From left, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc were big parts of Chicago Bulls teams that won three straight NBA titles from 1996 to 1998. Jordan and Pippen were members of the first “three-peat” team, which won titles from 1991 to 1993. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Durant’s Dubs close gap, but Jordan’s Bulls still greatest

It’s 2017, a time when great simply isn’t good enough. We want it bigger. We want it better. And we want it now.

So no sooner did the Warriors claim their second NBA championship in three years than the golden question was asked again: Have Kevin Durant and the Warriors surpassed Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, widely regarded to be the greatest team ever?

There is no correct answer, of course. But if the Warriors haven’t claimed that title quite yet, then the addition of Durant certainly has them a lot closer than a year ago.

As one the most efficient shot-makers ev-er, Durant would present the Bulls with an impossible matchup, a counter to Jordan himself. Even a perennial First Team All-Defense selection such as Scottie Pippen would be hard-pressed to contain him.

What’s more, coupled with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Durant gives his team another versatile defender, not to mention a long-limbed rim protector.

At the very least, some old Bulls players have started to hear footsteps.

“I’d say it’s a seven-game series because of Durant,” Bulls television analyst Will Perdue told Balls recently. “The Warriors have so many weapons, and their defense is underrated. It comes down to which bench plays better, and the Warriors aren’t quite as deep as they had been. I’d love to see it.”

It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to compare NBA teams from different eras. The game has changed that much over the years.

Those Bulls played chess. In the 1990s, the primary goal was to take high-percentage shots, preferably close to the basket. Hands-on defense was allowed. The game was more physical. Space was difficult to navigate.

These Warriors play checkers. Now, teams place more value on low-percentage bonus shots from beyond the arc. The pace is faster, the contact less restrictive.

In all likelihood, the Bulls would adjust easier to the new rules than the Warriors would to the old ones. At the same time, the Bulls couldn’t trade twos for threes and survive. Could they sink enough long ones to stay in the hunt?

Well, this might come as a surprise, but the 1995-96 Bulls (40 percent) actually shot the 3-ball better than the Warriors (38) did last season. Jordan (43), Toni Kukoc (40) and Steve Kerr (52) all connected at 40 percent or better. And Pippen (37) was no brick-layer, either.

It’s the intangibles where the Bulls have a wider edge. Start with leadership and mental toughness. The Bulls had the strongest will of any NBA team in the post-expansion era. Heck, they had no choice. The Detroit Bad Boys abused them for years. Teams aren’t subjected to that kind of mental and physical torture any more. The rules simply won’t allow it. 

Jordan didn’t set the tone through words as much as fear. He stared holes through people. As one who covered their six championship teams, Balls knows this for a fact. The Warriors have no player or coach with that kind of presence.

If Balls were the Warriors, two matchups would concern it.

One is at power forward. Dennis Rodman was a whack job, all right, but a lot of his act was calculated. The Worm would be inside Green’s head so deep, it would take a Roto-Rooter to extract him. The guy was an all-time spit disturber.

Also, let’s not forget that Rodman averaged more than six offensive rebounds per game that season. Overall, the Bulls retrieved a ridiculous 37 percent of their missed shots. The Warriors checked in at 23 percent last season.

Oh, and the other is at head coach, where Phil Jackson has forgotten more about the game within the game than Kerr knows at the moment.

There’s something else that Balls can’t get out of its head … 

Remember Game 7 last year, when Stephen Curry and the Warriors melted into a puddle? Jordan made a legacy off pressure moments. He averaged 33.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 7s.

“If it comes down to the final shot, I’ll take our guy,” Perdue said.

So will Balls. It has enough burn marks.

REST OF THE STORY: While the comparisons make for good bar room talk, it’s premature to put this Warriors team into historical context. Barring health problems, they’re not done yet. Curry turned 29 a few weeks ago. Durant is 28. Green and Thompson are 27. Already Las Vegas has them a 1-2 shot to win it all next season.

Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven …

JUST SAYIN’: Two words for those who continue to have a hissy fits about Durant and his spot-on decision to sign with the Warriors last summer: Shut up.

CAVS-DUBS 4? The LeBron James haters point out that he has a 3-5 record in the NBA Finals, but don’t blame him for this one. The guy was the first player to average a triple-double in the championship round — take that, Russell Westbrook! — and he was the most valuable player not named Durant in the series. 

Yet as drop-dead good as James was in the final round, what does it say for his team that it couldn’t win more than one stinkin’ game?

James needs help if the Cavs are to return to the NBA Finals next year. Problem is, they had the highest payroll in the league last season and have only a mid-level exception to offer this summer. That leaves the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George as the best of the few potential options.

When Balls spoke with George last winter, he was despondent. Frustrated by his perceived lack of respect, he sounded like a lone star in the wilderness, someone who was ready to move on to bigger and better things. A George-for-Kevin Love trade would give the Cavaliers a third option at one end and a versatile defender to relieve James at the other. 

While Love doesn’t possess George’s athletic talent, he’s a legit All-Star who’s under contract through at least the 2018-19 season. At worst, he would allow the Pacers to rebuild on the fly.

Even then, the Cavaliers still would lack a rim protector. Kinda tells you how far they have to go to catch the champs, doesn’t it?    

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to pladd@aol.com, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.

chicago bullsGolden State WarriorsKevin DurantMichael JordanNBA FinalsNBA PlayoffsStephen Curry

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