Monday, June 28, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
As the hours tick down towards the start of NBA free agency, how are you feeling about the Bulls prospects? Post your comments to relieve some of that anxiety in the section below.
Everything sounded good on Sunday when the New York Times ran a story quoting an unnamed NBA executive saying LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Chicago was pretty much a done deal. But then on Monday, long-time NBA writer Stephen A. Smith reported James and Bosh were a lock to go to Miami, according to his well-placed source. Appearing on a Chicago sports radio show, Smith even made the bold statement his information was factual, not just a rumor. And, if he was wrong, he would come back on the radio station to eat crow. Smith is a shameless self-promoter, but he is well-connected in NBA circles. So, it wouldnt be a good idea to dismiss his report out of hand. But if LeBron plans to follow through with his meetings with the five NBA teams with the salary cap room to offer maximum deals, youve got to believe hell listen to what they have to say before making his final decision.
So, where does that leave the Bulls? Can they convince the King hed be better off playing with an unselfish, humble point guard like Derrick Rose rather than with a former scoring champion who dominates the ball like Dwyane Wade? Can they demonstrate how his marketing opportunities in sports-crazy Chicago will be a lot more lucrative than what hell find in South Beach? And, can they sell him on supporting players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng being able to help him get to championship status, instead of a gutted Heat roster filled with over the hill veterans and undrafted rookies playing on minimum contracts?
Lets hope Rose will be part of the Bulls traveling party for their audience with the King in Akron. LeBron has the utmost respect for Roses game, and he even phoned Derrick to talk about the possibility of playing together a short time after the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs by Boston. Im sure Rose could describe the passion for winning that exists within the Bulls core of young players. Noah has been a winner throughout his career with two national titles at the University of Florida, and his willingness to challenge LeBron for his on-court antics in Cleveland was just another sign of his willingness to go to battle with anyone in the league. Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Gar Forman can do a great job selling the history of the franchise and the plans for the future, but I think having Derrick with them could make a real difference in trying to recruit LeBron.
But back to the initial point, who should we believe with all the rumors and informed guesses of where James is headed? It seems like everyone has an opinion, but the final decision is up to LeBron. Weve heard talk over the last couple years that teammates from the 2008 U.S. Olympic team spent time in Beijing speculating what it would be like to play together. But now that the time to choose is almost here, will James, Wade and Chris Bosh be willing to give up money and shot attempts to form a mini All-Star team in Miami? Wade told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that no final decisions have been made, and indicated he could be setting up meetings with the Bulls, Knicks and Dallas Mavericks to protect himself in case Miami isnt able to pull off the dream scenario of landing LeBron and Bosh. Various media reports have all of the top free agents penciling in visits with teams that have the most cap room, so is everyone waiting on LeBron, or will someone else get things rolling with an early commitment?
Weve heard reports Atlantas All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson is particularly interested in joining the Bulls, but now comes word Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh and Coach Mike DAntoni plan to visit Johnson in Los Angeles when the clock strikes midnight in the East on June 30th. The Knicks also plan to meet with All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire during their brief time in L.A. before heading east for their audience with LeBron Thursday afternoon. DAntoni coached both players in Phoenix, and his fast-paced style is very appealing to most NBA players. What if the Knicks get early commitments from Johnson and Stoudemire and Miami is able to land the superstar trio of James, Wade and Bosh? Thats a terrifying thought for the Bulls front office, which would leave them sifting through the likes of Carlos Boozer and David Lee with their war-chest of free agent money.
Bottom line, the Bulls need to get an early read on where James stands and be prepared to move on with their contingency plans if it becomes clear hes headed to Miami. Last weeks bold trade of Kirk Hinrich to Washington for additional cap room put the organization in a great position to become instant title contenders. Well be hearing all kinds of rumors in the next few days, but you can count on Paxson and Forman to do a great job of selling the organization to James and the other top players. Then, its just a matter of seeing what really matters to this class of free agents. If James, Wade and Bosh decide they want to try to re-create their Olympic success over an 82 game regular season schedule, plus the playoffs, theres really not much anyone can do to convince them that it might not work.
Comcast SportsNet and CSN-Chicago.com will have expanded coverage of all the free agent developments. We invite you to join us Thursday, July 1st at 10:30 p.m. for a half-hour SportsNite special, featuring our expert analyst, Kendall Gill. Weve waited a long time to see where all the top free agents would land. That time is almost here!