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Chicago may want to opt for Plan C this summer

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

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.

Monta Ellis

Though it wouldn't be the greatest defensive backcourt, Monta Ellis and Derrick Rose could be the fastest backcourt maybe in history and unstoppable on the break.
(Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty Images)

We all know Plan A for the Bulls and Knicks and Nets and Clippers and Heat and Kings and Timberwolves and Wizards and anyone else who can get far enough under the salary cap to add one major free agent, like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

I happen to be for Plan C because I believe the odds are long that any of those three actually leave their teams and leave $30 million or more on the table—the NBA labor deal was set up to try to keep free agents from leaving their teams. And even if they do leave, it would be near impossible in some places to put together a competitive team around them.

The Bulls may be the best prepared with an actual nucleus of signed, competent NBA players, like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson. But once you reach the salary cap estimated at about $53 million, which the Bulls would come close to by adding one max free agent and a team like the Knicks would with two, then you have to fill out the rest of your roster with minimum salaried free agents or second round draft picks. For a team like the Bulls, for example, that would mean adding maybe a half dozen minimum salaried players to go with their core and one top player.

Is that enough to be a championship contender? Perhaps, as in this NBA era there aren't many teams with quality bench depth or strength. In fact, this is what most believe the new NBA is likely to look like after the new collective bargaining agreement eventually comes into effect, a league of a few super salaried players and three quarters of the roster minimum or low salaried players.

Sort of a mirror of what may be the coming U.S. economy of the super rich and everyone else shopping at the second hand store.

Does Hakim Warrick come back for the league minimum? Flip Murray? Brad Miller? Aaron Gray? OK, maybe Gray.

Look at the Knicks, talking about signing, say, James and Bosh. They'd have to let go David Lee and recently acquired Tracy McGrady for two max free agents. They'd have left Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Eddy Curry. So you've got LeBron and Bosh. Anyone getting a rebound? Setting a screen? It's why I believe they aren't going there and why I think the Knicks' plan is to try to retain Lee, sign someone like perhaps Wade or maybe Carlos Boozer or Amar'e Stoudemire or Joe Johnson, and then after getting rid of Curry next season, sign Carmelo Anthony, who has a 2011 opt out about the time Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups will be fading. Plus, Anthony supposedly has longed for a return to the East Coast to get the attention he feels he's been denied in Denver.

I still believe the Bulls will exhaust Plans A and B and take hard shots at Bosh or Wade. But here's a Plan C to consider to show there are options:

Yes, I'm back on Monta Ellis. You hear the Warriors will trade him this summer as they want to settle on Stephen Curry at shooting guard and know the two cannot play together. The Warriors have long had interest in Kirk Hinrich, who'd fit better with Curry and can defend. Plus, maybe you throw in James Johnson and that No. 1 you got from Charlotte in the Tyrus Thomas trade. Then you sign Lee, who'd require far less than the estimated $16.5 million maximum. Now, you've also got $5 million or $6 million or more left to maybe bring back Warrick and Miller or go out into a market for some pretty impressive players who will be looking for deals as the market dries up.

Though it wouldn't be the greatest defensive backcourt, Ellis and Rose could be the fastest backcourt maybe in history and unstoppable on the break. No one could guard them. Lee and Gibson would be a nice tandem with Noah and you'd have a solid eight-player rotation and one of the best starting fives all around in the NBA.

So not only isn't adding Wade or Bosh necessary, it could be even better if the Bulls choose another direction.

More on free agency's Big Three

-- The reason I believe James, Wade and Bosh will remain is because of that sixth contract season and the higher raises, which means some $30 million extra on their contracts. Now, there are some creative ways around that, like with an insurance policy for the sixth season or a shorter term deal and then an extension.

The sense is their teams are not going to accommodate them with sign-and-trade deals to allow them to make the full maximum even if it means getting nothing in return. The Cavs with the acquisition of Antawn Jamison have added an All-Star, and the Raptors have improved and have a solid core. Plus, Bosh has been saying it's insulting to him to suggest he should help someone else win instead of him being built around. Wade has consistently sworn allegiance to South Florida. Of course, there are also good reasons any would leave: James if he doesn't win a title, Bosh because he is in, well, Canada without ESPN, and Wade, who is from Chicago and whose kids live there with his former wife. But if they were to leave where would they go? Here's how I'd rank the destinations in desirability to the free agents:

Miami: Obviously you join Wade, who is a fellow Olympian and has a championship. It's South Florida with no state income tax. They have Michael Beasley, who is becoming a good scorer, and players have liked going to Florida in the past. Forget LeBron. He isn't going anywhere to help someone else win a championship. Subjects come to the king. Bosh would be most likely given he's also from the South. I can see with one big free agent Pat Riley coaching one more time to overcome those annoying Phil Jackson win records. If Bosh doesn't come, I can see Wade accepting Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer and with Beasley and believing they have a shot. Marcus Camby, by the way, was terrific down the stretch in Portland's overtime game Sunday with the Jazz and is an intriguing free agent in his own right and perhaps the way some teams will go in trying to go for quantity instead of one top guy.

Chicago: The weather and lack of a free agent history hurts. Plus, LeBron doesn't get to wear No. 23. They have the best roster to join, but Rose isn't quite regarded around the league yet in the class of the Olympians, though we believe he'll get there. The 2008 Olympians talk of pairing up, but I don't see it and think they all want their own shows. Most believe the likeliest big name to leave his team is Joe Johnson, and he'd be a nice fit with Rose, and get himself back in a competitive and big market and not have to be the man to carry the team.

New York: They have cleared the two spots, so we'll hear every manner of combination going there for almost the next five months. Joy, joy. They are good recruiters, as Mike D'Antoni will attest. I doubt they get any of the Big Three, but Wade among that group seems lately, from what you hear, to seek out the spotlight the most and could take a flyer if he gets down on Miami's recruiting. Then Chicago and the Knicks would battle it out. It's supposed to be the World's Most Famous Arena, but it's also the league's oldest, smells from elephant poop all the time, is the most inconvenient to get to, as far as any from where the players live and practice with no winning tradition and the angriest and most relentless media in the country. I do love the pizza, though.

Nets: They have the other best roster with Brook Lopez and Devin Harris and they deserve the No. 1 pick, though the teams with the worst records usually don't get it. But if they were to get John Wall, they could do a sign-and-trade and get someone good for Harris and then add a free agent and have a nice core. And they are getting perhaps the biggest spending owner coming from Russia already looking for the biggest name coach. But they move to Newark for at least two years. Not a great place to be noticed.

Clippers: They are the Clippers, which never helps as your free agent wants to proudly say where he is moving. But they have some players with Chris Kaman, Baron Davis and Blake Griffin, who we assume recovers. But probably too many ifs and too much history to draw anyone significant.

There's a number of other teams, though they probably go the trade route with their space given their poor records and locations. And there could be more teams getting under as trades are likely at draft time and you have until July 1 to have your payroll number in place. There will be no end to the speculation and rumors. How much fun is that?

NBA news and notes

-- The speculation in Philadelphia is first year coach Eddie Jordan has the rest of the season to save his job given the team didn't make any significant moves, suggesting they believe they can compete, at least for the playoffs. Not by what we saw in Chicago Saturday. Management has declined to give Jordan any sort of vote of confidence, however little they mean as Mike Woodson in Atlanta and George Karl in Denver didn't get any last season as they headed into the final years on their contracts. The speculation is Larry Brown would like to return when the Bobcats are sold and presumably if Michael Jordan is not involved. … In Part 4,687 of the Grass isn't Greener, Ben Gordon's woeful season in Detroit continued with Gordon getting into it with, of all guys, J.J. Redick, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy telling the Orlando Sentinel Gordon is just a bully. Our BG? "They are real physical and always are reaching and slapping," Van Gundy said. "Then a guy like Ben Gordon doesn't like it when somebody gets up in him. That's pretty typical of bullies. They like all the physical stuff, and they don't like it when people come back at them. They were very frustrated when we came back at them. J.J. just got into Ben Gordon, and it was not something he appreciated." Gordon has been out with foot and leg injuries, but also has been chafing over uneven playing time and shots coming off the bench. Gordon has scored in double figures in only four of 12 games since his return from injury and is at career lows in scoring and three point shooting. He's shooting 30.4 percent on threes and never has shot below 40 percent. … There's much hand wringing about the loophole, which likely will be closed in the next bargaining agreement, of Zydrunas Ilgauskas being able to return to the Cavs in 30 days after being traded. The Hawks, Nuggets and Mavericks are said to be interested, and Ilgauskas supposedly still is angry with the Cavs for when coach Mike Brown forgot to play him when Ilgauskas had his family and friends there to celebrate him breaking the Cavs games played record, especially for a guy who could have quit and taken the Cavs money after serious injuries. Other teams have done this, like Detroit with Antonio McDyess and Boston with Gary Payton, so it will be interesting to watch play out amid reports the league may not allow Ilgauskas to return.

-- John Salmons had a big debut with the Bucks, scoring 19 points in each of two wins and in both making the clutch plays in the last minute to save the game. Saturday's win was over the Bobcats and former teammate Tyrus Thomas, who also has been impressive, averaging 10.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and five blocks in his two games. Said Salmons: "It was kind of weird seeing him out there. He's playing totally different than he was with the Bulls. Coach (Larry) Brown is letting him explore his offensive game. He's making plays out there and he's looking good."… Brown, meanwhile, has been offering up unsolicited praise for center Nazr Mohammed playing through injuries. Certainly a coincidence as Tyson Chandler returned from injury to play three games and then sat out the last two and may miss the rest of the Bobcats' road trip. … The Magic beat the Cavs Sunday, but the Cavs believe they have caught up and passed Orlando. Last season, Dwight Howard averaged 18.3 points and 14.6 rebounds against the Cavs in the regular season and 25.8 points and 13 rebounds in the conference finals. It's why the Cavs got Shaquille O'Neal. He had 20 points Sunday and in three meetings with O'Neal, Howard is averaging 17.3 points and 11.3 rebounds and O'Neal is averaging 13.3 points and six rebounds. The Cavs believe they'll get past Orlando if they just come close to offsetting Howard. Plus, O'Neal has been up to his psychological mumbo jumbo, complaining about Howard's title to the Superman name and according to Howard snubbing Howard at All Star weekend. … Since everyone bashed Vince Carter for averaging 8.7 last month, it should be noted he's averaging almost 23 per game this month.

-- Richard Jefferson—being called Efferson in San Antonio for no J—was back in the starting lineup for the sliding Spurs after being benched for the first time in his career. He shot one of five in 30 minutes with three rebounds. Also starting was Roger Mason, who talked about maybe it being best if he were traded. He was one of six for two points as the Spurs continued to switch lineups with Tony Parker now out and the famed Spurs chemistry a mess this season. … Chicagoan Julian Wright with the Hornets also was hoping to be traded last week. The New Orleans Times Picayune said Wright made a trade request on his Twitter account. Lucky the commissioner doesn't tweet. … By the way, in his stated effort to bring his best to a team other than the Bulls, in a dozen games with the Hornets Aaron Gray has played 19 total minutes and has four points and six rebounds. … Tough stuff from Utah's Deron Williams after the trade of Ronnie Brewer, who happened to get hurt and may miss the rest of the regular season with Memphis. "I think if we'd make a trade it would be something a little different than that," Williams told Salt Lake City media. "You look at all the teams that are getting better around the West and we essentially get worse, if you ask me." The Jazz has been super hot with 17 of 19 after Sunday's brilliant comeback overtime win in Portland. The Jazz swept the Trail Blazers, who now go East and are in Chicago Friday. "That's why I signed a three-year deal," Williams said. Ouch. He has an opt out after the 2011-12 season. The deal was to cut the Jazz' luxury tax bill. … The Warriors still were trying to move Andris Biedrins at the deadline and many expect them to be active come trade deadline. … Erick Dampier's cast on his middle finger has it in an awkward position that could be viewed as insulting to some, though good for driving in New York City. The cast comes off in two weeks.

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