Following a game seven loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals to end the 1990 season, the Chicago Bulls were left wondering what they would have to do in order to finally break through and win a championship. They had competed with the Celtics dynasty and had continued to fall short during the Pistons run to close out the late 80s into 1990s. It was just a matter of time before the Bulls would figure a way through the Eastern Conference and begin their own dynasty.
This series is going to be a deep dive into the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 90s. Every available game from each season in which the Chicago Bulls would go to win the NBA Finals will be covered. Specifically, I want to see just how much Michael Jordan had to work with. Did he carry the load throughout the seasons? Was the competition truly weaker than later dynasties?
The 1990-1991 season marked the seventh season for Michael Jordan and only the fourth season for Scottie Pippen. I would say they are the greatest one-two combination in NBA history. At this point, they are joined by Horace Grant, who is entering his fourth season. Eight-year veteran John Paxson continues to run the point guard position, but sophomore BJ Armstrong continues to impress as we enter the season. The center position is the weakest spot for the team as eleven-year veteran Bill Cartwright and third-year Will Perdue run the position.
Entering the season, it’s apparent that the Bulls don’t have a lot of depth off the bench. Armstrong is their sixth man, but after him it’s a steep drop-off. The bench is full of younger players with nobody older than 30. In fact, Cartwright is the oldest at 33 years old.
Last year, Jordan played an average of 39 minutes per game. In order for the Bulls to breakthrough, they are going to need to cut that down a little bit. Pippen played an average of 38 minutes and Grant came in at 34 minutes per game. The team relies quite a bit on its core three guys.
What about the competition in the Eastern Conference entering the season?
There are a couple of teams that entering the season have a slim chance to contend for the Eastern Conference championship. The Charlotte Hornets are entering their third season as a franchise and don’t have a true number one scoring threat. In an attempt to address that, they signed Johnny Newman in free agency away from the New York Knicks. They have a couple of other pieces that include Armen Gilliam, Kendall Gill, Rex Chapman, Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry. They are a very young team and are nowhere close to competing. But with a few good drafts coming up, they will become a competitive team. The 1990/1991 season would also be the first season with the Hornets aligned in the Eastern Conference after originally being in the Western Conference.
The New Jersey Nets are coming off their worst season in franchise history and, as a result, won the lottery to draft Derrick Coleman out of Syracuse. They also acquired Reggie Theus from Orlando. Theus was a consistent scoring threat that the Nets needed. The Nets also have a young Mookie Blaylock at point guard and former top five pick, Sam Bowie. They aren’t expected to contend, but have potential with Coleman leading the charge to get a little better entering the season.
Down in Florida, the Miami Heat have continued to struggle. Entering the season, the Heat don’t have high expectations, but they do have a young team led by Sherman Douglas, Glen Rice and Ronny Seikaly. Seikaly has been a force in the paint averaging a double-double last year for the Heat in his sophomore season. Seikaly was also voted the Most Improved Player last season. Douglas made the All-Rookie Team after averaging 14 points per game and 7 assists.
An interesting feel good story could be in the works for the Washington Bullets. Despite the Bullets not having an overall good team by any means, they do have future Hall of Fame inductee Bernard King on the team. King suffered a devastating knee injury in 1985 while playing for the Knicks and is entering his fourth season with the Bullets where he’s put up solid scoring numbers. Interesting note, the Bullets have Harvey Grant. Harvey is the identical twin brother of Horace Grant.
Now, we go into the teams that have competitive rosters and could potentially be contenders or at least playoff teams.
The New York Knicks have had a lot of changes entering the season. Stu Jackson led them to the Conference Semifinals last year, which included an upset series win over the Boston Celtics. Star center Patrick Ewing leads the charge. The Knicks also signed John Starks out of the CBA and have Charles Oakley to rough up the opposing team. New York doesn’t have all the pieces it would eventually have, but Ewing alone makes the Knicks a tough team to contend with in the paint. Mark Jackson is looking for a rebound season after falling out of the rotation in the previous year.
Lenny Wilkins leads the Cleveland Cavaliers into the 1990-1991 season with strong hopes for a deeper playoff run. Last year, the Sixers eliminated the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. Brad Daugherty is a force at the center position, while Larry Nance and Mark Price are good support players for the big man. Hot Rod Williams is coming off his best season averaging 16 points per game. Craig Ehlo, Darnell Valentine and Danny Ferry look to be supportive role players to give the Cavaliers some depth heading into the year. They also have sharp shooting Steve Kerr as a deep threat. Last year, Kerr hit over 50 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Dominique Wilkins continues to lead the Atlanta Hawks and is joined by Doc Rivers, Kevin Willis, Spud Webb, John Battle and Moses Malone. Malone’s production has continued to dip, but he is still a productive player. On paper, the Hawks could be a lot of fun to watch this year. Wilkins is running out of time to challenge for a championship with the Hawks, but this year appears to have a good supporting cast to potentially get there.
Reggie Miller leads the Indiana Pacers along with Chuck Person, Detlef Schrempf and a young Rick Smits. Vern Fleming is coming off his best year when it comes to assists having averaged 7 per game last year. Smits should be looked at to have a breakout year for the Pacers to break into the Eastern Conference as LaSalle Thompson has seen his production dip since joining the Pacers.
The Milwaukee Bucks continue to be a good team despite not having a marquee player on the team. Despite that, the Bucks have good depth as they can run a seven guy rotation, which is one of the highest in the conference. Entering the season, they are led by Jay Humphries, Rick Pierce and one of the best defenders in the league, Alvin Robertson.
Charles Barkley leads the Philadelphia 76ers along with Hershey Hawkins and Johnny Dawkins. Rick Mahorn continues to be a force in the middle for the Sixers. Ron Anderson had a breakout year last year and looks to continue his success and add another consistent scoring threat for the Sixers. They also have blocking machine Manute Bol. While Bol doesn’t average a lot of production, defensively he’s been known to cause issues for the opposing teams.
One of the best Eastern Conference teams ever assembled continues to be heavy favorites to win a championship. Of course, that’s the Boston Celtics. They still have Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Reggie Lewis is on the rise to possibly lead the new era when the previous three men depart for retirement. Brian Shaw returns from Italy to lead the point guard position. The Celtics drafted Dee Brown in the first round as a potential spark off the bench and future point guard for the franchise. This season could be the last season for the team to reach great success with their three best players continuing to get older.
Lastly, the defending NBA Champions Detroit Pistons look to stay on the throne. They have incredible depth and are one of the most physical teams to ever play the game. Led by Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson, the Pistons are likely favorites to repeat their success. James Edwards and Mark Aquirre provide scoring options off the bench along with John Salley.
I’m looking forward to reliving 1990s basketball and doing a deep dive into the success of the one greatest dynasties in sports history. Hopefully answers to long asked questions are provided. I’m sure debates will be had. I’m looking forward to seeing some great basketball and seeing how this Chicago Bulls run holds up to the history of time. I hope that everyone enjoys this wild ride.