Schanowski: Cavs play last card in LeBron deck

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Schanowski: Cavs play last card in LeBron deck

Monday, May 24, 20104:50 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

OK, so who didn't see this one coming? The Cavs fired head coach Mike Brown, and the only reason it took this long is that Brown would have been owed a lump sum payment if he had been fired within 10 days of Cleveland's elimination from the playoffs. In case you weren't counting, it's been 11 days since the Cavs were bounced by Boston in the conference semis.

So, what does this mean for Cleveland's chances of keeping LeBron? It's really the only move the Cavs could make to offer James a carrot to stay. Their roster is capped out, and aside from adding a veteran next season with their mid-level exception of around 5.5 million, the team that looked so bad against Boston will be pretty much the same team that takes the floor next season (minus Shaq). If you can't make any major roster moves, the only other incentive the Cavs can offer to LeBron is the chance to pick his next coach. While James usually avoided criticizing Brown publicly, analysts around the league wondered openly why Cleveland played such a slow-down style when they had the best open-court player in the league. Brown isn't the reason the Cavs lost to Boston in the playoffs, but with the future of the franchise at stake, firing the coach was a simple and obvious move to make.

We should learn over the next few weeks just how close LeBron is with University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. If LeBron wants Calipari as his next head coach, look for Cleveland to get that done at any price. Calipari was at a couple of Cavaliers' playoff games with LeBron's agent, Leon Rose, and my guess is Calipari will be at the top of Cleveland's list of candidates, unless they think they could have a shot at Phil Jackson. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert won't be scared off by Jackson's salary demands of 10-12 million a season, although I find it hard to picture Phil leaving Malibu for the shores of Lake Erie.

In my last blog post, I wrote the Bulls should hire Calipari if it means a better chance at signing LeBron. Word out of the Berto Center is the Bulls will do whatever they can to recruit LeBron, but they won't be involved in any side deals that are against NBA rules, and they won't let James or his "team" of advisors pick the next Bulls' head coach.

Thibodeau could emerge as leading candidate for Bulls job

So, while the coaching search figures to be a long and drawn-out process, a few bits of information have come out. The Bulls met with Houston assistant coach Elston Turner during last week's pre-draft camp in Chicago, and they probably had a chat with Lawrence Frank as well. My friend K.C. Johnson of the Tribune reports the Bulls have requested permission to interview well-respected Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau probably would have been a candidate for the job two years ago, but he wasn't able to interview while Boston was on its way to an NBA championship. This time, he should be able to meet with Bulls officials in the long break between the end of the conference finals and the start of the Finals.

Thibodeau is known around the league as a defensive guru, and he designed the schemes that frustrated Kobe Bryant two years ago in the Finals, and kept LeBron in check during Boston's recent series win over the Cavs. We know that Jerry Reinsdorf and John Paxson value defense very highly and that in itself will make Thibodeau an attractive option. But it's important to point out that the NBA is a players' league. How good did that Boston defense look against the Bulls in the '09 playoffs when Kevin Garnett was injured? All of Thibodeau's expertise was ineffective in trying to keep Derrick Rose out of the paint and Ben Gordon and John Salmons from raining jumpers over a collapsing Boston defense. The point is, hiring the right coach is important to the Bulls' future development, but it pales in comparison to the chance to sign a once-in-a-lifetime free agent like LeBron James. The Bulls would be well-served to keep the job open until July 1 and get a feel for which coaches LeBron would be most interested in playing for. No, they shouldn't allow any player to dictate who coaches the team, but getting James' preferences on style of play and coaching personalities is just good business.

The chances of getting James in a Bulls' uniform are still relatively slim when you consider the Cavs, Knicks and Heat also have attractive sales pitches to make. Right now, the Bulls need to get their best presentation ready to make to LeBron on July 1, and that will involve being active in the sign-and-trade market for other All-Stars like Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson. The Bulls' young talent makes them one of the most attractive options for this celebrated free-agent class, but there are no guarantees once the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail. We will answer some of your questions in the next post.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

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