CHICAGO – Oh, goody, the Chicago Bulls will get to miss out on LeBron James again.
If the news about James opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat did nothing else Tuesday, it shoved Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love aside however temporarily as offseason objects of desire for Bulls fans and, more so, Chicago sports-talk radio.
Unfortunately, if you allow for some fill-in-the-blank action or lawyerly redaction, this is 2010 all over again.
You remember 2010, right? That’s the offseason in which the Bulls went shopping in FreeAgentpalooza for a franchise sidekick to Derrick Rose and only came home with a Carlos Boozer “Holdat!” T-shirt. Chicago’s front-office traveling party called on James in his downtown Cleveland office suite like all those other suitors, to no avail. They courted native son Dwyane Wade, coveted Joe Johnson, might have been happy with Chris Bosh – and wound up with Boozer, who for four years has been exactly the player he was before, except at a heftier price tag because of 2010’s supply-and-demand tilt.
So here the Bulls are again, interested in and allegedly interesting to all the big names, potentially being fitted for their fourth or fifth choice. Like that zany Dunkin’ Donuts race they run on the videoboard at United Center each game, Biggie Bagel (James), Dashing Donut (Anthony) and Cuppy Coffee (Love) all might hold the lead briefly in their run to Rose, coach Tom Thibodeau and the madhouse on Madison Street. But the winner, just as it was four years ago in relative terms, might again be:
Or Arron Afflalo, Nikola Mirotic and some bench depth.
Let’s take these one at a time:
LeBron James (50-1 shot)
James decided to exercise the early-termination option in his Heat contract, a rerun of what he did with the Cavaliers in 2010. But that’s the only thing that will be a repeat. He and “his team” surely learned a few lessons that summer. It was unbecoming to run the top brass of a half-dozen NBA teams through Cleveland in a couple days’ time to make their pitches to His Majesty, and it was crippling to James’ public persona for two or three years at least to stage “The Decision” as prime-time self-indulgence.
Besides, James isn’t going anywhere. Miami, its legacy and its commitment to winning has nothing in common with Cleveland. James needed to go seek out his rings, and sufficient help to claim them, the last time he was free. Now he has two, with four straight trips to The Finals. Wade has receded, Bosh has deferred and South Beach is fairly bereft of talents beyond James’. He can be in Kobe mode now, holding team president Pat Riley and team owner Micky Arison‘s feet to the fire to “retool” around him. Finding younger teammates to sacrifice salary for a chance to win is trickier than luring veterans, but it’s no impossible with James as your ultimate teammate.
What, he’s supposed to uproot again, go back to a chilly Midwestern city and gamble on Rose staying healthy now, when he wasn’t interested enough in 2010?
Kevin Love (15-1)
This guy’s the best fit, for the bundle of skills he’d bring to Chicago, both boosting the Bulls’ attack and replacing some of the basics they surely would have to give up (Taj Gibson). He and Rose in pick-and-roll machinations could be dreamy and deadly, and the two of them are pals from way back (AAU ball, 2008 draft, offseason L.A. workouts). Playoffs-less to this point, Love has much to prove, as far as his value to a team. Plus, if Thibodeau could get serviceable team defense out of Boozer for four seasons, he ought to be able to plumb Love’s potential.
Trouble is, this isn’t up to Love, who won’t be free to make a decision until next summer. It’s up to Flip Saunders, who has to strike the best deal for Minnesota regardless of Love, where he’s headed, how long he stays there or how well it plays out. Maybe Chicago’s rumored package — Gibson, Tony Snell and two first-round picks Thursday (Nos. 16 and 19) — is enough. More likely, it isn’t, not with Golden State no more than a blink away from tossing in Klay Thompson with Harrison Barnes and David Lee.
There also is the chance that the Timberwolves won’t get anything done before camps open anyway — Love can’t risk going into too big of a funk to where it hurts his production, not with free agency looming next summer.
Carmelo Anthony (7-1)
Just so we’re clear on this tout sheet, we’re saying it’s seven times more likely Anthony doesn’t end up with the Bulls than that he does. Just because the odds are less bad than the two above daydreams doesn’t make it likely to happen.
Anthony probably will stay in New York. Why? The money. The stage. And the money. Often, when folks wring their hands about the money a free agent would be leaving on the table by switching teams, it’s a strawman – most of those guys end up employed in the league, at a nice price, in what would have been that exclusive fifth year only their current clubs can offer. But in Anthony’s case, we’re talking $29 million at age 34 – an amount, at that age, he’s highly unlikely to see as Year 1 of a new deal. There’s no shame in staying for that back-end bump of Monopoly money to play with over the final 50 or 60 years of his life.
Casting his lot with another team would assure him of nothing more than he’s already achieved: Playoff appearances, not necessarily rings. Big deal. Unless he’s willing to sign with San Antonio, fitting into the Spurs’ pay structure, there is no sure thing. And we’ve noted this before: Anthony now has the perfect cover in Phil Jackson, a new dawn in Knicks Nation, with a guy who built winners around stars the likes of which Anthony fancies himself (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant). Melo can say he’s staying for the winning, while getting the money and New York attention that matters to him, too.
Sign with the Bulls, hope for the best that Rose returns to All-NBA form, gut out Thibodeau demands not just 82 times a year but in all those practices as well – and risk becoming the next Boozer when UC fans don’t get what they crave and gripe about how well guys thrown overboard (like Gibson) do elsewhere – all at a sacrifice of $30 million or more?
That’s a donut-hole daydream.