Many Chicago Bulls fans remember the Derrick Rose era fondly.
One key Bulls antagonist from that time, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, also remembers it fondly but for vastly different reasons. Those Bulls teams were regulars in the postseason – they made seven straight trips from 2008-09 to 2014-15 – but they were also run off by James multiple times.
First when he was a Cleveland Cavalier, and even after he took his talents to South Beach and joined the Miami Heat. It was a memory from the former period that got James’ attention as superfan outlet Die-Hard Chicago Bulls Fans relived the 2015 playoffs.
“Sorry!! Not Sorry,” James teased in an Instagram post on July 24 before delivering the punch line.
Chicago finished with the third-best record in the East that season behind Cleveland and the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls and Cavs met in the second round.
Chicago took a 2-1 lead behind strong efforts from Rose and an emerging Jimmy Bulter with cameos by Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy Jr. They had a 68-65 lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4 with just over nine minutes to go when they turned the ball over on a shot clock violation allowing Cleveland to rally.
Cavs guard J.R. Smith knotted the game up with a three-ball and the Bulls never got back in front, even falling behind by seven points at one point. They did, however, tie the game several times down the stretch, including on a layup from Rose with nine seconds to go.
But James came right back to put the game on ice.
The Cavs would go on to win the series 4-2 and, while the Bulls returned largely the same team the following season, they won eight fewer games and missed the playoffs entirely.
LeBron James’ Game-Winner Led Bulls to Arturas Karnisovas
Rose was traded to the New York Knicks in the summer of 2016 while Butler would meet the same fate, getting shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves one year later to the day. The most damning part about it is that both instances were cases of the Bulls not wanting to pay for their homegrown star talent.
“Rose was entering the final year of his contract in Chicago,” wrote Vincent Goodwill for NBC Sports Chicago in 2016. “The Bulls faced the prospect of Rose playing his best basketball — then leaving in free agency for nothing in return.”
Goodwill went on to note the growing presence of Butler was becoming an issue.
But that soon turned into a Butler problem as he was more ready to try and win that the rest of the organization.
“For the Bulls, the trade began the dismantling of the “Three Alphas” in favor of a full-fledged rebuild centered around LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, coach Fred Hoiberg, and whatever future lottery picks their future losing ways might have yielded,” wrote Rob Schaefer for NBC Sports Chicago in 2020, rehashing the deal.
The Bulls won no more than 27 games for three straight seasons after that which led to the front office overhaul that installed Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations.
Zach LaVine Takes Heat Over Jimmy Butler
Chicago also got Zach LaVine in the Butler trade, making him one of the more polarizing Bulls from the moment he arrived which was amid recovery from a torn ACL.
He has been the focal point of fans’ ire as Butler has led Miami to a pair of NBA Finals.
His five-year, $215 million max contract only ratcheted up the intensity of the scrutiny and expectations as LaVine has found himself mired in trade rumors amid rumored questions within the Bulls organization over his ability to be a true No. 1 option on a contender. Fair or not, LaVine is inextricably linked to Butler and the Bulls’ overall questionable decisions of the past.