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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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