Tag Archives: david lee

What will 2010 free agency produce?

This free agency week that perhaps heralds the birth of a new dynasty or champion reminds me of the time just before my son was born.

We were at the doctor, and the doctor said it could be any day. So we were told to just go home and relax. Relax!

We walked around a lot and went to malls, then walked around some more. I asked if it was time and my wife shook her head, “No,” and it seemed to just go on without any real signal.

So this is what I think is going on now: LeBron James, first, is calling around to all the guys who haven’t signed not named Dwyane Wade, trying to gauge their interest in joining him in Cleveland. The Cavs don’t have cap room, but can manufacture a sign-and-trade, and, as we know, they would do anything for their little poopsie Bronnie.

My guess is the Bulls have moved down a notch on LeBron’s list, with the Cavs first. The Nets are right there too, with the glamour of the Russian billionaire, Jay-Z, and that LeBron can move his empire to New York City, having the ability to just buzz over to the suburbs for games.

The question is how much improvement James needs to have to commit to return. Would Toronto accept a sign-and-trade? Would Utah do a sign-and-trade? Could the Cavs get Mike Miller and Matt Barnes to split a mid-level exception?

The larger question as it relates to the Bulls, I think, is the Wade/Bosh axis.

Clearly, Wade would like Bosh to accompany him to Miami and they are represented by the same agent and have been friends. Bosh likely wants a sign-and-trade because not only is Bosh no John Kennedy, he’s no Dwyane Wade, meaning five years from now, he may be Juwan Howard. So Bosh likely wants that sixth year in the bank and, thus, the sign-and-trade, which no way he gets to Miami for Michael Beasley.

The fatal flaw in Miami’s grand plan may have been this roster mayhem that’s left the Heat with Beasley and Mario Chalmers and, seemingly, a heck of a long way from competing

Here’s the rub for the Bulls, though, which may not be as much problem for them as it is for me.

I could see Toronto doing a sign-and-trade with the Bulls dealing Bosh for Taj Gibson, three No. 1s and cash. But if you cannot get Wade with Bosh, I wouldn’t want Bosh for all that.

It means you have Bosh for six years as the second highest paid player in franchise history when he’s been associated with not much more than losing. He’s a nice piece, I agree, but if you give up Gibson and three No. 1s, I think you handicap yourself for the future too much. Bosh is a way better offensive player than Gibson, but a far worse defender, and not a pick-and-roll player.

Actually, Carlos Boozer would be better at pick-and-roll and likely wouldn’t cost you Gibson and the firsts. Bosh is better, but I’d rather have Boozer, Gibson and three firsts than Bosh.

But if Bosh can bring you Wade, as they seem to want to play together, then it’s a no-brainer. You do it. Wade and LeBron are the first-tier and it drops steeply from there.

If Bosh gets that sign-and-trade and sixth year, then he will make more than Wade. The Bulls will then be out of options for sign-and-trades. Sorry, no one is taking Luol Deng in that sort of transaction with four years left on his deal.

Could Wade not only give up the extra $30 plus million dollars by leaving Miami (sixth year salary plus now paying state taxes), but could he also then be second highest paid to Bosh? A few seasons later, Derrick Rose could pass him in salary as well. That’s a lot of ego to swallow when every one of his contemporaries will be playing for max money but him. And he’s Flash!

The best chance for the Bulls to get Wade might be if Bosh got a sign-and-trade to Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, Los Angels or somewhere else other than Miami. Could Pat Riley convince Wade he’s better off with that roster and Boozer? And what if Bosh goes, say, to Houston for the extra money? Then the Bulls or Nets get Boozer. David Lee?

It would seem then Wade would have given Miami its chance and they came up short, and he’d have to leave. The way he had to carry that team, Wade wouldn’t last two more seasons in the NBA with that roster. Heck, Beasley’s antics probably would send him into retirement in half that time.

If I were the Bulls, I’d love to have Wade and forget the second guy. Give Wade the max of approximately $16.5 million and then spend the rest on building depth. I can live with Gibson at four and pick up a solid veteran backup big man, maybe someone like Brendan Haywood.

I was early in this for getting Joe Johnson to team with Rose and then a similar plan. The point being: Get someone!

Obviously, Wade would be better, if it’s been a riskier effort. Johnson, as it happens, was out of play with Atlanta’s shocking max offer. The point was, have I mentioned this: Get someone! I think the Bulls would be just fine with one All-Star free agent to add to Rose. Once you have two guys the defense has to double, you have a chance. Going for three has been mostly fantasy basketball.

So it probably rests with Bosh for now.

This is what I’d do now if I could. I’d make the commitment to Boozer and hope I don’t have to spend a max salary. Then I go to Wade and give him 24 or 48 hours before I say I’m moving on for Haywood and the like. Or Mike Miller.

Would Bosh go to Miami without the sign-and-trade? Could Wade afford to take the chance to wait and then find himself without anywhere to go and a roster that might go back to adding Antoine Walker?

It’s not that big a difference, if he goes to Chicago for the full five-year max. And he’s probably in the best competitive position with Rose, Noah, Deng and Gibson. Then the Bulls can add someone like Haywood or bring back Brad Miller. Perhaps they make a deal for Andris Biedrins and take on some Golden State money so they can sell the team. There are a lot of interesting possibilities if you add one free agent and then play the field.

It may be time for the Bulls to try to deliver on that one.

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Now begins the hard part, waiting for LeBron

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.

Bulls set for final showdown at LeBron’s corral

Talk about your fireworks. This July 4th weekend may be about to produce some huge sparks—and duds—around the NBA as the free agent beauty pageant is about to conclude with LeBron James Saturday closing his series of free agency meetings in Akron with the hometown Cavs and finally the Bulls.

He’s expected to be wearing his best sweatpants.

The big question is whether James is about to issue his own declaration of independence from Cleveland or remain a loyalist. Because, after all, he is the king, or so he says.

The drama ratcheted up Friday as Dwyane Wade had a second meeting with the Bulls, setting off a frenzy of speculation that Wade was perhaps concocting an elaborate power play to seal off James by beating him to Chicago along with Chris Bosh and arranging the super team for Chicago with Bosh and LeBron to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Wade’s second session with the Bulls kicked off all kinds of wild theories and anonymous source spread certainty that was perhaps appropriate for this basketball madness that is building to a dramatic conclusion.

That should come shortly after this weekend, as James and Wade likely make their decisions. Though it seems several of the major free agents already have made theirs.

Joe Johnson is virtually certain to return to Atlanta for a six-year maximum salary contract.

Rudy Gay has agreed to return to Memphis for an extension larger than anything he could have garnered on the open market.

Amar’e Stoudemire seems headed to New York for the largest deal he could get as his home town Suns declined to fully guarantee the final years of a five-year deal.

What all the apparent agreements had in common is each player took every last penny he could get, which suggests a return to Cleveland for James and a return to Miami for Wade.

So what, exactly, is going on?

From everything I have heard, Wade does not want to play with James. He wants to beat James. He’s had enough of being the other guy despite the one with the championship. So you ask, what was Pat Riley doing almost all day Friday in Akron meeting with James?

It may be what Wade was asking and his own subtle message to Riley, that if you are pursuing James, I can go other places.

As I outlined in my NBA column last Monday on Bulls.com, it would be a brilliant strategic move for Wade to box in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh, with whom Wade seems closest.

Wade, really, fits better with Rose and the Bulls, who lack a shooting guard after giving up Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, while James duplicates Luol Deng’s position. Then you add Bosh with Taj Gibson a backup, and Noah and the Bulls have a loaded top of the rotation.

That also would eliminate Miami for James and he either returns to Cleveland without a supporting cast to match, or goes to New Jersey with maybe Carlos Boozer and tries to dig out from 12 wins.

That, obviously, would be the Bulls’ dream scenario and the one I’ve felt fits best among the grand plans.

A lot of it requires players giving up money to go for wins, which doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere. Could Stoudemire seriously think he’s going to win more with that Knicks’ roster?

I don’t believe that’s what Wade is up to. I believe he was sending a message to Riley to get to work on Bosh. Others believe Wade was more in a stalling tactic to delay and obfuscate the Bulls’ free agency plans.

The latest word is the Raptors don’t want any big sign-and-trade for Bosh, but might take back draft picks only. The big issue for Bosh is he wants the sixth year maximum along with Wade, and the Bulls cannot deliver that to both. They might be able to put together three firsts for a sign-and-trade for Bosh, though Miami might have a slight edge as they own a Toronto first the Raptors would like back from the Jermaine O’Neal deal.

Would Bosh go elsewhere, like Houston, for that sign-and-trade? Most doubt it.

So comes the Bulls, who met with Wade, Bosh, Boozer and David Lee over the last day or so and head into Cleveland to make their pitch to LeBron.

It’s a tenuous one for salary reasons, though no one seems to think James wants or needs the six year maximum salary deal because of who he is and what he can make.

The Bulls’ appeal to James probably rests on persuading him who else they have gotten an assurance from who could team with James to join Rose and Noah.

Frankly, there’s no way James and Wade are going to play with or mesh with Rose, so the presumption is the Bulls have to lock up a commitment from a power forward and show James that would enable him to win and stay ahead of the team Miami has assembled with Wade.

Lurking in the background is the Nets, who have this unusual appeal of the Russian billionaire owner and what vistas that could open for James. They seem like a third option after the Cavs, who officially introduced new coach Byron Scott, and the Bulls.

While the Bulls have their eyes on the big ball heading into Saturday’s final face off, they have to also be considering the alternative and what if James stays. There’s been talk of late Boozer has had interest in the Nets and could go there, which would leave the Bulls grasping for someone like David Lee and an aggressive trading approach that has had them linked to a deal with Portland for Luol Deng and the likes of free agent guards like Mike Miller, whom the Knicks are said to be pursuing to add to Stoudemire, and J.J. Redick.

This is the kind of high stakes poker fit more for Amarillo Slim.

It looks like boom or bust and we’re approaching the final hand.

Hey, it didn’t look good for those rag tag American militia, either. We know the players are going to have a happy 4th. There are no losers with those pay days. We’ll soon find out which teams have reason to celebrate.

Where LeBron, Wade and the free agents are going…

As the Great One said, “And away we go.”

No, not LeBron, the real Great One, Jackie Gleason. Of course, that may be bad karma here as he went to Miami.

No, I don’t believe LeBron is going to Miami to form some superhero trio of Flash, Batman and Robin, also known as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, if only because Wade doesn’t want to be elbowed aside, Bosh doesn’t want to be a third wheel doing the inside dirty work and LeBron doesn’t want to be known as a guy who needed Dwyane Wade to get him a championship. Plus, who really wants to play for Pat Riley? He’ll put on a great pitch, as he is probably the league’s most impressive salesman/motivator. But who needs those Kremlin rules and three-hour practices?

I think the key to all this may be Chris Bosh.

He seems like the mystery figure to me. Everyone seems to assume/hear/believe/know he’s going as some sort of tag along for LeBron or Wade. He could, but I don’t believe he views himself that way. I’m not sure he needs to be the dominant figure, as he’s pretty much shown he’s not up to being able to carry a team. But he also has made it clear he’s not playing center–Miami and New York have no center–and never has been a defensive stalwart. Bosh has an ego as well and if not the guy to carry a team, which he’d have to be in New York, then he likely doesn’t also want to be the guy to be ignored and the third option for a shot. I know we all want to say they’d sacrifice for winning. But you also want to be a large part of that.

Plus, Bosh is most likely, along with Joe Johnson, to want a sign-and-trade. Johnson will for sure if he were to leave, because five years from now at his age, now 29, there’d be no way he’d be in position for a $28 million pay day, which is about the final year of a six-year contract. Likely Bosh as well, even though he’s 26. A dozen years into his career, it’s hard to see how Bosh would command a salary that high.

In addition, there’s little chance in a new labor deal after next summer anyone would be able to make that kind of money in one season in the future. That is also why Wade stays in Miami. At 28 and with a history of injuries, Wade needs to cash in now as well.

The only one who really doesn’t need to is LeBron, who is 25 and likely to still be in his prime if he were to leave and sign for five years. The Cavs seem to have made it clear they are not doing any sign and trade to accommodate LeBron, especially to an Eastern team. But LeBron has outside earnings interests that basically none of the others have with the exception, perhaps to a limited extent, of Wade.

Meetings began just after midnight Eastern Time Thursday morning, with LeBron’s expected to last about three days. The thinking is he’ll commit to someone fairly soon after that, as he’s been accused enough already of making this a circus-like atmosphere. Some of those meetings will be based on whether the team can produce another free agent to join LeBron and whom that might be. Despite what you may have heard, LeBron isn’t delivering anyone else. He’s expecting a team to show him what they can do, not unlike Wade, who has been asking the same of the Heat.

Yes, the heat is on and there are an awful lot of team executives sweating.

So what’s going to happen and who’s going where? I think the Bulls do have a pretty good shot to hit the jackpot, though I don’t see it in the end.

LeBron James: Cavs. Since when did they get so bad? They just won 127 games in two seasons and had LeBron himself not gone into that mysterious Game 5 pout against the Celtics they probably would have won that series. They are getting a new coach, likely Byron Scott or Brian Shaw, both appealing to James for their championship playing experience. Plus, because they are over the cap they have the mid level exception and will be able to give someone a $35 million deal, which will get you a very good player in this era. Anderson Varejao can be somewhat like Joakim Noah at center. They have Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams, near All Stars and potentially could have cap room after one more season. He just built a huge mansion near Akron, where the Cavs built their training facility and can you go home again after being the basketball version of Art Modell, who stole your team and chance for something special. And there’s that extra approximately $30 million he gets from staying a sixth year. I know he has a lot of money. But that’s what Michael Jordan made when he finally hit it big with the Bulls. And after next summer with a new labor deal, those kinds of one season paydays are probably over with. I believe his only other choice will be Chicago if the Bulls can attract Chris Bosh, whom I believe they will. LeBron will have a tough time making that choice, but eventually will stay home.

Chris Bosh: Bulls. This would be a huge coup for the Bulls, even if LeBron doesn’t come. If they get a commitment from Bosh, it makes them the most appealing to LeBron. Though the complication is a sign-and-trade. Bosh wants it and all things being equal will go to another team that’s close if he can get it. I believe Miami is out because all they can really offer is Michael Beasley, whom I’ve heard the Raptors won’t take because of his myriad of issues. Heck, with his record he might not even make it past customs. Same with Chalmers. So forget that. Would Bosh go to Houston to play with Yao? The Mavs? The Lakers made sense, but they say they are out. We’ll see. The Raptors surely would prefer Bosh out of the East and could get a decent sign-and-trade involving Luis Scola and then maybe build up a deal to enable the Raptors to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu or Jose Calderon. But would Bosh want to go there? That’s why he’s the mystery in all this. He seems the toughest to read with statements one day he wants to be the main man and then the obvious that he cannot be. He’s given the Raptors a list of seven teams he’d go to for a sign and trade, so there are options for the Raptors. Chicago would fit him perfectly as there’s a center so he doesn’t have to play there and worry about defense and a point guard who doesn’t really want to be the leading scorer and he can be the leading scorer without having to carry the load, seemingly ideal for him. I’ve heard he’s been in touch regularly with Rose and has told Rose of his interest previously. In the end, my guess is the Raptors take Taj Gibson, three No. 1s and the maximum $3 million. That’s also a huge trade exception for them and they can do some maneuvering on their own. Is that enough to attract LeBron? But then LeBron comes at less money and he’s the man while Bosh makes more. I’ve never seen that as a happy locker room in the NBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bosh would prefer it that way without LeBron because then the Bulls would be in position to win the East and LeBron would be without a super teammate as he likely wouldn’t go to Miami. Then the Bulls go for a shooting guard like Ray Allen, Randy Foye, Ronnie Brewer or J.J. Redick. The Bosh scenario is the scenario to watch most closely. I see the Bosh/Carlos Boozer tandem as the main possibilities for the Bulls and Heat. So if Bosh flees, the battle likely is over Boozer.

Dwyane Wade: Miami. He’s not going anywhere and leaving that extra $28 million or so on the table, the lack of state taxes, South Beach and it looks like him getting custody of his kids and why would he want to be anywhere else? He’ll get a power forward partner. Bosh is his choice as he and Bosh share agents. But he probably realizes there isn’t a huge chance. Pat Riley has privately said for months the Heat is getting LeBron, but that’s no place to build an international brand as LeBron wants to do. I know, Cleveland probably isn’t, either, but you get some credit for staying and building. Wade will visit the Bulls among a few other spots, but it’s hard to see that as other than a fact finding visit about what those teams are up to as Wade has been very open, the most among the top free agents, in personally recruiting.

Joe Johnson: Atlanta. Once word started to come out that the Hawks were going to offer Johnson a max deal, it was over. There’s no way he could walk away from six years and $126 million at age 29 and coming off that desultory playoff finish that labeled him to some not even worth a five year maximum. I’d take him, and he was committed as much as anyone to the Bulls for much of the season. But the Hawks make a good point in saying even with Chicago having someone like Bosh they are as good as the Bulls with Johnson and a chance to add a mid level player and Jamal Crawford going into his final season and trade material. And without Kirk Hinrich there wasn’t any real sign and trade possibility with Atlanta for the Bulls. The Mavs will try a sign and trade with Caron Butler, but the Hawks are for sale and like with the Tribune’s view of the Soriano signing when the team was being sold, what’s the big deal. The next guy will pay the contract.

Carlos Boozer: Miami. Though he has his Coconut Grove home up for sale. Boozer is also the Bulls fallback if somehow Bosh gets to Miami and Wade. As I said, I cannot see it as he is likely to get a reasonable sign and trade somewhere he prefers and as much a competitor as Bosh might be, he’s not about to go for winning while he makes all the monetary sacrifice and Wade makes none. With slightly less than $30 million after signing Wade, the Heat have money for an additional guy after signing Boozer and that should be enough to at least keep Wade there. Look, without a low post All Star they won 47 games. They should still be right there in the mix. But rather than everyone coming together I see most of them going for what’s best for each and the Lakers still the favorite coming into next season.

Amar’e Stoudemire: Suns. The assumption in Phoenix has been owner Robert Sarver won’t pay Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s not likely to warrant a huge sign and trade or likely any. He’s cocky, but he has it awfully good in Phoenix with Steve Nash and a comfort zone now. There remain concerns about the possibilities of more surgery, though he is fine now, after microfracture a few years back. He may be too much of a risk on the outside, though the Nets could take a shot.

David Lee: Nets. The Nets are the wildcard in the LeBron race because everyone with an arched eyebrow wonders what the new Russian oligarch owner will promise LeBron. The league will be watching, though they are more like the SEC trying to figure out what the banks are doing. They don’t have the expertise to examine these kinds of holdings and business deals. If the owner puts away a $100 million annuity for LeBron, no one would ever know. Heck, it could be in gold bars with his initials on them in some country without vowels. Lee doesn’t need to be a savior in New York when they strike out. He could play off Brook Lopez well with his new shooting and help Lopez’ rebounding and give time for Derrick Favors to develop.

Dirk Nowitzki: Mavericks. I know he talks all the time about nothing meaning much but winning, but he does have an owner who will make moves. Cuban is all over the free agents to try for a sign and trade and will be trying hard for Bosh as well. The money is too big to pass on and the possibilities of being better than Dallas now are uncertain.

Paul Pierce: Celtics. Likewise with Nowitzki, he’s a lifer. His value likely isn’t that much anyway as he was part of one of the losingest teams ever until Garnett and Ray Allen showed up. He wants a longer deal and certainly will get it.

Rudy Gay: Knicks. Rudy will be the biggest winner because the Knicks cannot come out of this empty handed and have the most money to waste. Gay will be the most not worth it, but he’s a lot better than trying to resign Al Harrington. He’s a huge talent and can be a spectacular player with a personality that can fit the city. They’ll make runs at other players and throw such a front loaded deal at Memphis since Rudy is restricted that Elvis will roll over in his grave.

Of course, sources who may or may not know assure me this may or may not happen. But it sure is going to be fun to find out. How sweet it is!

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.

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?

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?