Monday, March 22, 2010
by Mark Schanowski
If you didn't get the chance to watch last Friday's game between the Bulls and Cavs at the United Center, you missed a serious LeBron James love-fest. Hundreds of fans came to the arena wearing their best LeBron 23 gear, and they gave the King a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game. James pretty much coasted for the first three quarters, then took over in the final eight minutes to help the Cavs take control of the game.
But the real story came after the game when LeBron took questions from a large group of Chicago reporters, and spoke in glowing terms about the Bulls, Chicago, and our city's sports fans. Now granted, talk is cheap, and James probably says similar things in any city that will have cap room to bid on the premiere free agents this summer. But James' knowledge about Chicago's sports history, the Bulls' current personnel and the injury situation that has de-railed the Bulls' season was really impressive, and MIGHT indicate he'll be willing to consider a move to Chicago when the free agent signing period opens on July 1st. If you'd like to judge for yourself how interested LeBron might be in the Bulls, watch the video above.
Bottom line, James has to realize the Bulls' future with him on the roster would be a whole lot brighter than the group he has right now in Cleveland. The Cavs have an excellent chance at winning an NBA title this season, but after that, it gets a little murky. Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are nearing the end of their careers, and Antawn Jamison is already 34, with his best seasons behind him. The rest of Cleveland's roster is filled with a bunch of average players, (yes, I know Mo Williams made the All-Star team in 2009), and outside of young forward J.J. Hickson, very few players with a lot of room to grow. James talked up the Bulls' young nucleus of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and he made a point of giving Gibson a post-game hug after he scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Cavs. Putting James on the Bulls' would make them an instant championship contender, with a core of young talent in place for a 10 year run at league dominance. I know it's a huge longshot, but James has obviously done his homework, and will take an informed look at the NBA landscape once the season is over, whether Cleveland wins the championship or not.
PLAYOFF HOPES AREN'T DEAD YET
Speaking of long shots, don't count out the Bulls making a late run at the final playoff spot in the East. They currently trail Toronto by 2 and a half games, but the Raptors have been in free-fall mode lately, with their star forward Chris Bosh taking shots at his teammates' lack of urgency and desire. With just about everyone around the NBA assuming Bosh will leave the team for free agency at the end of the season, it's hard to say whether his critical comments will inspire the team or cause a lot of dissension in the locker room.
That means the Bulls could find a way to pass Toronto in the final three and a half weeks of the season. After a brutal month of March, the schedule is finally softening up a bit, and it sounds like Joakim Noah is finally getting past the plantar fasciitis condition in his left foot that basically cost him two months of the season. Noah will be brought back slowly to avoid a major setback, but if you watched the game against Philadelphia on Saturday, you saw the spark Noah can provide, even in limited minutes. Derrick Rose also made a strong return from a sprained left wrist, hitting four three pointers after previously making just 6 for the entire season! If Rose adds a three point threat to his already versatile offensive game, the rest of the league can forget about trying to guard him. And, if Rose and Noah can stay healthy, there's no reason why the Bulls can't win 8 or 9 of their final 13 games and find a way to squeak into the playoffs. Of course, that would mean a first round series against LeBron and the Cavs, but who knows, maybe they can give the King an extended sampling of why his future years might be better spent in Chicago!
I wanted to take a few minutes to answer some of the e-mails you've been sending in. Thanks for your involvement, and please keep them coming!
Question: After seeing LeBron James in person on Friday, I have been dreaming of what he could do for the Bulls. Putting him and D-Rose together would be a lethal combination...multiple championships! (Sammy, Chicago)
Sammy, you're exactly right. James and Rose together could mean another 6 championships, and they might have to make room for 2 more statues outside of the United Center! I will concede the most likely scenario has James re-signing in Cleveland, but why not dream big? The Bulls have the cap room to make James a competitive offer, and if he's willing to leave his home state of Ohio, the Bulls offer the best opportunity for him to dominate the league for years to come.
Question: With Noah and Rose back healthy, what are the chances that the Bulls make a playoff run? (Ryan, Westmont)
As I wrote about, the Bulls probably need to win 8 or 9 out of their final 13 games to beat out Toronto for that final spot, and it would probably be a good idea to win the head to head match-up with the Raptors in Toronto on April 11th. I would say the Bulls' chances are less than 50-50, but there's certainly a chance, and that's not bad coming off a 10 game losing streak!
Question: Is it time to give up on Luol Deng? He seems to always be hurt, trade him and get a piece that we can use? (William, Lincolnshire)
I know a lot of fans are frustrated by Deng's recent run of injuries, but remember, he played in every game this season before hurting his knee and then straining his right calf when he tried to rush back into the line-up. Luol has quietly had a very solid season, and he figures to be part of the Bulls' core going forward. He also has a good relationship with LeBron James going back to their days competing in high school all-star games, so maybe he can help recruit LeBron this summer. All that being said, if a team like Toronto or Atlanta wanted to do a sign-and-trade for their free agent all-stars this summer, I'm sure the Bulls would be willing to include Deng in the package. The Bulls' dream goal is to sign one top free agent, and then acquire a 2nd one through a sign and trade. I'm sure Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and 1st round draft picks would be the bait in any sign-and-trade scenarios they discuss this summer.
Question: What team do you think is the perfect fit for D-Wade? (Bob, IL)
I'd love to say the Bulls, because I really respect Wade's game, but the reality is he's probably best off staying in Miami, and hoping the Heat uses its cap room to sign either Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer this summer. Wade likes to dominate the ball, and he initiates most of Miami's offensive sets. There's no question a good coach could find a way to maximize the talents of Wade and D-Rose playing together, but Wade is used to running the show by himself and he's said all season he prefers to stay in Miami. Wade might have grown up in the Chicago area, but he says he hates cold weather, loves the South Beach lifestyle and the fact there aren't any state taxes in Florida. I would say it is VERY unlikely he will leave the Heat, unless there's some kind of falling out with team president Pat Riley, who's promised to build a contending team around Wade this summer.
Thanks again for all the great e-mails. Enjoy the hoops this week. If the Bulls can find a way to win all three home games on the schedule, they'll be right in the thick of the playoff race heading down the stretch. I'll see you Thursday from the United Center during SportsNite at 6:30 as we get ready for the Bulls-Heat game on Comcast SportsNet.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.