CHICAGO — There was a time not long ago when the Chicago Bulls were the Eastern Conference version of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the up-and-coming franchise filled with young talent and a fruitful future.
The "Baby Bulls,” which Chicago’s riveting young roster came to be known as, were expected to someday do big things. That day never came, and Chicago ultimately began running circles around itself over the last decade, hiring and firing coaches and bringing in and shipping out prized pieces. Chicago’s course now seems to serve as the chief cautionary case for the Thunder, which faces the Bulls at 7 tonight inside the United Center. The Bulls, despite defying their 1.7 percent 2008 NBA Draft Lottery odds and landing No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose, are once again stuck in mediocrity. Chicago enters tonight’s game 14-17 and is reportedly on the verge of firing coach Vinny Del Negro after just 1 1/2 seasons. Del Negro already is the eighth coach the franchise has had since 2000. But the Bulls’ issues have run deeper than poor coaching. Since Michael Jordan left town, Chicago has confronted everything from contract disputes to cancer players to chemistry problems. The Bulls won 47 games in 2004-05 with a young core not unlike the Thunder’s current group. Luol Deng was 19, Ben Gordon 21, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler 22, Kirk Hinrich 24 and Andres Nocioni 25. Chicago lost to Washington in six games in the first round. But rather than building on the experience, the Bulls took a step back the next season.