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Does anyone want to play with LeBron?

Does staying in Cleveland mean winning to LeBron? If almost no one leaves and just about everyone takes the last dollar on the table, what did this all mean?

LeBron James

LeBron James will announce where he'll be playing next season Thursday night at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.

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 at Bulls.com

This NBA free agency has officially gone from the sublime to the ridiculous with LeBron James booking an hour of TV time on ESPN Thursday to announce his destination for next season.

The assumption, of course, is it means he’s decided to stay at home with the Cavaliers, though there is always that bit of mystery. What a stage that would be to say I’m going with Amar’e to New York. And I’m bringing Magic out of retirement with me. Or, surprise, I’m going to the Bulls with Carlos Boozer. OK, I’m taking $1 and going to Miami. Gotcha! Hey, this guy is all about the pageantry. I wouldn’t rule out anything.

Yes, we know LeBron’s a narcissist. That’s hardly news, though even ESPN may not have enough mirrors to satisfy James’ vainglory.

It is, perhaps, the appropriate denouement of this spectacle and maybe there could be no other conclusion. Though there always is more than is expected during such dramas, and this one seems to be uncovering some of the NBA’s known dirty laundry.

Like, for one, that nobody seems to want to play with James, who for all his talent has obscured some of the lure with the seeming obsequiousness that teaming with him requires.

First, Dwyane Wade seemed to draw a line that he’d rather compete with James than team with James. No big surprise, really, as the real elite competitor believes he can not only win but beat the best. He doesn’t have to join him.

Can you see Michael saying he needed to play with Magic or Kobe saying he needed to play with McGrady or Bird saying he needed Dantley or Aguirre or King?

Then there were rumors that Derrick Rose wasn’t all that thrilled about playing with James, which I interpreted less that Rose didn’t like James or didn’t want him around than Rose as the competitor wasn’t going to defer to anyone even on his own team in pursuit of winning. I’m glad he feels that way, and the Bulls should be as well.

So the drama played out with the apparent fulcrum in all this, who seemed to be Chris Bosh, one of the few free agents certain to leave his team and whom his team hasn’t seemed that upset about losing.

Bosh, who is hardly the magazine cover guy that James or Wade is and with knee issues in recent years who is no lock to be playing at a high level in five years, has wanted that guaranteed sixth year and the approximately $28 million pay day.

I can’t blame him as it’s not like he impacts winning that much after a mostly underachieving and disappointing run in Toronto. He’s also not in many cell phone ads.

Are you a star if you win or if you are paid like one? It is the NBA’s chicken and egg question.

So Bosh doesn’t want to go anywhere without that sixth year, which means a sign-and-trade because Toronto, like Phoenix with Amar’e Stoudemire, hasn’t offered Bosh the maximum money.

James has been busy in recent days talking to the likes of Stoudemire and Bosh to try to get them to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade. The Raptors would make out pretty well with a sign-and-trade with the Cavs by getting probably Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. Perhaps Bosh sees the Cavs’ loss of size and interior strength as a step backward. Or perhaps he has read Joakim Noah’s travel review. In any case, he doesn’t seem to want to go there.

Hey, wouldn’t anyone want to play with LeBron James? Apparently not. It actually seems like hardly anyone does.

The related piece of NBA laundry is the Riley factor.

Toronto apparently will entertain a sign-and-trade with most everyone but Miami. We’ve all basically assumed this is because no one wants Michael Beasley, at least anymore. But there’s also this Pat Riley factor.

Toronto is likely going to make someone a much better team if Bosh goes there, and at their expense. But the talk around is they don’t want to help Riley and have Riley preening around, as he’s wont to do, as this genius who again outfoxed everyone.

Though perhaps he has as it does seem Bosh is going to Miami with Wade.

Yes, Chicago, played again by Wade. Oh, well.

You know how you sometimes feel as a fan: Anyone but those guys. Well, a lot of NBA executives feel the same way about Miami and Riley. Anyone but him again.

So here’s where it stands:

LeBron supposedly returns to Cleveland. Unless he doesn’t

Bosh apparently is going to Miami with Wade, though it’s unclear if he gets that so-called super max of six years and $125 million. Toronto could take draft picks from Miami and make some sort of sign-and-trade, but will they? It ain’t over until Yogi Berra says it’s July 8.

Hey, I must be a star if they pay me like one.

Houston still is trying to sell Bosh on the outside marketing, which he’ll never get with his laid back personality in North America. But you play with Yao and have some success and a billion Chinese will buy your sneakers. But can Yao even play and if so for how long?

Remember, what winning means to you it doesn’t mean to players. Winning to them generally means winning the financial championship.

So going into Wednesday, it seemed Miami couldn’t get Bosh that super max. Did he take the five years to go with Wade? Hey, it is almost $100 million. I know, but as Latrell Sprewell so famously said, he has to feed his children.

The Bulls have been said to be a team Toronto will deal with on a sign-and-trade, but, again, as I’ve written, do you want to pay Bosh that much and give up probably Taj Gibson and several No. 1 picks. No, the Bulls are not offering Joakim Noah in any sign-and-trade. That’s just uninformed speculation, which actually is the most prevalent kind.

Bosh would be good with Rose and Noah, but, wow, that’s a lot to pay for that guy. I’d probably gulp and sign the check as well. After all, you came this far. No point counting value at this point. No one probably really is worth it.

The big nugget, obviously, was Wade.

Would he, could he, return to Miami if they couldn’t get Bosh?

Chicago would seem an easy move, though there goes that sixth year. And, as we’ve discussed, if Bosh gets the sign-and-trade with the Bulls he makes more than Wade. And no way Wade puts up with that as well.

One way I was thinking the Bulls could pull it off, because Bosh is well worth any price if you can get Wade, was with a modified sign-and-trade.

The Bulls go with the sign-and-trade with Toronto so Bosh gets that sixth year. But it’s not a max sign-and-trade, so Bosh starts at, say, $15 million with Wade at the approximately $16.5 million maximum.

With Bosh, Rose and Noah, that’s the best team in the East and a potential champion, and someone like Wade should be able to make up a lot of extra money as a winner and in Chicago.

And with Bosh getting the sign-and-trade, he gets his sixth year. No, it won’t be the approximately $125 million maximum. But, maybe it’s about $110 million or $115 million or so and security into that sixth year, which would seem more valuable to someone like Bosh.

But that from indications Wednesday morning seems to have flown south to the beach. Look, after seven years in Toronto almost $100 million and life in Miami cannot sound that bad even if you have to apply for unemployment six years from now for Bosh.

For the Bulls, it probably means, “Hello, Carlos Boozer!” I’d try to lure in Boozer by Thursday’s signing day and maybe get Versus to run his press conference right before LeBron’s. Then I’d take a last run at Wade and see if I can get TNT to run Wade’s press conference after Boozer’s and before LeBron’s. And then…

I think J.J. Redick is having his press conference on Nicktoons.

I know you’re probably sick of all this, but what wonderful theater and a way to peer into the souls and darkest reaches of the players and the NBA.

Is adding Bosh and a few pieces all about winning to Wade? Does staying in Cleveland mean winning to LeBron? If almost no one leaves and just about everyone takes the last dollar on the table, what did this all mean?


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