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Bouncing back

You keep looking at Jay Williams' face, waiting for the smirk. The eye-roll. Maybe the elbow-nudge, the giggle, the knowing glance to someone standing behind you.

Something. Williams, taken by the Bulls with the second pick in the NBA Draft Wednesday night, said he was thrilled to come here. For weeks, he had been saying he hoped the Bulls would take him. He didn't even want to talk about it, afraid he would jinx playing for his dream team.

The Bulls? Yes.

He wants to play for the Bulls? Yes.

These Bulls, here in Chicago? Yes. All with a straight face.

''I'm very excited,'' he said after being picked. ''Chicago has nothing but upside.''

Yes, we've exhausted the downside now. But after a while, it starts to hit you that Williams really means this stuff. A good, young player really, truly wants to be here. He even likes Bulls operations chief Jerry Krause.

Seriously. And other potential draft choices were saying the same things.

Is it cool to be a Bull again?

''Chicago is a desirable place to be for a player,'' said Bill Walton, the former NBA player and current analyst. ''I wouldn't have said that a year ago. The team has started regaining credibility in the basketball world.

''Hiring Bill Cartwright as the coach is the classic example of the direction the league is going for the next generation of coaches. He has incredible character and was a key player on a championship team. With the trade they made for Jalen Rose they have a real player. And the confusion that engulfed the franchise in the Tim Floyd era is now gone.''

But Jerry Krause hired Cartwright. Jerry Krause got Rose. You know, the guy who dismantled the dynasty.
''I've always been a guy about what's next in life,'' Walton said. ''To me, it does no good to blame others for what's happened in the past. Time heals all that stuff anyway.''

This is the part that bothers me. The future can't be disconnected so easily from the past.

There is some sort of strange resurrection going lately for Krause's image. We've heard talk of his successful scouting, his good draft picks and improving table manners.

Krause is making the right moves now, and that includes taking Williams, the Duke guard. But even if he makes every right move from here on in, he will be punished for his one, big mistake. Time cannot completely fade the memories of the dismantled dynasty. Of giving the finger to Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson.

No matter what Krause does from here he will bang his head on the ceiling. A ceiling he built.

And no, that wasn't a short joke.

''If you're a young player like Jay Williams, you want to go to Chicago because you'll get the chance to play,'' said Kevin Loughery, the former Bulls coach who was fired by Krause. ''But it's going to take an awful lot of change to get free agents to go there. Partly, that's because agents have so much power now. They were burned by the Bulls and they look out for their players.

''Once they broke up that great team, and said that players don't really matter but organizations do, it left a tremendously bad taste around the NBA. The trust factor of Chicago is really down. And the players see that Michael came back and was still good. Phil led the Lakers to championships. That Bulls team could have won two or three more championships.''

On a mission to see if agents have forgiven Krause, I left a message a few days ago for David Falk, Jordan's and Rose's agent. But his assistant called back, saying that he told her he was out of town and couldn't talk about Krause.

I would never question the honesty of an agent, or suggest that Falk was trying to avoid the subject of Krause. But being out of town would have been an acceptable answer for declining interviews in, oh, say, 1920. My guess is that wherever he was, they have telephones.

Still, for so long all we've heard is that no one will ever come here again. No, thank you Jerry, my family lives in Miami, so I want to be there. No, thank you, Jerry, my mother is not a liar. Sorry I didn't call back, Jerry, my dog ate your phone number.

The arrow is pointing up now. With a first-rate backcourt, and a little experience for Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, this team might win 35 games.

''There's going to be a big, big difference,'' Curry said. ''All we're missing is age now.''

''We got one of the key pieces in Jay Williams,''
Chandler said. ''Now we just need a few more minor pieces.''

Calm down guys. This team isn't going anywhere without at least one top free agent, and top free agents won't play for Krause.

After the last four years, though, 35 wins sounds kind of nice. That's how low expectations have dropped.

Look, in the financial world there is something called the dead cat bounce. A stock plunges to rock bottom, and just when all hope seems lost, it climbs back some the next day. Renewed hope? No, if you throw a cat off a building, the theory goes, after it hits the ground it is going to bounce.

I've never tried that.

But it might be all that's happening for the Bulls.

Still, let's cling to hope. Tony Gonzalez, who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, is hoping to play in the NBA after the Chiefs' season ends. Gonzalez was on ESPN radio the other day, and Dan Patrick asked which team he would least like to play for. He was given a handful of options, including Denver, Memphis, the Bulls.

And Gonzalez said this: Memphis

Not the Bulls! We're not last anymore! Hip, hip, hooray!
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