Monday, July 5, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
As we all wait nervously for news on the futures of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, its probably a good time to make this point. The Bulls front office and Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf have done a tremendous job with their aggressive pursuit of some of the leagues top stars. Do you agree? Please post your comments in the section below.
The whole Summer of 2010 strategy started about a year and a half ago at the NBA trade deadline in February of 2009. When John Paxson worked out a three-team trade that included the long-term contract of Andres Nocioni for a package that included Brad Millers 12 million a year contract that expired at the the end of the 09-10 season, suddenly the Bulls realized they could be a player for the free agent class that would include at least a half-dozen NBA All-Stars. The strategy continued last summer with the decision not to offer free agent guard Ben Gordon a long-term contract. Gordon had been the Bulls top scorer the previous four seasons, but the front office didnt think he was worth a five-year contract in the 55 to 60 million range. Gordon agreed to terms with Detroit on the first day of free agency with no offer from the Bulls. Theres no question the Bulls missed Gordons long-range shooting last season, but the free agency plan was already in place.
The next move involved the trades this past February, sending the contracts of Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte and John Salmons to Milwaukee. Again, the Bulls took a hit from a talent standpoint, but they made sure theyd have enough cap room to offer one max deal on July 1st. And when the Knicks freed up enough cap room to offer two max deals, Paxson and Gar Forman jumped into action again on draft night, trading co-captain Kirk Hinrich and their 1st round pick to Washington to free up another 9 million of cap room, moving them close to the ability to offer two max contracts.
And, no one can accuse the Bulls of dragging their feet once the negotiating period opened last week. They had radio broadcaster Chuck Swirsky in Dallas to present some recruiting materials to Chris Bosh once the clock hit 11:01 in the Midwest last Wednesday night. Swirsky has a great relationship with the All-Star forward after calling his games in Toronto for five seasons, and obviously did his best to sell Bosh on the advantages of playing in Chicago. Pax and new Head Coach Tom Thibodeau also stopped by Boshs Chicago hotel on July 1st to tell him how much they valued him ahead of their formal meeting last Friday night.
Two long meetings with Chicago area native Dwyane Wade last Thursday and Friday showed serious interest on both sides, and the front office also found a way to squeeze in meetings at the United Center with second tier free agents Carlos Boozer and David Lee. Those meetings seemed unimportant at the time, but could pay big dividends if the Big 3 decides to sign elsewhere.
Then came the three-hour session with LeBron and his advisors in downtown Cleveland on Saturday. Weve heard the Bulls presentation emphasized a roster thats ready to contend for championships with LeBron on board, and the opportunities for him to make millions of dollars off the court because of the Chicago market, and the fact the Bulls brand is recognized world-wide. Reinsdorf also told Team LeBron hes willing and able to pay the luxury tax in future seasons to re-sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The Chairman has always said hes willing to pay the luxury tax to compete for championships, and with LeBron on the roster, the Bulls would be a contender every season.
So, if the worst possible scenario occurs, LeBron staying in Cleveland and D-Wade and Bosh joining forces in Miami, dont blame the Bulls for lack of planning or poor execution of their plan. Theyve done just about everything right every step of the way. The reality is money talks in the world of professional sports, and to expect any of the top stars to leave 30 million on the table to move to another franchise requires a huge leap of faith. Theres still a chance LeBron or D-Wade will surprise us by choosing the chance to win multiple championships over money, but Im not going to hold my breath.
A couple weeks ago it looked like the Bulls had a great chance to steal LeBron from Cleveland. But the Cavs made a smart coaching hire in Byron Scott, a guy who won 3 championships as Magic Johnsons running mate with the Lakers, and led New Jersey to back to back NBA Finals appearances as Head Coach. Scott has the respect of his former point guards Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, two of LeBrons teammates on the 08 Olympic team. Im sure Scotts reputation as a no-nonsense coach who favors an up-tempo offense resonated well with LeBron. And, if Scott told him he had a plan for getting Paul to Cleveland in their meeting last Saturday, that probably clinched LeBrons decision to stay home. James was a guest at Pauls sons birthday party a few weeks back, and the Hornets guard is in Akron right now, helping LeBron at this skills camp for elite high school players. They are great friends who would love to play together, and even though Paul battled injury problems last season, hes probably the best point guard in the league.
The Cavs also sold LeBron on their plan to go after some veteran help this summer, like free agent center Brendan Haywood and shooting guard Ray Allen. The Cavs have their mid-level exception (between 5 and 6 million) to offer a free agent, and they have a number of players to offer in trade, including guards Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson, as well as big men Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. If James really was leaning towards staying home all along, the confident pitch of Scott, and the Cavs plans for upgrading the roster had to be music to his ears.
As for Wade, the Bulls tried extremely hard to get a verbal commitment before he left Chicago for the comforts of his home in South Florida. Wade spent Monday huddled with Heat owner Mickey Arison, and hell be greeted by busloads of young fans and team employees at a news conference in Davie, Florida on Tuesday, all showing their love for Wade and begging him to stay in Miami. Add in the sixth year and the extra 30 million the Heat can offer to Wade, and it seems extremely unlikely hell leave Miami without signing on the dotted line on a new six-year contract. And, that would almost certainly mean Chris Bosh will commit to the Heat shortly thereafter.
If the Doomsday scenario occurs, the Bulls will be forced into Plan C or D involving an all-out pursuit of Boozer and Lee, combined with a search for the best shooting guard available out of a pedestrian group that includes Kyle Korver, Shannon Brown, Tony Allen, Randy Foye, Anthony Morrow and J.J. Reddick. They could also explore trades for some high-salaried players who are believed to be available like Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Richard Hamilton and Jason Richardson. Hey, no one ever said free agency is fair. The Bulls went all-in to try to land James, Wade andor Bosh. They knew what would happen if they failed.
Lets hope either D-Wade or LeBron surprises us by turning down the extra money and the comforts of the only franchise theyve known for the chance to win some championships here in Chicago. Otherwise, looking back on the gambles that lopped Nocioni, Thabo Sefolosha, Gordon, Salmons, Thomas and Hinrich and a number one draft pick off the roster might be especially painful in the coming months.