LeBron James takes on the Spurs
"Every team would love to have James," writes Smith. "If you get him, you are an automatic contender."
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What's next for LeBron, Melo and Love?

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. 

By Sam Smith | 06.25.2014 | 9:35 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

That’s going to be a heck of a Bulls team for the 2014-15 season with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love. Or perhaps I didn’t listen to the reports clearly enough. James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat and Anthony has opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks. And Love wants to be traded and the Minnesota Timberwolves are talking to teams. All true; so what’s the holdup? 

I hate to be Dr. Doom on this one, but most of that seems pretty unlikely. 

Start with the latest news that has ESPN gasping with excitement. James opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. Like with Anthony, it’s more a technicality as he can still resign with Miami for more money than any other team can pay. It’s more likely a challenge back to team president Pat Riley, who last week sort of called James a coward if he were to leave.  So James is countering and challenging Riley to show what he can do. Show him the money! 

It may go something like this: Riley and owner Micky Arison go to Dwyane Wade and ask him to opt out of his two years at about $42 million. They say they’ll give him a four-year deal paying maybe $50 million. Two years from now Wade isn’t getting a $4 million contract. Take it now and stay for life with Miami. They tell Chris Bosh to opt out and go somewhere reasonable, like Dallas or Houston. If he doesn’t, they’ll trade him to Philadelphia or Sacramento. Do the same deal with Udonis Haslem. The Heat then are far enough under the salary cap to resign at full salaries James and Carmelo Anthony. 

Anthony has been making it pretty clear his first choice is to play with buddy James. Once James, Anthony and Wade are on board, they’ll have a small exception and be able to add some minimum veterans who’ll take a chance with that team. Otherwise, Anthony probably returns to New York. If Miami cannot pull off a coup, James could be a good target for the Knicks in the summer of 2015. 

But most executives around the league feel the way James resuscitated his reputation the last few seasons, if he doesn’t resign with Miami he’d return to Cleveland. He’s likely the league’s only player who wants to be there. He keeps his home there and spends the summer there. The Cavs built their practice facility for him in Akron. Plus, the Cavs have Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall draft pick this year, for which there is growing demand. 

The Jazz likely would give up two starters and their No, 5 pick and there have been reports of multiple picks and players from Orlando and Boston. The Cavs with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller could put together an appealing team for James to rejoin. Now only if James has gotten over being mad at Dan Gilbert. And they’d probably have to fire David Blatt before he coaches his first NBA game. 

Every team would love to have James. If you get him, you are an automatic contender. He rejected going to the Bulls in 2010 when he could have come with Wade to join Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose before he was hurt. And he didn’t want to come then. 

The other suitors? Forget it. 

He’s not going to live in Houston and spend the next four years looking for downtown. Plus, the Western Conference is not the place to insure you are getting to the Finals. The Bulls do have that going for them. Plus, Dwight Howard is just too goofy for him. The Clippers and buddy Chris Paul? Sorry, but Paul never lets go of the ball, which LeBron likes. Paul’s no spot up shooter. And they have way too many bad contracts for anyone to take them and no draft picks to use as bait. The Lakers? Sure, LeBron’s going to Kobe’s building to help Kobe get more titles? No chance. The Hawks? Former Cavs GM Danny Ferry now in Atlanta couldn’t find him players in Cleveland. LeBron likes being liked too much to become a mercenary again chasing players to help him rather than players coming to join him. Maybe it’s just for a year in Miami and then another look in 2015. 

But unless LeBron makes a quick decision, you’ll hear Dallas, Phoenix, Golden State, Oklahoma City (you want Russell Westbrook?) and Brooklyn as the latter can probably offer hidden gold mines. It could be a wild July. 

Next is Carmelo. He’d obviously prefer to play with James, who was at his wedding. No Bulls were spotted there. Most around the NBA seem to feel this is all about pushing the Knicks to go for a full, guaranteed five-year $129 million deal which Phil Jackson apparently isn’t thrilled about. No one can come close to that and four years from now at 34, Anthony, who doesn’t keep himself in the best of shape, isn’t likely to get an eight-figure contract. Without Anthony, it would be tough for the Knicks to attract a free agent in 2015 as Love would either be traded by then or go to the Lakers, his preferred destination, LaMarcus Aldridge likely will stay in Portland now that they have an All-Star point guard, and you don’t build with Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, David West, Marc Gasol or Al Jefferson, the main free agents assuming they don’t resign before then. So Jackson could be persuaded to give in to Anthony’s financial desires. 

Of course, Anthony could decide unilaterally he simply wants to be elsewhere, like Chicago. But then how much would he make and how many players would have to be released or traded? And would Anthony go to another team which had to strip its roster to accommodate him? The Rockets are pursuing Anthony as well and there will be several others. Though given his family’s preference for big cities and his connection with the Jordan brand, you’d assume Chicago is the only other option besides New York. 

Then there’s Love, who rumors had it could be traded by the draft Thursday until the rumors were he won’t be.   It seems unlikely the Bulls have any sort of package that appeals to Minnesota coach and general manager Flip Saunders. In pursuing Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Saunders has made it clear he wants offensive players for Love. Also, since the disastrous James Harden trade, teams have realized there’s no hurry and you can always trade a star. So the Timberwolves are said to be more likely to wait it out and maybe Golden State changes its mind this summer or even early next season if it starts off badly. Oklahoma City’s huge mistake was trading Harden early in the season when they could have played it out and seen what occurs. Portland did that last season with Aldridge, supposedly eying Chicago, and Aldridge is now said leaning to a long-term extension.  

Of course, no one predicted James would end up in Miami. So you never say never around the NBA when the fates depend on the mercurial nature of basketball players, their agents and sponsors.

While all the anticipation and activity of July free agency hovers, the business ahead is the NBA draft Thursday. Here’s a look at perhaps not so much what the Bulls will do but what the Bulls should do. 

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