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Did LeBron James make the wrong decision?

The Miami Heat did get to the NBA Finals, so it wasn't quite a disastrous season, though it will be depicted that way. But they were flawed, and when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn't be superior, they could not win.
Now that the Miami Heat didn't win the NBA championship, which went to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night in a happy surprise for most of the basketball world, it seems the decision didn't work out. (Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

Now that the Miami Heat didn't win the NBA championship, which went to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night in a happy surprise for most of the basketball world, it seems the decision didn't work out.

No, not that Decision, the ill-advised TV show in which LeBron James revealed his preference to join the Heat last summer.

It was more the decision that James didn't make and which he intimated to the Bulls that he might. When James was meeting with the Bulls last summer, a meeting which lasted several hours, a good part of the discussion was whom he should bring with him. Perhaps as many suggested, it was just a ruse to throw suspicion off the notion the players, technically in violation of NBA rules, conspired to come together long before the meetings and interviews, and it all was a well thought out defense, if needed.

They'd point to specifics of how they were leaning toward different teams. NBA commissioner David Stern did raise the issue at a Board of Governors meeting on whether the league should pursue tampering charges, though as reported last summer, no team was willing to back a complaint, even the Cavaliers.

But it was clear the players did conspire as they agreed to take less money to accommodate adding Udonis Haslem, which obviously had to be worked out before they could sign contracts. The expectation is this sort of thing will also be dealt with in the new labor agreement and teams will have more trouble making such accommodation in the future.

Look, Miami did get to the NBA Finals, so it wasn't quite a disastrous season, though it will be depicted that way. But they were flawed, and when James and Dwyane Wade couldn't be superior, they could not win. James slumped in the Finals and Wade ran out of steam the last few games. There was nowhere else to go for help.

But consider if James would have done what he suggested: Gone to Chicago with Wade, which would have meant joining with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and having Taj Gibson as their power forward. Then you have a starting lineup of Rose, Wade, James, Gibson and Noah and Deng filling in at guard and forward. Instead of a Big Three, you have a Very Good Six and certainly a much stronger team than the Heat has now.

The view all season was the Heat had to win the title to save coach Erik Spoelstra's job. I believe it was to save Chris Bosh's. The Finals showed the Heat need a point guard and center and more scoring possibilities. I've mentioned before perhaps a Nene and Ray Felton deal for Bosh, though the Nuggets keep talking about resigning Nene. Bosh would give Denver an All-Star forward again and some nice pieces to go along with Bosh. Another possibility is Bosh for Monta Ellis since the Warriors have talked about adding size. Andris Biedrins also would go to Miami. Miami would have to add someone like James Jones. But that would be a scary additional scorer for Miami with James then having to play point forward, which is what he mostly seems and tried to be in the Finals.

Then there's New York. We've already seen the tension between Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Perhaps Bosh for Stoudemire with Jones thrown in as well. All those spare part, old pieces for Miami didn't work. And now we know you don't need a Big Three to win. Heck, it didn't even look like they liked Bosh, who seemed to be crying again as he left the court for the final time. Maybe he knew it meant no more winters in Miami.

What will Cleveland do at No. 1?

-- Is the top of the draft changing? The Cavs were unusually quiet, declining to share information with reporters in what has been an open administration since LeBron James left, on a visit by Turkish center Enes Kanter. Kanter is now reportedly scheduled to return to Cleveland for another visit, which is a surprise, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote the Cavs are seriously considering Kanter. Though young, he is probably the only center in the draft and there is some thinking now the fastest way to build a team and get that title before James, as owner Dan Gilbert said, is with size. Kanter and Anderson Varejao could grow into a formidable front line. And now one of the top internet draft rating sites, NBA Draft.net, lists Kanter going No. 1 to the Cavs in its mock draft.

The assumption has been the Cavs would take point guard Kyrie Irving, though he hasn't worked out much with the after effects of his foot injury from Duke, which could be raising some red flags. There is some thought now the Cavs could take Kanter and get a point guard at No. 4 since Minnesota at No. 2 won't take a point guard with Ricky Rubio coming and the Jazz, who are said to like Kanter, are believed to prefer Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight.

Though the big mystery team really remains Minnesota with the No. 2 selection. They won't take a point guard. They are believed to be trying to trade forward Michael Beasley. So they could select Arizona forward Derrick Williams, whom the Cavs also are said to like. One interesting possibility for Beasley is Memphis, which had good luck with a previously problem player in Zach Randolph while the Timberwolves need a shooting guard and could go with O.J. Mayo, who then would join Kevin Love, who he was traded for on draft day.

But the consensus around the NBA seems to be the Timberwolves will try to trade for a veteran because they need a bump in the standings to save some management jobs. One of the rumors is the Lakers would trade them Pau Gasol if Kanter is available and get Wes Johnson and Jonny Flynn in the deal as the Lakers need a point guard and no longer need a triangle offense point guard with Phil Jackson gone. Kanter has said publicly he'd like to play in Washington, which has the No. 6 pick. But Washington also has No. 18. So there's been talk the Wizards could flip Nos. 6 and 18 to Minnesota along with JaVale McGee or Andray Blatche so Washington could build with a point guard in John Wall and a young center more versatile than McGee.

With Jerry West in Golden State now one thing to watch for is a deal involving Rudy Gay, whom the Grizzlies say is not available. West traded for Gay and is a huge fan of Gay's and with Memphis needing perimeter shooting, perhaps Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright would be appealing. Especially since Zach Randolph and Gay never seem to have worked well together.

Winning without multiple stars

-- Stan Van Gundy was trying to make the point that his Magic with just one All-Star, Dwight Howard, are good enough. The point was made more with the Mavs and Dirk Nowitzki after Dallas won the championship Sunday and one-man or non-star teams were noted, like the 2004 Pistons, the 1994 Rockets, the 1978 Super Sonics and the 1975 Warriors. Another good comparison was the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers, with Bill Walton trailing 2-0 to All-Stars Dr. J, George McGinnis and Doug Collins. But Van Gundy mentioned the Bulls of the ‘90s because, well, was Scottie Pippen really a star or a beneficiary? In sports we always look backward, see who won and then decide that was the way to do it. It had to be: They won. So Pippen must have been a star.

But Van Gundy's point was maybe Pippen really wasn't and we just decided he was because he was with a winning team. Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel: "I have always wondered, as good as Scottie Pippen was, would he have been considered a star if he hadn't played with Jordan and had to carry a team on his own. We'll never know, but my point is that sometimes we make the determination after the fact. In other words, after Chicago won championships, we branded Pippen a star."

The writer suggested Pippen was the New York Yankees' version of Phil Rizzuto, who made the Hall of Fame because he was on winning teams. Of course, maybe those teams don't win without guys like Rizzuto and Pippen. Holy cow! Added Van Gundy: "While having more than one star is the most accepted and recognized way to win a championship, there are other models. Dallas has shown you don't need multiple superstars to contend for a championship. You certainly need a lot of very good players, playing well, playing together and defending."

NBA news and notes

-- The Celtics seem under even more pressure now to sign Jeff Green for a big number with Nenad Krstic, whom they also received in that deal for Kendrick Perkins, apparently heading overseas for two years after this season with the possibility of a lockout. There aren't going to be any players with contracts, no matter what they might say, going overseas with a lockout because of the risk of losing their contract if they get hurt. Plus, international teams are not going to let a player go once the NBA settles. That would ruin their teams. They are not NBA farm teams. But it makes sense for free agents like Krstic to go and then perhaps return once there is labor peace again. … Perhaps the Celtics felt better about the Perkins deal the way Perkins was limited against Dallas in the conference finals. But you begin to wonder now about the Oklahoma City physicians, who overturned the trade of Tyson Chandler for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox for concerns about Chandler's toe injury and Chandler went back to New Orleans. He later went to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor and then to Dallas for Erick Dampier, now not playing for Miami, Eduardo Najera and Matt Carroll. Chandler, of course, has gone on to become what seems to have been the missing piece for the Mavs. Chandler would have looked good with that young Thunder team, though he's also one of the world's luckiest men as after five uneven seasons he comes up to the end of his contract as an unrestricted free agent off his best season. He, of course, was acquired by the Bulls for Elton Brand and spent five seasons with the Bulls with a six-year $63 million contract extension. Chandler received that extension after having a slightly better season than Samuel Dalembert, who was signed for slightly less. Now, Dalembert is a free agent as well and in demand by several Eastern Conference teams like the Knicks and 76ers. … The Knicks had Bonzi Wells in for a look. Wells was on the Bulls’ free agent list to come to training camp last season, but never made it.

-- Current TV analyst Mark Jackson's hiring by the Golden State Warriors is being met most positively in the Bay Area as a out of the box hiring and motivator, which may occur. But Jackson's hiring is being watched carefully and curiously in coaching circles around the NBA and not generally being met that positively because of the way it ignores the basic principles of the coaching profession, that you have to go through some sort of apprenticeship beyond second guessing coaches on TV. Yes, it could also be jealousy, and some of the greatest coaches didn't have much so called on the job training, like Pat Riley. After all, most do agree one of a coach's main tasks is moving people and human understanding and interaction. Sure, you can hire some veteran assistants who know all the plays. But there are mundane elements that occupy much of coaching, like setting up programs, offensive and defensive systems and philosophies, developing teaching fundamentals. Perhaps with having played so long Jackson has enough. But his hiring is an end run on those who so called paid their dues and have tried to work their way up, like Patrick Ewing. Ewing had only kind words for his former teammate, but it does look a lot like a new owner who doesn't know the game but watches TV being entranced by a personality. Ewing has joked if he were on TV he'd be a head coach by now. Jackson will have the chance to prove there's more than celebrity to the job, and a lot of NBA coaches, especially longtime assistant coaches, will be watching carefully. … Those Western Conference playoffs will be getting kind of crowded as both Jackson and new Houston coach Kevin McHale said their teams will make the playoffs next season, assuming there is one. … Joe Dumars is about to sign his seventh coach in the last 11 years, but he had to take the hit for late owner Bill Davidson on several as Davidson wanted Larry Brown fired because he was talking to the Cavs about jobs, wanted Rick Carlisle fired because of feuds with some top business management staff of the Pistons and Flip Saunders out because of an alleged lack of loyalty for never fully moving to the Detroit area. And current 76ers assistant Michael Curry, possibly being groomed as an eventual Doug Collins replacement, took the fall for the Allen Iverson deal. But Dumars mostly has had a good eye for coaching hires. … Tom Emma, the former Duke player who apparently committed suicide last week in New York, was a 10th round draft pick of the Bulls in 1983, the 210th selection. He never played in the NBA. The draft was reduced to three rounds in 1988 and two rounds and two rounds in 1989. In the 1984 draft when the Bulls selected Michael Jordan they chose Olympian Carl Lewis in the 10th round.

-- The Bulls have been active with draft workouts the last several weeks and scouting trips to multiple team workouts around the country, basically seeing and interviewing more than three dozen prospects. So there remains no clear cut choice, especially given they have the Nos. 28 and 30 picks in the first round. They have little idea who actually will slip to them among the players they most like. But there is a rare consensus on whom the Bulls will select among the major internet draft sites as Draft Express and NBA Draft.com both have the Bulls selecting guard Charles Jenkins of Hofstra and forward Justin Harper of Richmond with the first round picks. It's far from often that two services agree on such low first round picks. NBA Draft.net has the Bulls selecting Georgia forward Trey Thompkins and Butler guard Shelvin Mack. All are said to be among the players the Bulls are seriously considering.

-- I know no one likes the Heat and LeBron James, but I've never witnessed such accusatory questioning than James has encountered in the playoffs. What also has stood out is how many coaches and team executives around the league have pulled against Miami, which is also unusual in that Mark Cuban is not a particular favorite. But as one GM explained, "We can't do what Miami did, but we can build a team like Dallas has."… No matter how many times James said none of this hatred bothered him, he did come closest to lashing out in his postgame comments Sunday night—and, again, the cheap shot tone of the questioning suggested more a felon than a basketball player—when he basically stopped just short of saying, "I'm rich and you're not and you losers will have to go back to your pathetic lives while I have $100 million." This was James' actual response, catching himself halfway through, to yet another question about being bothered by the universal joy at his failures: "Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point." In other words, "They're the real losers." Though let me emphasize he did not actually say that. But it couldn't have been too far from his thoughts.

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