Chicago Bulls

Sam: Is LeBron Chicago-bound, overrated?

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Sam: Is LeBron Chicago-bound, overrated?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
5:05 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

LeBron James is overrated. The NBA's MVP is a quitter. His elbow may or may not be as injured as much as observers assume, and is wrongly being used as an excuse for his poor performance against the Celtics. LeBron is tanking the Cavaliers' title hopes and will leave Cleveland--for Chicago--as soon as humanly possible. At least that's what some would have you believe after the superstar's struggles in the Cavs' Game 5 blowout defeat at the hands of Boston.

There's no question that James hasn't played up to par in the second round of the playoffs. After Tuesday night's 30-point loss, Cleveland trails Boston, three games to two, and is on the brink of going on summer vacation if they can't get it together Thursday evening in Beantown, bringing the series back to Ohio. James' 15-point, three-for-14 shooting night--and an overall lack of aggressiveness that has haunted him all series, sans Game 3--is a major reason the league's top regular-season team is in this boat in the first place. However, while the reigning two-time MVP is unquestionably the straw that stirs Cleveland's drink (as well as the glass and the drink itself), his lack of support has also been as issue. Newfound LeBron bashers will say he's equipped with his best supporting cast--including Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams--he's ever had. Even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert grumbled that he's done all he can to put the team in the best situation possible.

But it simply could be that the veteran Celtics--who everybody had written off due to their lackluster regular season--have finally gotten healthy, found the necessary cohesion and with point guard Rajon Rondo taking his game to a new level, be the better team? Besides James (matched up with longtime All-Star Paul Pierce, no slouch himself, at small forward), where do the Cavaliers have a clear advantage? For all of Jamison's experience and ability, he hasn't exactly had a lot of postseason success. Even with Williams making the All-Star team last season, he certainly came up short when it counted last spring. As far as Shaq--who was the best Cav on the court in Game 5--he can still get it done in stretches, but his days of carrying a team are long gone.

That said, James' play can't be excused. He's been downright awful against Boston. Seemingly unfocused, passing up scoring opportunities, rarely asserting his will on the game as he did against the Bulls in the first round--it's hard to imagine that his elbow isn't more serious of an issue than he's making it out to be. And while his lack of personal accountability in his postgame comments was a bit appalling at this stage in his career, to interpret anything going on this series--including the courtside presence of James' agent, Leon Rose, with University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari--is a huge leap of faith. James is still an intense competitor, and as much as his desire to be a global icon motivates him, winning consumes him more, or he at least understands the correlation between success on the court with success off of it.

Now, regarding the rumors that he's not only leaving Cleveland, but is headed to Chicago, much still remains to be seen. While James' inner circle does wield some influence over him, at 25 years old, he's no longer the preps-to-pros kid that needs others to make decisions for him. In fact, as he's taken strides in the boardroom (regardless of how much business acumen some perceive him to have), sources admit he's attempted to become much more of an independent thinker, regarding trusted associates he once thought of as advisers as colleagues these days, especially as his LRMR marketing venture has taken shape.

Sure, his high regard for Chicago's young talent has to be encouraging, but the whole big-market theory doesn't as much weight when James' Akron roots are considered. Forget living in the shadow of Michael Jordan--James' desire to be the best, to carve out his own path, to be a pioneer--those things make it possible for even the likes of the Clippers and Nets (let alone the Heat and Knicks) to attempt to sell him on relocating, granted they add the necessary pieces to accompany him. As for potentially hand-picking his next coach, the person that should be most concerned right now is probably Mike Brown. The aforementioned Gilbert has proven that money is no object when it comes to placating James and bringing a championship to Cleveland, so if Calipari (a Pittsburgh native who may not want to again compete for attention in the big city when he can rule a smaller fiefdom like Cleveland, Memphis or Lexington, Ky.) is available and James wants him, the defensive-minded, offensively-challenged Brown, who has earned criticism for his perceived lack of leadership and in-game adjustments, may be out of his prized gig.

The chances of Gilbert simply adding "Coach Cal" and further tweaking the Cavs' roster to James' liking are probably higher--at this point, at least--than the Bulls modifying their decades-long culture by adding the personality-laden Calipari (who didn't experience much success in his stint coaching New Jersey and likely has more of an itch to dominate in-state rival Louisville and nemesis Rick Pitino, win a college national title and coach the top incoming prospects he has set to arrive in Lexington than get back to the NBA), who, additionally, wouldn't come cheap. Furthermore, the thought of losing James to a Central Division rival would lead Gilbert and Cavs general manager Danny Ferry to not only seek out a sign-and-trade scenario (which James would likely agree to, as Cleveland signing him would earn him the biggest potential contract; he could always leave on his own), but almost completely gut Chicago's roster, putting the superstar back to square one, albeit with probably both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah by his side.

To make a long story short, not only is the Boston-Cleveland series not over yet--statistics are great, but betting against a likely fired-up James isn't necessarily a wise move--but July 1st is a long ways away. Let's just take first things first and see what happens before jumping to conclusions. Of course, a lot could change by the end of Thursday night's game.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Shepkowski (670 The Score) and Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel. Jake Arrieta will return to the rotation to face the Brewers. Can he recapture his pre-injury form? Mike Glennon gets another start Sunday but should he get the hook if he struggles again?

Plus, the guys discuss the one metric that says the Bulls are the worst team in the NBA.

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

Doug Collins made it clear, that his return to the Bulls organization won’t result in a return to the sidelines as head coach, meaning Fred Hoiberg has nothing to worry about in the way of looking over his shoulder.

What Collins did admit, though, is he’s back with the Bulls to provoke thought. Anyone who’s listened to Collins as a broadcaster for ESPN or Turner Sports, or talked to him in any basketball capacity, knows he’s not only a hoops lifer but also someone who can have strong opinions, capable of quick dissection of a complex picture in a moment’s notice.

“I’m not here to be a decision-maker. I want to provoke thought. My mind is very active,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon at the Advocate Center. “And I think to get into a room and to bounce ideas off each other or whatever, at the end of the day, Gar, Michael, Jerry, Pax will make those decisions. The beauty of it is is that when there’s a level of trust when you’re talking about things, you can speak openly and honestly with people knowing the only thing that matters is that whatever happens is the best for the franchise.”

Announcing Collins as a senior advisor to executive vice president John Paxson adds another voice to the Bulls’ braintrust and is probably an admission this rebuild will require more than what the Bulls already have, be it in terms of connections, observation and even innovation.

Collins’ connection to Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf, a growing relationship with Michael Reinsdorf and ability to relate with Hoiberg due to the misery of coaching should align a front office to the floor in ways that has been in doubt for the past several seasons.

“Given Jerry's relationship and my relationship with Doug over the years, we thought, hey, let's see if maybe this isn't a good time for Doug to come back into the fold,” Paxson said. “So we approached him and it was very casual, no expectations other than he's been a friend of ours for so long. But the more we kind of dug into the prospects of this and what it means, the more we kept asking ourselves, why wouldn't we do this?”

Collins made it clear he won’t be giving up his family life, as he already has residence in Chicago and his son Chris is coaching Northwestern and a son-in-law coaching a high school team outside Philadelphia.

“The hours and the time commitment that Fred Hoiberg puts in on a day and the energy that he spends and being on the road and being away from his family,” Collins said. “(This) worked perfectly in my schedule when I talked to Pax that I could be a part of something special, the Chicago Bulls, and I love the Chicago Bulls.”

His energy and passion can light up a room, and though he tried his best to say that’s died down at age 66, claiming “I can sit and do a crossword puzzle for three hours now”, people wired like Collins don’t lose their fervor for the game.

“I think there’s this feeling that I’m a guy who’s always on and fired up,” Collins said.

But that fire and passion and presumably a willingness to be uncompromising with the truth should be something that’s welcome inside the Advocate Center. In addition to his acumen, one of Collins’ greatest strengths is his fervor, and it shouldn’t be scaled back.

That’s not how rebuilds work successfully. Lines have to be crossed and people have to be made uncomfortable in their line of thinking, even if it’s Paxson or Hoiberg or general manager Gar Forman.

It’s not hard to see the Bulls following the thinking of the Golden State Warriors when they added Jerry West in an advisory role years ago, resulting in several key moves being made, most notably West’s objection to Klay Thompson being traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love before Love was eventually moved to Cleveland.

West’s guidance played a part in the Warriors’ upward trajectory to championship status, and he hopes to have a similar affect with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Comparing West with Collins on its face is a bit unfair, considering West’s experience as an executive and championship pedigree dating back to his days with the Lakers.

At least with West, he’s not trying to convince anyone he isn’t anything but a tortured basketball soul at age 79. Collins reminded everyone he’s a grandfather of five and at a spry 66, West would call Collins a “spring chicken.”

What Collins can bring is a keen eye for observation, and expecting him to be a passive personality doesn’t quite seem right, especially leaving the cushy job at ESPN that allowed him maximum exposure and a schedule to his liking.

Perhaps the way Collins left the NBA, with a massive gambit in Philadelphia falling flat when Andrew Bynum’s knees rendered him useless and sending the 76ers franchise into “The Process,” left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Maybe his competitive juices got him going again and the broadcast booth just wasn’t cutting it, along with having a front seat to the injury that changed the course of the Bulls franchise when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012 against Collins’ 76ers.

Maybe the crossword puzzles just couldn’t get it done anymore. After all, the man once cried on the sidelines as his Detroit Pistons beat the Bulls in a regular-season game in 1997. Curbing that passion would be a disservice.

“See how things quickly change? The NBA is cyclical now,” Collins said. “Other than the San Antonio Spurs, over the last 20 years, every elite franchise has gone through this moment. And so now what you got to do, you got to dig yourself back up.

“We got to start doing all the things that are necessary to gain assets day by day, to put all the work, so we’re going to give ourself a chance, when we continue to get better players and more talent, that you’re going to win more basketball games.”

Collins said he has old-school values, all while being caught up with the times that he called himself “woke” as a nod to the current culture.

If he truly is, we’ll also find out who’s asleep in the front office, in desperate need a loud wake-up call.