Category Archives: Free Agency

Bye, bye Kirk? Hello, LeBron?

The Bulls Thursday on the night of the NBA draft took another step toward the potential recruitment of a top free agent like LeBron James with a tentative trade to send Kirk Hinrich and the No. 17 pick in the draft to the Washington Wizards, sources close to both teams confirmed.

The Wizards would not be sending anything back to the Bulls but absorbing Hinrich into their salary cap room. The trade for the Bulls would be to create additional salary cap space, close to about $31 million now, to perhaps be able to sign two top free agents.

It’s an unprecedented situation in the history of the NBA with teams paying others to take their players, as Miami did Wednesday in giving their No. 1 pick to Oklahoma City so the Thunder would take Daequan Cook. The Bulls also were believed to have sent cash to the Wizards, suggesting the Bulls aren’t backing off or sparing any expense in their pursuit of top free agents.

The pitch then would be to a free agent like James that the Bulls could add another free agent, like Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson, along with James and the current roster of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

The not-yet-official-deal puts the Bulls likely in the best position among all the competitors to obtain perhaps the biggest free agent prize of alltime, James.

Only the Knicks now have more salary cap space for free agents than the Bulls, and the Knicks roster is decimated with only Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler, Bill Walker and Eddy Curry under contract. It would be a huge stretch to believe the Knicks could be championship contenders with James and even Chris Bosh, especially because Bosh would have to be their principal big man and Bosh doesn’t want to be a center and isn’t known as much of a defensive force.

The Miami Heat also is angling for James. They may be able to trade Michael Beasley for cap space as the Bulls are apparently doing with Hinrich and get enough for two full maximum free agents, which they don’t have yet. But it’s difficult to see James coming to a team with Wade when Wade is a similar wing player and it is Wade’s town and LeBron would be at best a costar.

The Nets and Clippers also are hoping to be contenders, but with the Nets playing in Newark and Clippers’ history they are considered longshots. The move figures to put the Bulls in prime position to appeal to James when a few months back it seemed like an impossibility to everyone.

It’s also possible James could remain in Cleveland, especially because of his hometown ties to the area and his desire to live there in the future. Would he be able to after leaving the city like that?

Still, the Bulls now assuming the deal goes through as believed have put themselves in probably the best position to make the strongest case to James for ultimate championship success as they are just about in position to make offers to another maximum player like Bosh along with James.

It was not the case until the deal for Hinrich. It’s why it’s such a major move even though it seems so one sided as the Bulls, effectively, have the Wizards their first round pick and cash so Washington would take one of the best top players. It seems so one sided on the surface to be ludicrous, but it could be a deal people will be looking back on in the future as one of the great moves like when the Lakers gave away players like George Lynch for nothing in 1996 to create more salary space to sign Shaq.

The Bulls still would need to trade someone like James Johnson to get to just about the full expected $16.5 million starting salary for two veteran free agents like James and Bosh.

There are potential roadblocks, like if both or either want six year full maximum deals as the Bulls, really, no longer would have the players to do a sign and trade and the Raptors and Cavs are unlikely to help the Bulls create a super team in their conference.

But the presumption is the Bulls would explain that even without the sixth year and even if the starting salaries are slightly less than the allowed $16.5 million, the players if the team is hugely successful will more than make it up with current and future sponsors.

The potential complication in the deal is it cannot be completed until July 8 because the Wizards will not officially have the space under the salary cap to absorb Hinrich’s contract until then. There is a moratorium period in the NBA until July 8, after which teams know the value of the salary cap and then can renounce players, like the Wizards are expected to with Josh Howard.

The potential issue, though it is rare that it would occur after sides have agreed, is since the deal cannot be official until July 8, if something were to happen to Hinrich before then, like an injury, the Wizards could theoretically say they do not want to proceed. But that would be unlikely because a team cannot afford to get a reputation in the league that it will back out of deals. If that were to occur, it would be difficult for a team to make trades. So it would be unlikely a team would back out, especially with a new owner, Ted Leonsis.

So why would the Wizards want Hinrich given they are set to draft John Wall No. 1 and have Gilbert Arenas? It’s a legitimate question, though the Wizards were said to like the way Hinrich operated as a sort of mentor to Derrick Rose to keep pressure off Rose as he came into the NBA and feel Hinrich can do the same for Wall. Some do feel Arenas and Wall will be dynamic together and Hinrich would be the perfect third guard.

The Bulls made their No. 17 selection Thursday night for Washington, Kevin Seraphin. It will officially be listed as a Bulls selection.

The Bulls have been in discussions for several weeks, as has been widely speculated, that they were in talks to see if they could deal players for salary cap space.

There was the most interest in Hinrich. The talks with the Wizards were strong earlier in the week, though sources said the Wizards would not commit. The Bulls were then engaged in serious talks with the Sacramento Kings about the same deal, which spurred the Wizards into action early Thursday before the draft.

Though on the surface it looks like a major risk to give up their best defensive player and only backup to Rose plus a solid first round draft pick for a chance at free agents.

But it is truly the only way the team could go if they want to make a serious pitch to someone like James. Now the Bulls can say in addition to All Star Rose and top rebounder Noah, they can have another All Star in addition to, say, James. It’s a highly appealing package for any free agent who would say he wants to win.

With the deal the Bulls aren’t quite at the $33 million under the cap believed to be needed for two maximum free agents. Some top free agents, like David Lee, don’t require a $16.5 million starting salary because they have fewer years. Lee would start a deal at about $12 million, so he’s a possibility as well with James for both to get the full maximum available for players leaving their teams.

The Bulls figure to work on another deal, perhaps trading a future first, like the one they are owed from Charlotte, if someone would take James Johnson. Perhaps Taj Gibson, though you figure the Bulls would want to keep him. Such a deal could get the team within less than $1 million from two max deals. There’s also the possibility into July if teams with salary cap space like, say, the Clippers or the Nets, cannot attract a free agent. Then the Bulls could trade Deng, which could potentially give the Bulls room for two maximum contracts and almost a third, or at least a high salaried veteran.

Again, it’s a risk to lose so many players on your roster for just the right to pursue the top free agents. But it’s a risk you have to take if you are serious about becoming a true basketball superpower again. The Bulls officially dove into the free agent pool aggressively Thursday and hope to emerge in a few weeks with the catch of all time. Thursday’s deal was the best and only way.

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Cavs out of playoffs; LeBron headed to Bulls?

Stupid time officially began about seven minutes after the Cavs were knocked out of playoffs Thursday in losing 94-85 to the Boston Celtics to fall four games to two in the Eastern semifinals.

Chad Ford of ESPN reported he’d heard from three league general managers who said they now believe James will leave the Cavs as a result of the series loss and said James would be coming to the Bulls and will be coached by John Calipari.

Of course, there were no actual names mentioned from these sources who may or may not know.

Among the actual people, former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, doing the pregame and postgame for ESPN, said he believed James would be going to the Nets. I took this to mean Johnson would like to be Nets coach.

Johnson’s postgame partner, former player Jamal Mashburn, said he believed James would be staying with the Cavs, though Mashburn was told he had to pick a team other than the Cavs—clearly ESPN as well as Joakim Noah is tired of Cleveland—for James to go to and he also guessed New Jersey.

ESPN national NBA writer Chris Broussard said he believed James would be signing with the Bulls, maybe with Phil Jackson as coach.

No report yet on whether Michael Jordan would come out of retirement for this, as he isn’t quite 50 yet. But, hey, it still wasn’t time for the real late SportsCenter…

Whew! I’m tired already. This is going to go on for the next two months since free agency begins July 1 and then teams have a week until they are permitted to sign a player.

James said after the game he “has no plans.”

He said, “We’ll see what happens.”

James acknowledged the Cavs are “committed to winning,” but added, he has “given myself options.”

How dare he be vague when so many people actually know what he’s doing? Who is he to say he doesn’t know?

It’s gotta be the Bulls, right? James already has said he’ll change his number next season to No. 6 because he didn’t feel anyone should wear No. 23. Yes, the Bulls can keep Jordan’s number retired.

Though James is friends with entertainer Jay-Z, a part owner of the Nets, who are now owned by one of the world’s richest, and supposedly to be the most generous to his basketball players.

But there’s the Knicks, the only team that can give a full free agent contract to James and whomever James wants to bring with him, even if it’s Ilgauskas. The owner of a famous New York strip club was quoted last week offering James free lap dances for life. I’m not fully sure how that works under the salary cap. I don’t know if James ever does that sort of thing, but I’m quite sure they wouldn’t be that expensive for him, anyway. I’m not saying, mind you, he engages in such behavior, whatever it is since I’m not familiar with the term.

There’s the Clippers and L.A. and the movie industry, which is where LeBron’s spending this summer making a movie. Of course, there’s the sign and trade possibility with the Lakers to play with Kobe. Can’t the NBA get this straight? Wasn’t this supposed to be a Kobe/LeBron Finals? And three second round sweeps. If the NBA manipulates these matchups they do a poor job.

The instant ESPN poll had 31 percent saying he’d go to New York, 27 percent say remaining in Cleveland and 24 percent for Chicago. Another 18 percent were said to be leaning to Warren Buffet’s basement.

Pat Riley allegedly has ordered LeBron to come to Miami because, well, he’s Pat Riley! OK, enough.

The Heat, meanwhile, already has set up a website inviting fans to urge Wade to remain in Miami. But there’s also a fan web site up now asking James to come to Chicago.

David Letterman has been running a segment of reasons for LeBron James to come to New York, though so far they’ve included being hit by a speeding taxi and being able to watch a foul mouthed TV anchor cursing on the air.

I’ve checked. No websites yet of anyone asking for free agent Shaq.

This is big, seriously.

This is the back-to-back MVP, a player whom some believe could one day be considered the games greatest not only being upset again in the playoffs, but threatening the geography of the NBA with James a free agent who may leave the Cavs.

And we know, as James would say, here’s a guy who has won at every level but college and the NBA.

It was not only a stunning, unexpected result after the Cavs led the league in wins for the second straight season. But it was shocking to see the way the Cavs gave up at the end, not even trying to foul to extend the game after Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo were gagging free throws down the stretch. Make them earn it! Heck, everyone does that even in the regular season.

I know Cavs players looked toward the bench at that time, though the mistake probably was not looking at the real coach, James.

There are going to be major ramifications from this series even if James elects to remain in Cleveland. No King Abdicates headlines quite yet.

It seems likely coach Mike Brown will be out. That would be a year after winning coach of the year and after winning at least 60 games in consecutive seasons. And they felt sorry for Vinny Del Negro. No coach ever has lost his job after such a run, though Alex Hannum resigned after a pair of 60-plus win seasons. James did say afterward he thought there could have been some better adjustments.

It was another unusual series for Brown as he stayed with the ineffective O’Neal for long stretches, failed to play smaller and quicker with players like J.J. Hickson to take advantage of getting James out in the open court, where he is unstoppable, and seemed more like a Rube Goldberg mad scientist trying different and odd combinations with Daniel Gibson appearing from nowhere, and never figuring out what to do with Antawn Jamison.

As I wrote during the Bulls series with the Cavs, if James really wanted to win—and I guess GMs in New York, New Jersey, Miami and L.A. would differ—he’d join the Bulls.

Yes, this appears on the Bulls’ site, but I’d say the majority of my mail about free agents favors Dwyane Wade over LeBron. Fans seem to personally like Wade more, though I know any team would take James first. He’s the best and he fits with anyone and everyone. And he sure can dance.

Forget positions. He can play anywhere, and probably one of the bigger issues with the Cavs is he has monopolized the ball too much. That took Mo Williams, for instance, out of games, and I thought the first half Thursday for the Cavs was better because Williams plays better with the ball. When James took over more after halftime, Williams became more a standstill player, which is when he’s not at his best.

Though James controls the ball a lot and has the mentality of a point guard, he would be better off playing with Derrick Rose.

James is such a threat that he should play in a faster, more open game, which suits Rose, because as James goes up court he’ll take the defense with him and make it easier on his point guard. It was an issue the Bulls had early with Michael Jordan. Doug Collins always tried to get Jordan to run out ahead of the ball, but Jordan resisted because he liked to have the ball in his hands and didn’t trust his teammates.

Once Scottie Pippen gained trust with Jordan and could handle the ball, Jordan attacked more without the ball and it led to Bulls titles.

So, James would do well to play with a ballhandler like Rose.

By the way, for those who whined all season about letting go of Ben Gordon and trading John Salmons, this was why. No, the Bulls may not get James. But they are now in the conversation. If they’d have kept either Gordon or Salmons they wouldn’t be. And how could they justify that?

Though the perfect scenario would be to get the Cavs to agree to a sign-and-trade for James, say Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and a No. 1 pick, for example, and then have salary cap money left to attract another free agent like Chris Bosh, David Lee or Joe Johnson.

That’s also why the Bulls seem to have the edge over, say, the Knicks, who have few sign-and-trade assets to offer. The Nets are much better equipped with a high draft pick and Devin Harris. It’s hard to see James going somewhere without a sign and trade, which would mean a lesser contract. Of course, James could go for three years with an opt out after two, which he could do with the Cavs to give them one more shot.

Of course, the sign-and-trade route opens the field to a team like the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and others to pair James with Bryant. You can be sure there will be other offers, though would the Cavs be the franchise that agreed to trade LeBron James? Almost better to let him walk.

James did acknowledge some issue with his elbow after the Game 6 loss, though there seemed more all of a sudden a level of dysfunction within the Cavs as their emotions and enthusiasm almost disappeared. We may be hearing something was amiss eventually.

As for Boston winning, you’ve now got to consider Celts top assistant Tom Thibodeau for at least an interview for the coaching job. The Celtics defense was terrific in this series, and without Kevin Garnett being great. What Boston had is what so many teams don’t and which troubled the Bulls this season, one system of play to fall back on when things went wrong or under pressure.

LeBron also needs to be coached. He clearly has run things in Cleveland, as everyone around the NBA knows, but that doesn’t seem to be working out. You don’t want to hire someone who is his friend or whom he chooses, but someone he can respect for his knowledge of the game and ability to put him in position to succeed, a strong figure.

This just in: James was heard listening to “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. Does anyone need anymore proof than that he’s coming to the Bulls?

Will Game 6 determine if LeBron leaves the Cavs?

It’s been a miserable second round of the NBA playoffs, with three of the four series being sweeps. However, that should at least finally prove the NBA isn’t manipulating the games for ratings and TV and seventh games.

But the one series that is left may be about to produce one of the most significant games of the last decade.

That’s Thursday in Boston when the Cavaliers, the NBA’s winningest team the last two seasons, try to avoid playoff elimination, trailing 3-2. But that’s just part of the story, as the Cleveland future of star LeBron James perhaps depends on the result, as well as the competitive landscape of the NBA given James’ free agency.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert had declared this season “all in” last fall, and even Gilbert, reminiscent of the Mavericks meltdown in the 2006 Finals, came out after Tuesday’s devastating home loss and demanded more from the team.

That game sent shockwaves around the NBA, given the confusing apparent disinterest exhibited by James, and left the league buzzing Wednesday about what could produce such a cavalier effort from James in such a crucial situation.

It raised doubts of James’ place in basketball history in this instant analysis world just a few weeks after getting his second straight MVP award when he was being called maybe the greatest player ever to play the game.

If the Cavs win Thursday, James could return to that accolade. This is not an era for perspective.

But coaches, GMs and former players I talked with since agreed all the great ones have had bad games, but you’d never have seen that lack of intensity from Jordan or Bird or Magic.

Kobe, well, we have seen some of that, like the 2006 seventh game with the Suns when he didn’t do much. The difference was he was immediately accused of purposely sabotaging the game. Ludicrous, but Kobe never commanded the media worship James does.

One longtime league guy said perhaps James got some sort of painkilling shot or drugs for his possibly injured elbow—most I talked with thought he was overacting about that—and the side effects dulled him.

The rest of the team must have shared them, then, as the Cavs bench, usually like a South Beach nightclub, was virtually comatose all game.

There were theories that James realized his teammates weren’t good enough and lost interest, bad matchups as Antawn Jamison isn’t good against Kevin Garnett and Mo Williams against anyone in the playoffs, and that late season vacation by James when the team began losing down the stretch and never quite recovered a rhythm even though they beat the Bulls in five, albeit, unimpressively.

There were reports in Cleveland of discord internally, that Shaq—big surprise—was upset with his minutes and players were upset with inconsistent rotations. And where the heck is J.J. Hickson? Though Shaq had 21 points, it was perhaps a sign that in his biggest game they lost by 30. The Cavs continue to play away from their strengths as a fast team and got caught up in a half court game, at which they are inferior to the Celtics.

Bad coaching? They always are to blame, and Mike Brown is being universally damned, by national media and in Cleveland. Hey, the Bulls want a successful, veteran coach. It looks like Brown is about to be available after consecutive 60-plus win seasons. Atlanta’s Mike Woodson should follow after averaging 50 wins the last two seasons.

How come no one’s upset they haven’t gotten votes of confidence?

There’s also this feeling I’ve long had about James.

He’s not Jordan, but not because of some talent difference.

James is a point guard in a point power forward’s body. James always has been commended for being a willing passer unlike guys like Jordan and Kobe. But I think that’s because he’s more inclined to be the facilitator.

Critics are questioning him since Game 5 because he didn’t take over. But the fact remains he never really has had that kind of mentality. He’s had big games at big times, like that double overtime classic against Detroit in 2007, and he’s hit big shots to win games, like in last year’s playoffs. But he’s also often given up the last shot when doubled, the right play but not the one the great players ever make.

Though it won’t happen, it’s why I’ve always thought James could play with Kobe. Like in the 2008 Olympics, LeBron seemed happiest and effective when he was making plays, rebounding, playing an all around game.

He had to become the big time scorer because his team didn’t have one, sort of like David Robinson. I always felt Robinson would be Bill Russell, but bigger. But the Spurs didn’t have the luxury to allow him to be a defensive specialist, which Russell could be with a loaded Celts team. Another reason why Chamberlain was better, but that’s for another day. So Robinson had to be a scorer, but didn’t win until he became more a defensive specialist alongside Tim Duncan.

I wonder if that’s what LeBron needs as well. Playing with Kobe. Playing with Wade.

Though scoring is how you get the attention.

LeBron likes attention; I don’t believe winning championships is quite as important, certainly not as important as it was to the previous generation, guys like Magic and Bird and Jordan.

Like some have termed it, LeBron is more concerned with being LeBron, Inc.

It’s also why in thinking about the possibilities of LeBron leaving Cleveland if the Cavs lose, I can see the Nets as No. 1 because of the new zillionaire owner.

I never heard LeBron talk as much about championships, like Kobe, as being the first billionaire player, a team owner, entrepreneur.

Many have said around the NBA this season if LeBron leaves he’d be viewed as a quitter and it would ruin his reputation, so he won’t. It’s one reason the conventional wisdom has been he’d stay.  He could stay even if the Cavs lose in this round. That’s one reason many believe John Calipari has been sniffing around–not to take LeBron somewhere like Chicago, but to become the Cavs’ coach.

You can be sure to keep James they’d throw Brown overboard in a second.

He has not been allowed to coach much, anyway. It’s no secret around the NBA LeBron directs everything in Cleveland and no one tells him what to do. It’s why he could choose to re-up.

Actually, his life has been much about few saying no to him.

He was raised by his mother in a nomadic sort of existence and pretty much dictated his team in high school. He’s had his group of friends from his school run his businesses. Heck, the Cavs built a practice facility near his home.

Could he live like that in the New York corporate existence of Comcast and James Dolan?  Of all the obvious destinations, the Bulls would seem to afford James the best chance of winning, other than the more complicated possibility of going to the Lakers. And James seemed to leave some hints with intimate knowledge of the Bulls roster and high praise for Derrick Rose. Heck, he didn’t even seem mad at Noah. And he sure had fun that weekend in Chicago. The Bulls would make logical sense. You hate to apply logic to pro athletes. Or, at least, our logic.

Is it winning LeBron seeks? Or is there more to him?

There’s that problem of playing in Newark for two years with the Nets. And they were almost the worst team ever with Lopez and Devin Harris. How good could they become? But LeBron could live in New York City, a helicopter ride away, and this new billionaire owner has made clear he’ll spend. I’ve heard he offered Krzyzewski $20 million a year. Could Phil be seduced? He loves New York and that would be the big market trifecta. And that’s where Phil actually first coached as a Nets assistant. There’s celebrity pal Jay-Z in ownership and a jet set life to be lived. LeBron likes jet setting.

There’s a center for the Nets not as good as Noah and a point guard not as good as Rose. But I’m not sure LeBron is as much about winning as he is about the celebrity of the game. It’s not that unusual, really. Everyone wants him to be like Mike. But that’s taken. LeBron may define the new millennium athlete, which may mean winning is good, but fame and fortune are even better.

He certainly hasn’t seemed the least upset or depressed over all of this. True, the series isn’t over. And Boston still is a fragile, rickety bunch hardly certain to win Game 6.

But this one has enough story lines and intrigue for an entire playoffs. And with no one else playing, everyone gets to watch. The entire NBA is stopping for one game Thursday. And all eyes are on LeBron, and he loves it.

Is this the end of LeBron in Cleveland?

Time to strike up the band and get Benny the Bull out to O’Hare!

Oh, right. That didn’t work last time when the Bulls met Tracy McGrady in 2000 with a carnival and he fled to Orlando.

But NBA free agency 2010 just got a lot more interesting Tuesday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers and a passive, seemingly disinterested LeBron James were blown out at home, 120-88, to fall behind Boston 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

It was probably the most shocking game of the NBA season to see the heavily favored Cavs not only fall behind in the series at home, but to see James and his teammates, usually Dancing with the Stars wannabes, lamely accept the loss.

James, at least to me, clearly seems hurt, though he denied anything was wrong. But you could almost see his entire team, usually a rollicking, lively bunch on the sideline along with him, sag with an acceptance of their losing fate, and that James really may be leaving.

So the big question is if he is getting close to that decision where, and the Bulls now have to be in the equation. You hear all sorts of rumors regarding James’ future, and one around the NBA now is James taking the Bulls seriously, though hardly as the only team. There also are rumors circulating around Cleveland now that James will need surgery on his elbow this summer, though you’d certainly take him if you could get him even without a physical.

Unquestionably, James Tuesday was as bad in a big playoff game as just about great player ever has been. I cannot believe his lame explanations of not getting into rhythm, just an off shooting game, or doing other things to help the team. He’s too good. Nevertheless, the NBA outside Cleveland is cheering the possibilities.

If LeBron does decide to leave the Cavs, there will be three main criteria: Where he wants to live and play, whether he can win, and whether he needs a sign-and-trade for a max, six-year deal.

Here’s the way I’d rate the favorites if James wants a max deal and sign-and-trade, which I don’t believe is certain. But I’ll get to that later.

First, you can forget all your Oklahoma Cities and San Antonios, Houstons, Washingtons and Philadephias. LeBron’s going to the big time if he leaves, which means New York, L.A., Chicago, perhaps Miami and maybe, just maybe, Phoenix or Dallas.

So here’s the way I see it if there’s a sign-and-trade:

1. Lakers: Cavs get Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom and Lakers take back Daniel Gibson for Cavs cap relief, or maybe Delonte West with LeBron. I know Kobe supposedly won’t want this, but how could you pass on a chance for Kobe and LeBron with Pau? How great could they be? Of course, if they win again they’ll think they already are.

2. Bulls: Not a great sign-and-trade, but something. Probably Deng, Gibson, a No. 1 pick and Brad Miller going to Cleveland after signing. It gives the Cavs a lineup to work with.

3. Knicks: Probably David Lee and Gallinari. Not that great, either, but then the Knicks could add two free agents to go with LeBron and build a team instantly. Though that would be a hard sell for the Cavs to overpay Lee without a big man.

4. Nets: The No. 1 pick if they get it and maybe Yi or Terrence Williams. The Cavs could start building right away with an attraction. Russian billionaire, Jay-Z. Who knows. Maybe Newark is OK for two years.

5. Clippers: They probably have the best package for the Cavs in Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman. Then they could add LeBron and another free agent with Baron Davis, though they’d try to hold onto Griffin. But would LeBron want to compete with Kobe and the Lakers? I can’t see it.

6. Heat: They’ve got the least. Michael Beasley. Alonzo Mourning has been telling people James is Pat Riley’s secret project, but the Cavs couldn’t in good conscience accept anything from that roster.

I assume those would be the markets LeBron would go for as he likes the spotlight. The Suns would be interesting because old buddies Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry do a lot of business and the Cavs might be able to get Stoudemire and maybe Robin Lopez. Dallas would try to go in big, but I’d assume they’d try to keep Dirk and don’t have much else. I suppose the Cavs could sell Dirk for a few years, but I don’t think Dirk would re-sign to go there.

The other possibility is LeBron just leaves and takes someone’s cap room. I actually think this is more likely because I can see him taking a short deal again, maybe three years as he’s only 25, and seeing if the team he goes to can get the pieces in place. So how would the rankings look then?

1. Bulls: Enough to pay James to fit him in right away with a point guard and center, which no one else can offer. And then it would be up to the Bulls to find a sign-and-trade with the pieces they have to add someone like Chris Bosh or maybe even Stoudemire or Lee. I’ve long thought LeBron would run away from the Jordan comparisons, but Chicago would be the most ready made team in an actual big city.

2. Nets: They could have John Wall to go with Brook Lopez and then a trade of Harris for someone good and LeBron. That, too, could be a heck of a team, but, again, could LeBron put up with the relative anonymity of Newark for at least two years? Though the new Russian owner could make things pretty comfortable.

3. Knicks: They can bring LeBron and anyone else he chooses and he is one of the few who would seem to like the New York attention. It’s uncertain who he could recruit, though, as not many guys want to go somewhere as the second piece, and then one overshadowed all the time by LeBron with the pressure to produce because no one’s blaming LeBron.

4. Heat: They just don’t seem to have enough pieces without a center or point guard. Wade and LeBron would be impressive, though they’d still have to do too much. They’d have money for another high level player, so maybe Boozer or Lee decides to take a bit less and come. It’s possible.

5. Clippers: It could be a heck of a team if Blake Griffin is OK, along with Chris Kaman, Baron Davis and Eric Gordon. But I cannot see LeBron playing second to Kobe and the Lakers, who run the city and the arena. Would he try to upstage them? It’s a heck of a risk and an even bigger one as something seems to happen to guys when they become Clippers.

If the Cavs lose the series Thursday, which now just about everyone expects, James’ future will be the biggest NBA story for the next two months no matter what else happens.

Yes, he could go back to the Cavs on a short deal to give them one more chance or not opt out and take his last year. That was the thinking all along with the assumption the Cavs would at least make the conference finals. But losing in this round would be a step back each of the last two years, and with an aging, uncertain team and few options to improve.

What actually seemed most shocking—and yes this could all change with a win in Boston Thursday—was the way James and everyone seemed to accept their fate in a matter of fact way without much enthusiasm. It’s as if everyone knows and only the date needs now to be filled in. Someone may be getting the sporting prize of a lifetime.

Who’s got the fireworks! Didn’t anyone call the jugglers?

Bulls roster madness to begin with end of season

So what happens next?
The Bulls Tuesday in losing the opening round playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 concluded what generally was a successful season with a second straight 41-41 record and first round playoff elimination. Yes, even with another first round out. This was to be the appetizer.
But given injuries that cost Joakim Noah 18 games and parts of several others, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich missing another 20 combined—only Brad Miller, of all guys, and Taj Gibson played all 82 games—and the midseason trade of John Salmons, it was a positive to get to the playoffs and give the Cavs a scare, if not a seventh game.
This season with the loss of Ben Gordon as a free agent was aimed toward acquiring a free agent this summer. That process begins July 1, and the initial targets likely will be Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Carlos Boozer. The general belief is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the two elite free agents, will remain with their teams. But with Miami’s poor playoff performance around Wade and the possibility the Cavs could lose to the Celtics in the second round, their objectives could change. Free agency tends to be a financial and emotional process.
Though he was no where near the caliber, Trevor Ariza essentially took the same offer from the Rockets as he could have gotten from the Lakers because he was mad at them. The Heat doesn’t have near the players for a sign and trade the Bulls do, so if Miami comes up short, Wade could go shopping. Same with LeBron. It’s LeBron’s seventh season and if there’s no championship, maybe there’s a different itch he wants to scratch, that seven year itch.
And if Joe Johnson doesn’t have a rash the way the Hawks have fallen behind the no name Bucks 3-2 after Wednesday’s home loss, then maybe you have to wonder about him. Could he want to stay with that team under any circumstances if they lose to the Bucks?
Basically, everyone on the Bulls roster but Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is available. It’s not like the Bulls are looking to move Taj Gibson or Kirk Hinrich, for instance, but they’d like to use a player in trade and then perhaps money to sign a free agent.
There will be dozens of possibilities. I’ve previously mentioned trading for Golden State’s Monta Ellis and signing Lee. Neither is a first tier free agent, generally considered James and Wade, and then Bosh and Johnson—but the Bulls would love to find both a shooting guard and interior scorer.
Ellis likely will be available and the Warriors during the season made various attempts at acquiring Hinrich. The Jazz also has liked Hinrich and there’s some talk they might resign Boozer and trade Paul Millsap. The Timberwolves will be active, as they’ve promised, and given the rough relationship between Kevin Love and coach Kurt Rambis, Love probably could be gotten. The team, for now, seems to be asking way too much for Al Jefferson, namely an All-Star or someone like Noah.
There also will be other free agents who would come more cheaply, like Anthony Morrow, Brendan Haywood, Raja Bell, Steve Blake, Drew Gooden, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Juwan Howard, Roger Mason and Kyle Korver. Maybe you take a shot at a restricted free agent like Rudy Gay or Randy Foye.
And the Bulls finally will bring in 2008 draft pick Omer Asik. He is a seven-footer who has been injured the last two years with knee surgery and a broken collarbone but has ranked among the best shotblockers in Euroleagus history. The Bulls will get a good look at him at the World Championships in his native Turkey this summer. He is expected to be available to the Bulls for next season.
So there will be plenty of potential permutations before the Bulls have a roster for the 2010-11 season.
Here’s a look at what will happen with this group:
Derrick Rose: He’s the anchor of the team’s future as even LeBron James after Game 5 was calling Rose maybe the league’s best point guard. Deron Williams, by the way, objected, and said at shootaround Wednesday he was the best. Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. Rose has one more season before he can negotiate an extension, which will be at the maximum salary. He’s not available to anyone. He earned $5.2 million this season and will be under team option one more season, unless he adds an extension after the 2011-12 season.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Joakim Noah: He’s the other untouchable. The organization will not even listen to any sign and trade offers with the possible exception of LeBron James, and then only possibly because of James’ bum elbow. Noah earned $2.5 million this season and is eligible for an extension this summer. I assume he signs one as players will want to get in under the old rules as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season and long term deals are expected to be reduced. The Bulls can get free agents first, but that’s why they will spend their money this summer because they likely won’t have for beyond once Noah commits. They could make some short term deals to go into 2011 free agency, but with the labor uncertainty it’s not likely. So what’s Noah worth? He’s made himself a star player, though still as an eight figure earner will be one of the only NBA players who probably won’t make as much as his father, former tennis and now European music star Yannick Noah.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Luol Deng: After all the preseason uncertainty coming off his stress fracture, Deng had a good season, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 70 games. He makes $11.3 million next season and has a contract through 2013-14, the team’s longest now. He’ll likely be dangled in sign and trade talks as that will be a key in trying to attract someone like Bosh or Johnson. He has value around the league, but his contract length limits that with no one sure what will happen with the labor talks. And then the Bulls would need a small forward, so they won’t give him up easily.
Chance of returning: 75 percent.
Kirk Hinrich: He is fairly unflappable and sounded the most after Game 5 like he didn’t know if he’d be back. As Hinrich acknowledged, his name has come up in rumors for years. The reason is so many teams like what he brings and he has a descending contract that ends at $8 million in 2011-12, not much above the mid level for a guy who can play point guard and defend. With Joe Johnson and Rose, he’d give the Bulls likely the best guard rotation in the league. But it could cost the Bulls Hinrich in a sign and trade to get someone like Johnson. His name will come up in numerous scenarios starting at draft time, though the Bulls would like to have him back.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Taj Gibson: Along with Noah, he was the surprise of the season coming from the 26th pick in the draft to starting 70 games, second most to Rose. He made $1 million and was one of the league’s best bargains. He averaged nine points and 7.5 rebounds and with Noah made the Bulls one of the league’s best rebounding teams. He does have trouble against bigger players, but is a relentless worker. He’s got to improve his shooting and strength. If the Bulls can get Bosh, he’ll either be in a sign-and-trade or make up a heck of a front line with Noah. He gives the Bulls the option to explore fixing their shooting issues first because he can be a starting power forward, if not at an All-Star level.
Chance of returning: 70 percent.
James Johnson: The sixth player the Bulls have under contract for next season. He made $1.6 million this season, but barely played the first half and then sparingly as that was one of the key issues between management and coach Vinny Del Negro. He was a risk/reward draft pick, selected to make a hit or bust. He had a rocky start with punctuality issues and maturity, but has begun to come around. He’ll likely go to summer league, which can give him a chance to gain confidence. He probably would have been in the D-league at times if the team had more depth. The Bulls still want to give him a chance and feel he’ll virtually be a rookie again.
Chance of returning: 90 percent.
Brad Miller: He’s coming off a $90 million long term deal in which he made $12.25 million this season. Remarkably, he played all 82 games, albeit slowly. He really liked his teammates and bonds well with the support staff, though he was closest with Hinrich. Career wise his numbers are in decline at 34 as he shot a career low 43 percent and 28 percent on threes. He had some big games, but generally takes a few months to get back into condition. He’s a good backup center, though the Bulls won’t have much money after signing free agents and won’t get into a bidding fight for him. They’d probably give him a few million dollars for a year with a team option and would like to have him back. But at his age he remains a risk.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Hakim Warrick: He was acquired in the John Salmons deal and seemed like he’d be a good fit, but he quickly fell out of favor with Del Negro, who never quite found a role for him. He made $3 million this season and probably will look for something in that range or a bit less. It probably would be too much for the Bulls. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Bulls, but in just 19 minutes per game when he played and rarely in the playoffs. He’s not a physical player, but can score with a decent mid range jumper and is a good athlete.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Flip Murray: He came in the Tyrus Thomas deal and became a relatively trusted sixth man type as an instant scorer. He got more time than Warrick, but not consistently. He averaged 10.1 for the Bulls, but shot just under 40 percent and 31 percent on threes. The Bulls would like to him have back as he’s a pro shooter and scorer, if streaky. But teams like him as a bench player and he’ll probably command more than the Bulls feel is worth paying.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Jannero Pargo: He never gained the regular trust of Del Negro and, as a result, had a tough shooting season with erratic playing time, shooting just 27.5 percent on threes. He got the $1.9 million mid level exception this season. With a bit more discipline and accountability, I think he could be a better average shooter. He’s a popular locker room guy and if he’d take close to the veteran’s minimum might be worth another look.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Acie Law: He came with Murray in the Thomas deal and never got much chance to play, 12 games and one start and mostly DNP’s. He’s a clever ball handler who can get to the basket, but he’s determined to get a chance, which he’s never had in being shuttled around. He made $2.2 million on the end of his rookie deal as 11th pick in 2007. I talked to him and he says he can see the Bulls getting Johnson and with Rose and Hinrich there’d be no minutes again. He doesn’t fit with Rose since he’s a penetrator and is more a scoring point guard. If he gets a chance several teams may regret giving him up.
Chances of returning: 5 percent.
Joe Alexander: Came in the Salmons deal and is an unusually gifted athlete who dominates the one-one-one games in practices. When it gets to full court something seems to change. He’s a dedicated worker and one of those guys coaches don’t seem to know why he’s not better. He says it’s been injuries and the lack of a chance. He made $2.6 million as the eighth pick in 2008, but the Bucks passed on his team option. He’ll likely take a minimum deal and the Bulls will be looking for players who’ll take a minimum but have had experience.
Chance of returning: 50 percent.
Chris Richard: The power forward from Florida became a popular guy around the locker room, easy going and friendly. He can bang around and was back and forth on some 10 day deals. He could be an asset in some sign and trade possibilities and might get a shot with the summer league team.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Rob Kurz: Picked up late so the team could take a look at him for perhaps a minimum deal as one of those shooting, so called stretch four forwards who can play a guy like Antawn Jamison, if not quite in that class. Also could be in a sign and trade and likely summer league as well.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Devin Brown: Came for Aaron Gray and pretty much got forgotten about once the team added Murray. Never got a chance to shoot himself out of his poor start, which was a long way from starting with the Hornets and making about $1.2 million.
Chances of returning: Zero.

Could LeBron be thinking how he looks in Bulls red?

The Bulls Thursday play Game 3 of what may be the most important playoff series in franchise history.
And thus far, even though the Bulls trail 0-2, the series with the Cleveland Cavaliers may be going very well.
That’s because based on what LeBron James has seen in the first two games, especially in the Cavs 112-102 Game 2 victory in Cleveland Monday, if James’ goal is to become a great winner, he cannot possibly think there’s a big window of opportunity with his Cavaliers.
He, instead, has to consider what his future would be if he played with a 22-year-old All-Star point guard and a 25-year-old near All-Star center.
If James wants to be considered the greatest player in the history of the game and surpass Michael Jordan—and I believe he does—then it is about winning championships.
At least six of them.
James has a good chance to get his first this season.
But if James at 26 envisions a long run, does he have a better chance with 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, and by next season 34-year-old Antawn Jamison and 35-year-old Anthony Parker being three of his fellow starters? Or even the likes of Mo Williams and Delonte West?
On the other hand, how good and how long a run could James have if he teamed as a free agent after this season with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah?
That’s potentially the best thing about this playoff series for the Bulls, even though they’ll likely lose it. They may well show James there’s a much better basketball future—if not Noah’s view of way more to do on the weekends—by joining up with Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. With a core like that, how easy would it be to get a couple of top veterans who want to be part of the next great potential dynasty?
This series for the first time may give the Bulls a legitimate chance to land James as a free agent this summer.
And I know everyone in Chicago would feel James looks good dancing in a Bulls uniform.
The Bulls have believed with their core, which they kept in place while going into free agency unlike teams like the Knicks and Nets, they are one player like Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer away from being a top four team in the East.
But what if you could get the game’s best player?
Look what James did Monday with a collection of scrap metal.
OK, that’s a bit harsh. Just kidding. But that is an old Cavs team with no cap room. Shaq’s on his last gasp. Zydrunas Ilgauskas probably will leave, anyway, after a falling out with the team this season. Plus, he is 35 soon and slowed. Jamison’s best days are past. Same with Parker. They’ve got some young guys, like J.J. Hickson, and, well nobody.
There still really isn’t that great second, the Scottie Pippen to Jordan, the Worthy and Kareem for Magic, the McHale and Parish for Bird.
Chicago’s got Nos. 2 and 3.
How good would they be with No. 1?
How many championships could James claim?
Hey, there’s room for another statue on the west side of the United Center.
It’s probably the main reason why it was so important the Bulls made the playoffs, especially against the Cavs.
Noah, who came up big in Game 2 with 25 points and 13 rebounds, wasn’t exactly conceding, and he never would. But he did take a bit of a big picture look after Game 2.
“This is great for our team,” said Noah. “Competition does not get higher than this. We understand this is great for us. In the big picture, when we go into the summer we can say (if we lose) we played against the best team and we know what we’ve got to do to get better. It’s all about getting better and trying to win ball games.”
Noah added he expected the team to win Game 3 back in Chicago Thursday, though, look, the Bulls finished 20 games behind the Cavs.
But it’s also why I felt it was important for the franchise to make the playoffs.
It’s not that they couldn’t get a free agent if they didn’t make the playoffs. But even trailing 0-2, what do you think is the reputation of the Bulls now compared to the Raptors, who missed out by that one game in Toronto.
The point is to show what you have on the big stage, and the Bulls did a good job of that Monday.
Sure, they lost, and the idea is to win. Second isn’t good in games.
But the Bulls showed not only impressive resolve in the way the Bulls played the Cavs but that they have at least a pair of high level NBA stars.
That’s why, I believe, the Bulls privately were hoping if they made the playoffs to get the Cavs.
They’d be a big underdog against any of the top four teams, obviously.
So show LeBron James, likely the biggest free agent prize in NBA history along with Shaq in 1996, what kind of talent you have, the way the team plays, hard and committed, and then let him get a look at life in Chicago in the playoffs.
There are few better venues.
It’s why it’s always been the foolish who suggested the Bulls should miss the playoffs for a chance for a top lottery pick. Yes, they got lucky for Rose, but it’s less than a one percent chance to move up like that from where they would have been this season.
I think that’s less than the chance James would see what he likes and maybe make the surprise decision.
You’ll notice Noah had some fun with the city of Cleveland, but he showed only respect to James and the Cavs.
We’ve all—including me—believed James was going to resign with the Cavs. Home, perhaps a championship, the most available money, and treatment like maybe no player ever has received from his team. It’s hard to argue how much the Cavs done to accommodate James.
But what if the Cavs don’t win?
It’s not like they looked like a championship team in Game 2.
Shaq was ineffective and you wonder if the one day of rest, which he’ll see more of in subsequent rounds, isn’t enough. There are two day breaks before games 3 and 4 in this series, which should benefit O’Neal.
Suddenly, if Anderson Varejao isn’t having a big game—and he doesn’t score, anyway—the front line looks overmatched. Noah ran them and outworked them badly and Taj Gibson out toughed them with 11 points and seven rebounds.
James, alone, can get you by a team like the Bulls. But then you probably have to deal with the athletic and deep Hawks and the Magic and Dwight Howard, who sent the Cavs out last season.
Of course, with Miami having Dwyane Wade and the excess salary cap room to add a maximum free agent and another high salaried player, maybe that looks better to James. Though you’d still have to find a center, which is difficult.
The notion was the Cavs responded to the Magic loss last year with the acquisition of Shaq to give fouls on Howard, and Jamison to match the Orlando forward scoring. Maybe it will work.
But there’s hardly any guarantee. After all, it took a phenomenal shooting performance–and at home–by James, 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to beat the .500 Bulls without Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas. And that’s with four threes from Jamario Moon, who hadn’t hit one in 109 minutes in the last four games of the regular season. Moon, once a Globetrotter, was just a 32 percent three point shooter in the season. Yes, as it was noted by my colleague Mark Heisler, “once in a Jamario moon.”
The Magic is deeper and a better defensive team, and the way Shaq looked after one day rest it’s difficult to imagine him being much but an annoyance to Howard.
And these things can become very emotional decisions. After the Cavs were knocked out by the Magic last season, it was clear James was anguished.
How much patience would he have again if it occurs?
And say James does win that first title. If he is about winning, as he says, and he has the opportunity through free agency, wouldn’t his future look a lot better with the likes of Rose and Noah or, say, Wade and Stoudemire, than with Shaq, Jamison, Parker and Williams?
Even the Bulls may not fully realize how big this playoff series is. It has the potential of changing the balance of power in the NBA. It’s why getting there and playing like they have thus far has been so potentially significant.
Maybe the Bulls can dream royally.