Who is to blame for the end of the Chicago Bulls dynasty? There are plenty of options, but even after a 10-hour documentary about The Last Dance, the ultimate culprit remains unclear. So let's just start at the top.
Jerry Reinsdorf allowed Jerry Krause to repeatedly say that the '97-'98 season was the last with Phil Jackson as coach. And then it came true as coaches and players went their separate ways while Reinsdorf and Krause oversaw a disastrous rebuild.
Reinsdorf points the finger at Jackson in a piece on ESPN.com published this morning:
""I asked Phil to come back," Reinsdorf said. "And he says, 'No, it's time.' That was the expression he used, 'It's time.'""
In the final episode of The Last Dance Jackson does seem to confirm that he was done. The question is, why didn't the Bulls try anyone besides Tim Floyd? What about former Bulls coach Doug Collins? When Jordan did finally return to the NBA with the Wizards, Collins was his coach. Collins had been fired by the Pistons during the '97-'98 season so he was available.
Not content with helping Jackson get under the bus, Reinsdorf also says it would have been impossible to run it back because of Jordan anyway. Via ESPN:
""The thing nobody wants to remember," Reinsdorf said, "during lockout, Michael was screwing around with a cigar cutter, and he cut his finger. He couldn't have played that year. He had to have surgery on the finger, so even if we could've brought everybody back, it wouldn't have made any sense." Jordan contends that he wouldn't have been messing around with the cigar cutter (at a golf tournament in January) if Reinsdorf had already secured a commitment from Jackson to come back."
Michael Jordan, who has spent most of his adult life with a cigar in his mouth, would most certainly have still been using that cigar cutter even if the Bulls literally had a game that night, so this one is a push, which would probably annoy Jordan.
So is Jordan probably the guy who should ultimately be blamed? Yeah, Reinsdorf and Krause looked like bumbling idiots letting the greatest player of all-time walk away, trading one of the other best players ever for nothing and pushing one of the best coaches ever out the door without ever really trying to stop but... where was I going with this? Ah, yes, they somehow aren't the only ones to blame.
Scottie Pippen wanted out and demanded a trade, but if Scottie Pippen was powerful enough to demand a trade to Houston, Michael Jordan was powerful enough to get a GM fired. He could have at least tried to convince Pippen to stay if he really wanted to.
Rodman was done as a legitimate team member at that point, but guys like Kurt Thomas, Tom Gugliotta, Derrick Coleman and Antonio McDyess were available as free agents. Dell Curry might have been a nice fit alongside Jordan. It's not like there were no ways to fill holes if they wanted to.
As fun as it would be to blame one person, it really does seem that the team had run its course. Jordan was understandably burned out. Everyone else was sick of everyone else, including the guy who would spit on the pizza. You can blame anyone involved and not be wrong. It's the only time any of them might feel like they're actually getting too much credit.