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Figuring out the Big Three of free agency


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

The Bulls ended up doing OK in free agency, even though they apparently lost out on the elite of the class, though LeBron James could still be in play after the Bulls Wednesday reached apparent agreement with Jazz All-Star forward Carlos Boozer.

After all, earlier in the day it was looking like the Bulls had a chance to put together a free agency Big Three of All-Stars and potential Hall of Famers.

Too bad that would have been Shaq, Iverson and McGrady.

Now, the big suspense remains as to what will LeBron do. It seems he has taken his TV embarrassment--I mean spectacular--to a Greenwich, Conn. studio for his announcement Thursday night on ESPN, which is headquartered in Bristol, Conn.

The indicators would then suggest LeBron is signing with the Knicks. Why else go to Connecticut? It is true that LeBron tried to recruit Amar’e Stoudemire to play with him in Cleveland before Amar’e agreed with the Knicks. So the thinking goes LeBron hasn’t played with anyone in Cleveland and still went to a Finals, averaging 63.5 wins the last two seasons. Now, he’d play with Stoudemire.

Of course, the rest of that roster actually makes Eddy Curry one of the better players.

So maybe it’s the Nets.

Yes, you can see the James' gang having scripted all this.

By the way, this is how stupid this James TV show has to be--even ESPN didn’t think of it. James’ posse presented it to the network.

The Nets have a way better roster, an exciting new billionaire owner/playboy, James' buddy Jay-Z as a part owner, Avery Johnson as coach and the promise of the world’s newest arena in two years.

The other big speculation going around was that James would go to the Heat to form a super friends team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who Wednesday declared their allegiance to one another in Miami.

They said they passed on Chicago with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng so they could be winners, as they will now play with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. James could join up, though then all would have to accept well under a maximum contract, or Miami would have about another $10 million for additional players without James.

So Wade and Bosh have a better chance to win there?

Of course, these are the guys who have one championship and two 50-win seasons between them in 14 combined years in the NBA.

Actually, if you combine Wade, Bosh and LeBron, that’s one championship in 21 combined NBA seasons.

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear much from Kobe Bryant in this mess. He apparently is about winning and has won. The others may just be about talking about winning.

And in all this, there still is a chance James could opt for the Bulls. Yes, we have to keep all the TV markets watching. Hey, maybe a sign-and-trade to join Kobe in L.A. Don’t forget the West market. You’ll notice the show was timed not to be on too early in Los Angeles.

Look, if LeBron opted for the Bulls, as with the $75 million for Boozer they still could give LeBron a five-year max deal, he could walk into a ready made near super team. The Bulls seem to be the only free agent team truly with veteran roster depth and an All-Star. Plus, with a point guard and center, which only New Jersey can also offer. The Nets, by the way, play in Newark the next two years.

I actually think James is best positioned to win if he stays in Cleveland.

I think their roster, with the ability to add a mid-level free agent and new coach Byron Scott, is the most set up to make a run.

If James were to go to New York or Miami, I see the East opening up quite a bit. The Knicks and Heat would be viewed as the big free agency winners and have the praise of the media.

But both teams would need a quality center and point guard, which would not be easy to find with minimum salaries.

If James does join Wade and Bosh, which seems unlikely, how do you compete with three stars and nine minimum contracts?

That’s being with a winner?

Or if James goes to New York to play with Stoudemire, whom his own team wouldn’t pay a max deal, the rest of the roster is Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Douglas Toney and Bill Walker.

Yes, you probably win 50 games automatically with James.

But would you be better than Rose, Noah, Boozer, Deng and, say, Mike Miller, along with Taj Gibson and Omer Asik?

Boozer is a solid pickup and was on the Bulls' radar early, though even he understood they had to make a run at LeBron and Wade, especially once Wade opened the door to talks. But Boozer has basically made his intentions known to the Bulls for a year since going on Chicago radio a year ago to talk about how he'd love to play in Chicago. Even Jim Paxson, the Cavs GM when Boozer mysteriously left as a free agent and now a Bulls scout, endorsed the acquisition of Boozer.

While Boozer will be 29 and has had injury issues--though no major surgeries like Stoudemire--Boozer is one of the top pick-and-roll big men in the NBA. He fits nicely with Derrick Rose, who has been an advocate of Boozer coming to the Bulls for some time.

Boozer is a career double-double player, former All-Star and 2008 Olympian. He has been deft running the pick-and-roll with Deron Williams and spaces the floor nicely with his shooting. He's not regarded as highly as Bosh because of age and size, but he was an all-NBA player just two years ago.

As a result, if the free agents basically divide up, I’d see the East opening up from the three big teams of Boston, Cleveland and Orlando to include the Bulls, Heat, Knicks if they get LeBron, or Nets, and perhaps Atlanta, who is still a 50-win team with Joe Johnson. You’d be looking at a much more competitive and deeper Eastern Conference than we’ve seen since maybe the late '80s when the Bulls, Pistons, Hawks, Celtics, Cavs, Knicks, 76ers and Bucks were all contenders on some level.

But perhaps the larger question in Chicago is could you be right and everyone else wrong?

Look, I know most probably regret giving up Kirk Hinrich. And I was long a proponent of getting someone early through modest free agency, like Joe Johnson, or trade, like Monta Ellis. But if the Bulls did not do the Hinrich trade, which is not contingent, they probably could not even have gotten an interview with James.

And if they didn’t, what could they say to the possibility of not having a shot at James or Wade because they wanted to keep Hinrich?

They, obviously, had to take the shot.

The Wade chance came out of nowhere, basically, and assuming it was for real, which I am not sure it ever was, it also required two salary spaces.

Now, that could have been the super team.

LeBron and Bosh with what the Bulls had or Wade and Bosh, or Boozer, with what the Bulls had.

You’d head off LeBron and basically make him irrelevant for the rest of his career as he couldn’t go to Miami and didn’t have the roster to match in New York or Cleveland.

The media consensus, and now we are sure that is meaningless, was the Bulls were the favorites for James.

So how could he not see that, too, unless we are in for a last minute switch here.

And how could Wade not see that?

The others didn’t have a stake in Chicago as Wade does with family, even though he is going through a divorce and custody, and home.

Wade alluded to that in his comments on ESPN Wednesday in saying what a tough decision it was. It rang hollow because if he really was only about winning, how could he say, especially with the chance to be closer to his family, he has a better chance to win in Miami with Bosh, Beasley and Chalmers than he would in Chicago with Bosh, Rose, Noah, Deng and Gibson?

C’mon, it’s obvious, which is why Wade likely was trying to con the Bulls.

One report had it that Wade was put off by the Bulls because they still wanted to see LeBron after seeing him. What nonsense. The Bulls were supposed to drop pursuit of LeBron to get a shot at Wade, who previously blasted the organization and long has said he’d prefer Miami?

Pat Riley would have loved that.

In fact, the story out of New Jersey was they regretted talking to Wade because they felt he used their information to return it to Miami. Was he doing the same with the Bulls? Did he find their first presentation potentially so attractive to LeBron he had to go back a second time to maybe scare off LeBron and make it seem like they were recruiting him harder?

You can be sure there was plenty of ugly stuff going on everywhere as the free agents were trying to talk one another away from other guys. Clearly, LeBron was trying to get Bosh away from Wade and to Cleveland.

What I also think Wade was up to, and it made more sense, was to use the Bulls as an emergency fallback.

He had long been aligned with Bosh as their shared agent, Henry Thomas, has been working to try to place them together with max deals.

LeBron was recruiting Bosh and Bosh could get a sign-and-trade and so-called super max of $125 million in Cleveland. He also could get it in Houston and maybe Chicago. Chicago was probably out of contention for Wade with Bosh, as if Bosh got the sign-and-trade, Wade would be paid less than Bosh and eventually maybe less than Rose as well. You know Wade never would stand for that. And, frankly, the top player never should.

I had worked out a formula which could satisfy that with Bosh getting a sign-and-trade for slightly less than the max to guarantee the sixth year and let Wade earn more. I don’t know if that ever was broached.

But Wade wasn’t fully sure he could get Bosh to go with him. The terms of Bosh’s deal remain unclear as Toronto could do a sign-and-trade or Wade and Bosh can take similar salaries of Bosh just takes the five-year max and some $95 million.

It’s a tough statement for basketball in Canada as the only guy apparently willing to go for less than the most money seemed to be Bosh.

Meanwhile, Wade had to protect himself in case Bosh took the money somewhere else.

New York didn’t make sense because Wade can see that roster, and Chicago had not only the talent but many personal reasons that would fit. So the Bulls were likely just an emergency landing spot for Wade. And perhaps to plant the seed a bit with LeBron that the Bulls may not be fully committed.

Look, Wade is a good actor. Have you seen those TV commercials?

So we tune in to watch LeBron Thursday and see where the rest of this heads.

If LeBron is truly about only winning, he’d have to consider the Bulls with Boozer. But hardly anyone in this free agency class has made a statement about winning. It would be hard to justify that even one free agent made a decision about winning over money, even Bosh.

If anyone wanted only to win they would have tried to make a so called super team, and it’s hard to see how any two could do that without including the Bulls. If LeBron goes to Miami is that a super team? Sure, in name, but those three guys would take all the cap room (and none at a max salary) and the rest of the roster other than Beasley and Chalmers would have to be minimum players. And Bosh has made it pretty clear he ain’t playin’ no stinking center. Tough to see that.

So I don’t expect LeBron to come to the Bulls, either, though there has to be a chance.

If he doesn’t, yes, you try to fill the shooting guard spot and there are plenty of candidates, like Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Redick, Roger Mason and Anthony Morrow.

But I’d try to go the trade route if I can as you have that approximately $15 million left after Boozer’s $75 million/five-year deal.

I’d narrow in on Golden State, which is for sale and busy clearly salaries as they recently dealt Corey Maggette to the Bucks. One possibility is Deng for Monta Ellis and Andris Bierdins. That’s $20 million in salary for the Warriors, who maybe save $10 million and get back Deng with some No. 1’s and maybe cash. It’s gives the Warriors a veteran who can play while taking two long deals off their books. I’ve heard the Knicks also are pursuing Ellis. Yes, you’d have an opening at small forward, but Ellis with Rose, Boozer and Noah and a lot of size with Biedrins and Omer Asik would be a heck of an uptempo team that would be impossible to defend. Now, that would be exciting.

There are many other possibilities and combinations if James moves elsewhere, but at least the Bulls remain in the game in a potentially big way. That is a lot better than it seemed Tuesday.


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