Bulls could be enticing option for LeBron James

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

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LeBron James

"[A]ccording to someone in the know, LeBron is viewing the Bulls as a wild card challenger; no other suitor need apply," Peter Vecsey of the New York Post wrote over the weekend. (Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty Images)

Last week I decided that LeBron James going to the Lakers made the most sense. It gave the basketball media a big topic for the week with LeBron on national TNT Thursday and playing his only game of the season in New York Friday. The story in sports generally is the star. There's always plenty of cool stuff going on, which is why I'm always up late watching Clippers and Kings games. I know, I know. I've got to work on priorities.

But you never go wrong in the media writing about the star. Which is why all the Washington stories are about Barack Obama. It didn't matter what Michael Jordan said. We wanted to know anything.

And now it's LeBron.

Sure, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki and Amar'e Stoudemire and a bunch of others can be free agents next summer. But LeBron is the prize.

So I offered up that tantalizing prospect of the Lakers, and if James really is only about winning, there should be no other choice. So ESPN.com countered with Miami since they have Wade and salary cap room for a free agent. Makes sense. We've heard that one before as it's been widely speculated the players from the 2008 USA Basketball gold medal team talked about playing together, though the general speculation has been about Chris Bosh going to join Wade.

Now comes my buddy from the New York Post, Pete Vecsey, who wrote Sunday:

"...according to someone in the know, LeBron is viewing the Bulls as a wild card challenger; no other suitor need apply.

That explains why rising restricted free agent Tyrus Thomas... wasn't given an extension. Chicago definitely believes it has a shot at luring LeBron. As talented as Thomas is, the Bulls secured two excellent rookie forwards—Brooklyn's Taj Jami Gibson and James Johnson—in the draft and figure to have roughly $20 million in cap room in case LeBron feels the urge to replicate Air Jordan's Windy City flight plan."

Now, that is an interesting one, at least in Chicago. Cleveland, too.

The Bulls had to have helped their cause going into Cleveland last week to further show LeBron just what a bad roster the Cavs have. Other than LeBron, I'd probably have the Bulls winning every other matchup, and Derrick Rose isn't even near healthy yet.

I've long dismissed the possibility of James choosing the Bulls because I've never thought James—unlike Kobe Bryant—would want to challenge the shadow and legend of Michael Jordan's accomplishments. Sort of if you win one, what's the big deal. MJ had six.

But I also have no doubt the Bulls will pursue James. In 2000, though the odds were well against them, the Bulls quietly made serious bids for Tim Duncan and Grant Hill while all the publicity was on Tracy McGrady and Eddie Jones. The Bulls flew to Detroit just before Hill committed to the Magic to make a last minute bid. They even had Hill's mom trying to sell him on Chicago. But Hill didn't want to follow Jordan so closely. But now it's almost a generation later. And Bryant did want to play for the Bulls. He was serious.

The Bulls' pitch was they had a winning tradition with the third most titles of any franchise in NBA history, one of the nation's biggest cities, a franchise willing to pay as Jordan still remains the highest paid player in league history, quality facilities, and now, something they didn't have then, a roster that is capable of competing.

The Bulls have a highly regarded point guard in Rose and a potential double/double center in Joakim Noah. And young talents like Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. It certainly makes a lot more sense for James, if he wants to operate out of a major market, to eye Chicago over the depleted, historically uncompetitive New York area franchises.

Though James is a smart guy and I loved last week when he also said money wasn't an issue, that it was all about winning. It wasn't true, of course, though what was James suggesting? The Spurs? The Jazz? The Timberwolves? Maybe that's what they were planning with the rights to Ricky Rubio.

The other side of the story

-- I know the fans in Cleveland feel beleaguered about all this LeBron-is-leaving talk. And I've been one of those getting the unfriendly fan mail. But I have no personal animosity toward the Cavs. Their late 80's team with Mark Price and Brad Daugherty that broke down was one of my favorites to watch. So maybe I can help.

It's obvious this Shaquille O'Neal/Zydrunas Ilauskas pairing that coach Mike Brown keeps throwing out is a disaster. Brown gets a lot of criticism for the Cavs long static offense, though his main problem is his unyielding belief only the San Antonio Spurs know how to play basketball. So Shaq/Z is his incarnation of David Robinson/Tim Duncan. Someone will eventually persuade him it isn't. Hopefully, it's Danny Ferry, who decides to trade Z. Clearly the Cavs play better smaller, and smaller is in vogue even in the East now. There's been many rumors of an Ilgauskas for Stephen Jackson trade, though that seems unlikely. Jackson's contract with three years left after this season is too much risk to take on should LeBron leave.

The Cavs, to me, haven't done a particularly good job with their roster given their lack of flexibility for next summer. I can't see them losing Z's expiring deal for a long term deal of a guy who isn't a star.

The deal is Z and some stuff for Tracy McGrady.

Little talked about this season is McGrady, who may be less than a month from returning. The Rockets, though they cannot say so publicly, likely don't want any part of McGrady. I talked to some scouts who have been following the Rockets and they were absolutely gushing about one of the surprise teams of the season.

Despite losing Yao Ming, Ron Artest and McGrady, the Rockets are 4-2 and beating good teams, like Portland and Utah and losing in overtime to the Lakers. It's a different Rockets team. Without Yao to throw it into in the halfcourt, they are one of the fastest, most entertaining, and tough teams, averaging 104.3 per game.

Trevor Ariza has been a scoring surprise going as a free agent, but the motor has been Aaron Brooks, one of the fastest guards in the league. The Rockets are a blur, running at every opportunity, a small but tough overachieving bunch with bangers like Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry playing tough with a good defense inspired by highly regarded assistant Elston Turner. Second rounder Chase Budinger has been a major surprise with bigtime shooting as they have five players in double figures with Shane Battier at 9.8.

"They play bigger than what they are," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said admiringly after losing to the Rockets. "They are a tough team. They push the ball on you a lot. They take three-point shots. They are capable of scoring a lot of points and put a premium of your ability to change ends. They are just hard-working guys. If you don't respect that, you don't respect basketball."

In talking to scouts and coaches who have watched and played the Rockets, they all agree McGrady, assuming he's healthy, would change the entire dynamic, slowing the team, holding the ball, taking away everything that's changed them.

Little was expected of the Rockets this season without Yao. But with the Spurs coming out slowly, the West seems wide open after the Lakers. Maybe the Rockets take a shot. Get a big man. A guy like Z wouldn't fit their style, but you have halfcourt situations and need some size, especially for the playoffs.

So here's the deal. The reports on McGrady were positive after working out in Chicago all summer. The Cavs need another big time scoring option. McGrady's deal expires after this season and it's more than $22 million. It's a nice expiring piece for the Rockets. SO maybe they want to keep it. But could they hold McGrady out when he needs to play to earn another deal? The key part would be whether the Rockets want to take on a contract from the Cavs to equalize the salaries within the 25 percent factor. The Cavs have some intriguing guys who could interest the Rockets. Maybe Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon or Daniel Gibson. If the Rockets prefer the cap room, there's no deal. McGrady has been a star, but he just won't seem to fit with this new, exciting Houston team. But he could be an impressive additional option to play alongside LeBron.

Warriors' Randolph could soon be on the block

-- While I'm starting to deal, I've got to look at Golden State. Yes, we all know it's a mess. And everyone knows Stephen Jackson wants to be traded and they want to trade him. Jackson was fined for saying so, and he's no dummy. So now he's just sabotaging the team by refusing to pass the ball when guys are open under the basket and he's driving through double teams. The Contra Costa newspapers identified at least three times in a recent game when Jackson ignored teammates open at the basket to shoot threes or in traffic. It's led, not surprisingly, to a similar shot selection plan throughout the team with coach Don Nelson into his Alfred E. Newman What Me Worry act. And there were these classic comments from Jackson to Contra Costa after being blown out by the Clippers at home, which management had to love: "Getting your (butt) whupped... I'm going to leave it up to the coaches. I'm not going to stress myself out over this. You know what I mean? I'm not. Just got to go out there and do my job and do my work out there. I'm not going to get beat up by it.

I know a couple years ago, when we had Baron (Davis) and all those guys, I would be upset right now losing by 30. Right now, it's not bothering me... I'm in a good mood right now after getting beat by 60. So hey, I'm doing good for myself right now."

Jackson also did note it can't help that there are starting lineup changes every game and guys going from starting to not playing.

Which finally brings me to my point, Anthony Randolph. He's been dropped to third string behind Mikki Moore—yes, Mikki Moore—and the local media is saying Randolph has attitude and ego problems, which sounds an awful lot like an organization turning on a guy. It just so happens the Warriors have in the last few seasons expressed interest in Tyrus Thomas, a Nelson kind of big man who can play in transition, Of course, Thomas is out now at least a month, and I haven't heard that there have been any talks with the Warriors for some time. But Randolph's a guy a lot of teams figure to inquire about given his uncertain situation.

Scoring is up, but why?

-- There are 15 teams averaging at least 100 points per game. Last season there were 13. Some say it is because of the new rims the league has installed this season, which collapses on both sides when dunked on for safety. The previous ones flexed in front. So is scoring up with more flexible rims? I talked with Scott Skiles about this the other day and he did note how many more teams that never did, like Houston, Toronto, Atlanta, Utah, Washington and Detroit, are pushing the ball and playing small. The Bulls are 28th in scoring at 88.5, but 4-2. The leaders in opponents field goal percentage include Milwaukee, no surprise with Skiles, and Miami. But the Pistons, 3-4, surprisingly are No. 1. ... Old buddy Charles Oakley was in Toronto last week as the club, in a class move, is honoring former players, including Vince Carter, who still gets booed there. Anyway, Oakley told the Toronto Star he'd like to coach some day, though he doesn't have all that much regard for today's players. Big surprise, eh. Said Oakley: All (today's players) do is get their pay check. They don't play hard. They give half-assed interviews. Like, if you're gonna talk, tell people what's going on." It's Oakley's usual hyperbole as guys do play hard, but Oakley is right that they don't interview as well as the guys from his era. ... The Bulls are in Toronto this week and the Raptors play that European style with big guys hiding 25 feet from the basket. So no surprise they rank 27th in points allowed and 24th in field goal defense. So its hardly one guy, but some in the local media have taken to blaming point guard Jose Calderon and lobbying for Jarrett Jack to start. And coach Jay Triano added: "That's what this league is. It's about being able to stop point guards. We're going to have to get a little better at it then we are now." The Raptors then gave up 129 points to the Mavs Saturday night.

New York state of mind

-- I'm pretty sure it was a joke. With most everyone now doubting James goes to the Knicks, the talk is the Knicks will wait until the summer of 2011 for Carmelo Anthony or 2012 for Chris Paul. I assumed it was a joke. Although the latest New York theory is they go for James and then can get Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries off the books in 2011 so they can sign Anthony and pair the guys from the 2003 draft who were supposed to be the next Magic/Bird rivalry. That's right, this could go on for two more years. ... We've always wanted a shot at Elton Brand to at least apologize for trading him in 2001. You probably can have that now with Brand teetering in the 76ers' rotation and sitting out most of the second half Friday as they rallied to beat the Nets. Brand is averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in under 30 minutes per game and the belief around the NBA is you can have him if you want. The issue is a staggering contract through 2012-13, and at 31 later this season, that window probably had closed... With Delonte West yanked from a game last week about a non call and then committing a hard foul and glaring at the officials, given also his gun possession charges and mood disorder problems, you have to wonder about him back playing already. I doubt the Cavs, who have been understanding, would endanger him. But it does seem like he was rushed back to a troubled team. ... The Hornets' David West is going from most underrated to most overrated as he's averaging 16 points and 5.7 rebounds in a lethargic season as coach Byron Scott is now planning his second starting lineup demotion in a week by benching Julian Wright after a blowout loss to the Lakers to fall to 2-7. Yes, folks, there's trouble in river city.

NBA news and notes

-- It always sounds like whining when any team complains about foul calls against it's star player. So most likely dismissed the Magic last week complaining again about Dwight Howard's treatment. But they are right. Howard is mugged like no one else, except perhaps Shaquille O'Neal. Maybe not anymore given Shaq's declining offensive abilities. But I've always been amazed how Shaq was able to deal with so much abuse and acted so professionally. Howard hasn't been able to yet, and leaving a game last week was threatening retribution. Watch Howard all game and nothing else and you'd be stunned at the physical abuse he takes. I know there are different rules below the free throw line. Why is another issue. No one feels sorry for the giant, I know. Maybe except me. Said Stan Van Gundy to local media: "I had a referee very recently, very candidly tell me because of the strength of the bigger guys they let them play more. So they get pushed and grabbed. My point is LeBron's a pretty strong guy. Dwyane's a strong guy, they dont' let people bang on them... The league likes perimeter play." But isn't a foul a foul? I know, I know. It never is. ... The Grizzlies, minus Allen Iverson these days, are taking a look at Bulls training camp big man Chris Richard. ... One of the nice surprises of the season is DePaul's (wow, that was a long time ago and he was a power forward then) Quentin Richardson, famously traded four times last summer. He's settled into a small forward spot with the hot Heat and is averaging 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds the last three games and guarding the toughest opponents while Michael Beasley generally leaves the game in the fourth quarter for defense. ... How 'bout that Thabo. Many were surprised when former Bull Sefolosha was one of six players from the 2006 draft—along with Andrea Bargnani, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Renaldo Balkman and Rajon Rondo—to get an extension. But Sefolosha has brought a defensive mindset to the young Thunder, who wiped out Orlando Sunday. Said Kevin Durant: "I call him Sniper now. He's starting to hit the long-range three-ball a lot (13 points and 10 rebounds with a trio of threes). That's going to add another dimension to our team, a guy that they can't help off of too much."

-- Jazz chief executive Greg Miller wore Carlos Boozer's jersey to a TV interview in what he said was a "Welcome back Carlos" gesture. Boozer, of course, claimed in the summer management, effectively, told him to get lost. It's been denied by management. Boozer's numbers of 15.7 points and 11.2 rebounds are representative of his career averages, though he's only shooting 43 percent. But the Jazz is 2-4 and now headed east for four games. The issue has been an untypically poor defense at the bottom third of the league. Too typical was with the Kings beating them Saturday, Beno Udrih drove the lane untouched for the layup to clinch the game in the last seconds. They've had injuries to perimeter guys, though the Boozer "will he or won't he go" seems a continued distraction... They do have fun at Clippers' games. Fans were serenading Chris Kaman with chants of "MVP" as the long erratic center scored at least 20 for the sixth straight game and is averaging 23 points and 9.9 rebounds. Said Kaman to L.A. reporters: "In the summer I worked a lot on my jump shot, both left- and right-handed hooks, so I knew that was going to be a big part of my game. I studied film from the last six years, and have seen what my mistakes have been. I just wasn't consistent enough and I'd be scared to (shoot) the next game." ... With a tough Eastern trip to open the season, the Suns are one of the major surprises with a 6-1 record and wins in Boston, Miami and Sunday in Washington. They're back to leading the league in scoring and shooting and the maligned Steve Kerr may have pulled off a huge coup in the signing of Channing Frye. Frye's a clubhouse leader for Most Improved playing center and averaging 14 points and five rebounds, but shooting 48 percent on threes (20 for 41) and almost 50 percent overall.

-- Injured Antawn Jamison ripped into the balky Wizards, who were dominated at home again Sunday by Phoenix and have lost four of five. Summing up that run is Andray Blache, who like everyone else swore they'd take it seriously this season, and in his last five games has scored: 30, 7, 10, 1 and then 20. ... Making noise as Sixth Man candidate is old buddy Jamal Crawford, on his fourth team and the active leader with more than 600 games without being in the playoffs. If he isn't traded again, Crawford should be there with the Hawks, for whom he's averaging 18.1 points and three of the last four games at least 25 points. ... So Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo got into a shouting match near the end of a grizzly Grizzlies loss to Denver last week as Mayo was firing away for 40 to try to outgun Carmelo Anthony. Allen Iverson, as we know, went home after everyone condemned his latest stance toward the bench. Though perhaps we should laud Iverson for not being politically correct and lying about his wants. So this time Iverson criticized coach Lionel Hollins, whom, he said he never talked to. Last season it was Pistons coach Michael Curry who supposedly misled him. Yes, it's always someone else. What few really understand about Iverson is despite being open and cooperative with reporters, unlike many NBA players, Iverson is a loner and often has little to do with teammates. As one NBA veteran wag (how do you really get that title) observed: "Zach Randolph's the best citizen on the team."

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