1995 NBA EXPANSION DRAFT Why did the Bulls leave B.J. Armstrong unprotected?

Chicago Bulls sharp-shooter B.J. Armstrong was a starting shooting guard for the 1994 Eastern Conference All-Star team, contributing 11 points, 4 boards, and 1 assist to the East 127-118 win. 

But people often forget that back then, Armstrong was basically the luckiest person on Earth. With Michael Jordan gone playing baseball a lot of his and  Bulls fans gave their vote to a 6’2’’ guard who averaged 15.8ppg, 4.0apg, and 2.9rpg before the 1994 NBA All-Star game.

Players like Penny Hardaway, Joe Dumars, Reggie Miller didn’t make the EC All-Star team, and the player who scored 19 points in the 1993 All-Star game Mark Price was reduced to the role of a back-up.

Even more shocking is the fact that Armstrong got more votes than any other guard from both Eastern and Western Conference, while only Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley got more votes than him! Teammate Scottie Pippen, who was having an MVP caliber year, received 32,559 votes less than him!

So this is how Armstrong, who unarguably provided the early 1990s NBA championship-winning Chicago Bulls with another sharp-shooting option off the bench, got his All-Star reputation.

Interestingly, Armstrong was the first player MJ called and informed about his decision to make a comeback in March of 1995. But with Jordan again in charge of the Bulls late-season charge Armstrong’s playing time, opportunities and percentages shrink.

Armstrong expressed his discontent with his new role on a restructuring team to the Bulls management. However, management led by GM Jerry Krause, found out that there are no teams out there that would consider offering a solid frontcourt contributor in return for a long-range specialist with a $2.8 million contract. So, Krause decided to wait until the first available opportunity. And with the 1995 NBA expansion draft, this opportunity laid just around the corner.

The two NBA expansion franchises programmed for the fall of 1995, the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies, got their chance to pick the players who were not protected by their respective NBA teams.
The group which the Bulls left unprotected included B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, and Ron Harper.

Many then questioned, some still do, why did the Chicago Bulls decide to get rid of a player who helped them win three NBA championship titles in a row, who missed exactly one game in six seasons with the team and who led the NBA in the three-point field goal efficiency in 1992-1993 with 45.3%?
It’s now clear that there were several reasons why Bulls management wanted Armstrong out:

  • he was a defensive liability not being quick enough to defend faster point guards/taller shooting guards
  • as a point guard, he wasn’t as nearly as persistent penetrating to the hoop as the majority of the quality point guards of that era, which thus hurt his overall creativity
  • his growing discontent with his playing time was creating resentment in the rest of the team
  • he was making too much money for a player who is a spot-up shooter ($2.8 million USD in 1994-95)

As soon as Armstrong found out that he is the #1 overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 1995 NBA expansion draft, he made it clear to everyone that he has no intention of playing North of the border.

Toronto Raptors Vice President Isiah Thomas, a longtime Chicago Bulls foe in the Detroit Pistons uniform, had no problem with it. When Armstrong handed him the list with the names of the four NBA teams, he would like to play for in the future, Thomas immediately got on a phone and got things done.

On September 18th, 1995, Armstrong was traded to the Golden State Warriors for power forward Carlos Rogers and center Victor Alexander, as well as the rights to 1995 second-round draft picks Dwayne Whitfield, Martin Lewis, and Michael McDonald.

In his first season as a Warrior (1995-96), Armstrong was the starting point guard at 64 games and put up season averages of 12.3 points, 4.9 assists, and 2.2 boards in 27.6 minutes per outing. Although he also recorded a career-best 47.3% from beyond the arc, the team coached by Rick Adelman finished the season with 36-46 record, which also marked the end of the experiment with Armstrong at the point.

As for the Bulls, in salary cap terms, Armstrong’s departure enabled them to clear up more cap space, sign free agent power forward Dennis Rodman and re-sign unrestricted free-agent center, Luc Longley. Both frontcourt players proved instrumental in the 1996-1998 Bulls NBA championship runs.

Basketball Network contributor Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj, the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, is the proud co-author of the Amazon.com TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon.’