Previous ArticlesBulls set for final showdown at LeBron's corral
Now begins the hard part, waiting for LeBron
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jul 4
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And now we wait.
The last time I heard that in quite this dramatic a sense was in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.
Hey, it was a classic of a sort.
And perhaps that is the most appropriate reference because this Great Free Agent Chase of 2010 has become something of a farce.
Now, the Bulls, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, at least, go home to wait to find out if they have been chosen by the player, LeBron James, who calls himself the chosen one.
How absolutely ridiculous has this been to watch teams of civic, business and entertainment leaders parade into an office building near Akron, Ohio, to basically plead with a basketball player still in shorts and t-shirt to honor their team and their city with his presence.
I know athletes were victimized for years by teams before the advent of free agency, but the symbolism of this has gotten ludicrous.
Here is James hosting some of the most powerful and influential people in the business and sports world and he’s sitting down for these pleading presentations like he’s eating at Burger King.
It remained unclear to me, as in medieval times when greeting a king whether the participants had to leave the room walking backward since kings refused to look upon the backs of subjects or those seeking favors.
I know it’s not much, but at least tuck in your shirt.
I weep for the entire NBA in this process for having to prostrate itself to this extent for just the chance to acquire some talent. Look, I understand. It’s the way it is now, and the rewards potentially are great. So you grit your teeth and turn it into a welcoming smile.
Actually, I’ve heard the Bulls presentation to James Saturday afternoon, the last of the teams courting his basketball majesty, was both dignified and spectacular.
Gone was the 2000 debacle of brass band and Benny the Bull for a frightened Tracy McGrady.
The Bulls management team made its presentation along with a film that included testimony from many of Chicago’s top business and civic leaders about how James would profit immensely both on and off the court in Chicago, undeniably more than anywhere else.
The point was perhaps that New York was bigger and Miami had Dwyane Wade, but New York’s roster was a disaster and Miami’s entrée into international finance was a non-starter. The best combination came in Chicago and with the Bulls, and this was a franchise that not only would do anything but despite what’s been spread, including by Wade, the franchise has spent lavishly in free agency and to accommodate it’s stars.
At the height of the Bulls’ championship run, the Bulls had the league’s highest payroll. Jordan in 1988 signed one of the first true groundbreaking contracts in pro sports that shocked the world, the eight-year $25 million blockbuster which was international news. It came when Jordan hadn’t even been past the second round of the playoffs. Ben Wallace, bad investment or not, was offered $12 million more than even his home team offered whom he helped win a championship. When Jay Williams was injured and violated his contract the Bulls paid him anyway, just as they did Jordan when he quit basketball to play minor league baseball.
Come to Chicago and only there can you achieve your championship dreams of outpacing Kobe Bryant.
That likely is one reason why James and Wade and Chris Bosh have some things to think about. Because there also is some significant intrigue going on among the top guys.
As we’ve seen, most of the apparent commitments thus far, like with Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay and seemingly Amar’e Stoudemire to New York, are about chasing the most money. Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are staying for the same reason, millions of them. The Bulls cannot give anyone the most money because they likely cannot do a sign-and-trade for James or Wade, and only maybe for Bosh.
But here’s what’s going on: James and Wade still are favorites to return to their teams for the most money and Bosh is trying to figure out if he can get a sign-and-trade deal, though Toronto doesn’t want players back and perhaps will take multiple No. 1 draft or maybe no deal.
The big surprise in this has been Wade making nice with the Bulls.
Long considered a lock to return to Miami, Wade is playing it coy in challenging Miami to improve its roster first or perhaps bolt to the Bulls, which would prove devastating to the Heat.
So James is now left to ponder whether Wade is trying an end run to get he and Bosh to Chicago with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, a foursome that likely would deny James any chance at a championships for years to come if he stayed home. Miami would be out for James, as would New York, and could James justify playing in Newark, N.J., wherever that is, and with a team coming off a 12-win season without a regular All-Star?
Is Wade bluffing, trying to push James out of his Cleveland comfort zone and top salary to the Bulls without Bosh, who then would follow Wade to Miami? And watch James and Rose fight it out for the ball?
Is Wade trying to distract the Bulls and have them show James they are not fully committed to him to scare him back to Cleveland and keep the Bulls from compiling a super team?
Or is Wade serious about what all these guys merely pay lip service to, that being winning at any cost. Would Wade take substantially less money to return to Chicago and team with Rose and bring along Bosh with what would be an ideal fit as the Bulls primary needs are shooting guard and power forward? James plays Luol Deng’s small forward position, and with previous attempts to trade Deng proving unavailing, that could be an ugly locker room with Deng sentenced to the bench and a minimum salary shooting guard to step in.
With Wade and Bosh, or even Carlos Boozer, all the pieces fall into place and the Bulls could be talking contending immediately.
But there’s also the possibility of finishing a strong second in each case, and place doesn’t pay anything in this race.
James could return to Cleveland now that Byron Scott is coach and the rumors are they’d figure out a way to trade for Chris Paul. Maybe another short deal as he’s only 25 and Jordan didn’t win until he was 28.
Maybe Wade goes back to Miami, where he is the most popular athlete in South Florida and has built a reputation in the community while he seems to have a good chance to regain custody of his children and maybe move them there.
So what of Bosh?
He’s been the flake in all this with goofy twitter bulletins about his thoughts about interviewing and psychological angst. And this guy was recruited in high school. What must that have been like?
He’s wanted the sign-and-trade for the six-year deal, and the Bulls and Heat would have a shot if Toronto truly only wants draft picks and cash. But other teams can get in with bigger players, and Bosh has been something less than the most committed competitor.
If you are Bosh and believe you deserve a maximum salary, how the heck do you miss the playoffs twice in a row with a pretty good roster that the general manager said was a 50-win team entering this past season?
That said, I’d still take him if I were the Bulls, even without James or Wade. Look, the reality is there are about five or six players in the entire NBA truly worth a “max’ deal and two players in this class, James and Wade.
This is the talent that plays today, so you have to take the best you can and pay. It’s a players’ market with more teams spending than players to spend the money on. Teams and fans have to get over that.
Stoudemire probably won’t even take a physical lest the Knicks fear losing him.
The Bulls’ sales pitch has to be strong because they can pay each of two top free agents about $1 million less than the lower five-year max with the assurance they would more than make it up on a championship team in Chicago. That’s been proven.
But what if Bosh bolts and takes a sign-and-trade elsewhere?
Would LeBron and Wade pair in Chicago? Everything I continue to hear is they don’t want to be together, and teaming with Rose would be an awkward fit that probably would chase Rose out as a free agent when his deal comes up. I’d take Wade with Rose, but I’d rather have Rose at his age than Wade. Wade just spent two grueling seasons using up a lot of his future to keep the Heat competitive. Ask Patrick Ewing how that kind of play under a Pat Riley system shortened his effective career.
If Bosh does bolt, then it becomes a race among the Bulls, Heat and Nets for Carlos Boozer.
So here’s the tough part for some of these guys.
James could go back to Cleveland and they have a mid-level exception, so they’ll add someone decent and they did win 60-plus games the last two seasons practically uncoached.
But how could Wade return to Miami if Bosh and Boozer went elsewhere, again without help and with a disaster of a roster now? He’d have to have a commitment from someone like Bosh or Boozer to return as I don’t see David Lee in that class.
Could the Bulls lock up Bosh or Boozer, or have they already, and that’s their pitch to James? Or why Wade suddenly became so lovey dovey with a franchise he’s basically ignored for several years.
Maybe he needs to head off James and can’t return to Miami because the Heat cannot assure him of that running mate. Even without Bosh or Boozer, having Wade with Rose and Taj Gibson at power forward would look, at least to me, like as good as there is in the East.
But, again, would Wade take so much less money. Some teams have toyed with the idea of an insurance contract for the sixth year in case a player like Wade is hurt, so he still can collect a big ending season on his contract.
And Wade has been saying there’s more to his free agency life than just basketball, which no one is quite sure about the meaning.
They all talk about winning, but so far everyone who has committed has put themselves in situations to barely make the playoffs or barely advance a round.
James, Wade and Bosh have a chance to be the exceptions. But who goes first and where remain the questions.
So the Bulls and Heat seem in the most potentially exceptional and vulnerable positions. If Wade returns to Miami and brings Bosh with him and the Nets wow Boozer, it’s David Lee, and I’d probably rather stay with Gibson and test out the trade and utility free agent market and build a team.
If Wade and Bosh go to Chicago, making the Bulls the East favorites, Boozer probably is going to New Jersey and Eric Spoelstra likely would be begging Riley to coach.
As Mr. Magorium said, “Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.”
We’ll soon see if anyone will.