dream officially died with the trade of Curry, but for all practical purposes, it was ended when Krause's tenure did.

If the heart issue never materialized, Eddy Curry would likely still be an important part of the team, but not the focal point. With him and Chandler at 22, their future development was undetermined, but so far they each are showing the same inconsistencies (Chandler's more obvious). When you think of it that way, the return of Eddy Curry has diminished significance. Sure it's nice to think 'what might have been', but not only did it have to happen this way due to Eddy's condition, I think deep down we all knew the 'Baby Bulls' weren't going to take the league by storm as planned. Paxson and Skiles had changed the identity upon their arrivals, and moved on. So should Bulls fans.

::dramatic pause::

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That's all the Eddy-returning hoopla I'll contribute: on to tonight's game. The Bulls were embarrassed in their trip to New York in late November. We've all been following the Knicks fortunes (or to put it more accurately, misfortunes) as the Bulls own their unprotected draft pick. They did have a 6-game winning streak to start 2006 but have since lost the last 3. In their latest loss Stephon Marbury hurt his shoulder and is inactive for tonight's game. The guy can draw fouls like no other, so his absence will be a sigh of relief to those sick of the free-throw discrepancy the Bulls experience every single game.

This means more of Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford, who torched the Bulls in their last meeting. But the rule still applies: Jamal Crawford sucks.

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Will Curry be extra motivated going against his buddy Chandler and his traded counterpart, Mike Sweetney? Will those two get their heads out of their asses and save this season? Will Skiles throw sarcastic barbs across the court at Larry Brown till he gets that sad Larry Brown face working? Will Paxson chase down any more referees? Remember Antonio Davis?

Man we need this one.