In the biggest free-agency bonanza to ever hit the NBA, LeBron James is the first domino that has to fall before everyone else figures out their next move. From D-Wade all the way down to Brian Scalabrine, you could say every other free agent’s future will in some way be affected by LeBron’s decision.
With the official start of free agency set for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday night/Thursday morning, we decided to look at each team believed to be in the running for LeBron and delve into the reasons why LBJ would and wouldn’t (or should and shouldn’t) sign with them. Next up: The Chicago Bulls.
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When you think of the Chicago Bulls, what runs through your mind? Is it red and white, Derrick Rose, the Sears Tower, or the city itself?
More than likely, those images will quickly jump to Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and the Alan Parsons Project. Soon, you’ll be talking six championships and the statue of some guy stationed right outside of the arena.
The biggest question for LeBron James this summer is whether or not he wants that weight on his shoulders. Basketball-wise, there is no place like Chicago for him. But, is he going to want that presence constantly looming over him?
PROS — Chicago has two great building blocks in All-Star Derrick Rose and up-and-coming big man Joakim Noah. Noah, in particular, would thrive playing alongside LeBron. He is a good athlete and works extremely hard rebounding and on the defensive end, so there’s no question he would endear himself to James. The rest of the roster is somewhat of an unknown at this point, but would be easy to fill.
Chicago sits third-highest on the list of teams with the most cap space — New Jersey just recently slithered past them by releasing Keyon Dooling and trading Yi Jianlian — with over $29 million available. That’s almost enough to sign two max free agents outright. However, Chicago does own another solid building block in Luol Deng, who was once considered a future All-Star. Deng becomes expendable, especially if James arrives, because they play the same position. In that case, Deng could easily be used as a sign-and-trade chip to get Chris Bosh out of Toronto. Also, the Raptors could ask for young forward Taj Gibson and Noah. In a best-case scenario, LeBron could be joining a nucleus of Bosh, Rose and Noah, which would make as good a foursome as there is in the NBA. Both stars would get their money and both would be happy.
Newly-hired coach Tom Thibodeau is considered a defensive genius as the architect for the vaunted Boston Celtics’ unit of the past few years. Since Vinny Del Negro was considered an average coach at best, Thibodeau’s hiring is creating a lot of excitement around the Bulls. Unlike Cleveland, which struck out with Tom Izzo, and Miami with Erik Spoelstra, Chicago now has a veteran coach associated with winning and playing for championships. Jeff Van Gundy said that he originally hired Thibodeau in New York based on his offensive genius. If that’s the case, Chicago could have a coach who is the full package. After struggling through years of sideline ineptitude in Cleveland, that’s a welcome thought for LeBron.
Chicago is a winning organization and has someone in owner Jerry Reinsdorf who has experience dealing not only with combustible egos (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Phil Jackson) but also with the problems that occur from winning. At times in Cleveland, the Cavs’ ownership melted under pressure from LeBron’s camp. They overreacted, made awful signings and generally acted impatiently. That won’t happen in Chicago. LeBron will fall in line when it comes to personnel decisions.
The city of Chicago is also known for its fan support. And there is little doubt that players would flock to go there to play beside all-stars like the ones mentioned above. To add to that, the economy and opportunities in Chicago may not be New York, but that never seemed like it hindered Michael Jordan’s world appeal. He did just fine.
The shadow of Jordan is large, but we’ve heard James has such a strong admiration for MJ that no matter what happens with Chicago or any other team, James is determined to give the Bulls a chance to win his services.
CONS — Just a few years ago, Chicago drafted Rose as the number one pick with the intention of building their franchise around him. If LeBron comes, that goes out the window and Rose instantly becomes number two, perhaps three, in the pecking order. How is a guy who is at his best with the ball in his hands and doesn’t possess a great jumper going to deal with it? If LeBron comes, Rose is going to be the one adjusting his game and it might not be for the better.
While Chicago is one of the larger media markets in the country, it lacks the superstar appeal and larger-than-life persona New York can offer while also being without the glamour of South Beach. Chicago has proven it can be nice housing ground for icons in the past like Jordan. But, can James do the same?
And finally, perhaps the biggest obstacle the Bulls must overcome to win LeBron’s rights is the issue of Mr. Jordan. Normally, a team’s history is a plus. But because the world is still trying to find “The Next MJ,” LeBron will constantly be compared to the The G.O.A.T. if he signs up with his former team. That creates this situation: And more than likely, no matter what LeBron does, he will never reach Jordan’s status. That will hinder his own legacy if he signs with Chicago.
ODDS — 3 to 1.