Bulls' Stay on Top Will Depend on What Management Decides

Article excerpt

CHICAGO - As strong as the Bulls were this season - and they certainly rank among the all-time best - their hold on the NBA is tenuous.

Before they make another title run, the Bulls must deal with two unrelenting truths: free agency and the team's age.

First up: Bulls coach Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman must be satisfied with new contracts. That won't be necessarily easy, given the egos, Zen, tattoos and money involved.

"I can't give anybody any assurances of anything," team owner Jerry Reinsdorf said after the Bulls defeated the Sonics on Sunday night to claim their fourth championship in six seasons. "I can't even assure you that I'm going to wake up tomorrow. We'll take some time to celebrate and then we'll discuss business."

Alas, the business of the NBA is often trickier than the X's and O's.

Jackson has threatened to spend next season in Montana if he is not adequately compensated. Jordan has suggested that he will take a walk if Jackson is not around.

Rodman has tied his fate to Jackson and Jordan. The multi-hued one will return only if the Zen master and Superman remain in the employ of the Bulls.

What might make the three happy?

About $30 million, give or take a spare million or two.

Jordan, in what will be his last deal as a player, is seeking a three-year pact in the $60 million-$70 million range.

Rodman is asking for $10 million next season but adds he could get by on as "little" as $5 million.

"I'm not a greedy person," Rodman said several hundred times during the playoffs.

Jackson, the pauper of the three, is looking to more than double his $800,000-plus salary.

Jackson has four rings, plus a curious development in New Jersey working in his favor: the five-year, $15 million contract awarded to John Calipari by the Nets. Calipari has no NBA coaching experience, only an impressive record in college. This won't mean anything when Calipari is trying to scratch out 30 wins next season. The Nets, in

adding a wild-card element to Jackson's negotiations, were trying to buy credibility as much as a coach. …