Since we have spent the last year or so wading through the murky waters of free agency, don’t you think it’s about time we started drawing some conclusions?
But before we come to any real conclusions, a little role play. Imagine yourself as Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant. In just your second week on the job you are faced with the prospect of having to trade away the best player in franchise history in a do or die sign and trade, or watch the two time and defending league MVP simply leave town as an unrestricted free agent. Of course, there is also the possibility of resigning him, but I think the chances of that are very small.
Glad I’m not that guy.
Conclusion #1: The only one that really matters.
For reasons that should become clearer and clearer, LeBron James is about to become a member of the Chicago Bulls. Chicago is the one team that truly has all of the pieces in place to contend for a championship, except a superstar player to lead them. Chicago also has the opportunity to sign another free agent to a maximum contract alongside LeBron. This means that the Bulls could add Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, A’mare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, David Lee, or any other high profile free agent in addition to King James. Although Wade seems likely to resign with Miami, and Joe Johnson does not deserve a max contract, a team that includes LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Chris Bosh becomes an instant championship contender.
Even if Chicago failed to sign another superstar player and had to settle for a second tier free agent, they still have an extremely talented roster. Derrick Rose is arguably the top point guard in the Eastern Conference, and he’s not even 22 years old. Rose and LeBron could be playing together for the next decade, both in the prime of their careers. Credit the Cavaliers for puling out all the stops to surround James with talent, but they never found him a point guard of Rose’s caliber.
This team will need a knock down shooter if it expects to contend for a championship though, and it seems likely that Kirk Heinrich is on his way to Washington. This is where the Bulls will need to land a quality free agent. Ray Allen is a free agent, talk about a superb starting backcourt, Derrick Rose and Ray Allen would make a terrific combination. The Allen scenario may seem a little pie in the sky, but it illustrates the point that the Bulls will need to surround LeBron with at least one talented shooter if they expect to contend for a title.
The Bulls also have a young, talented front court. Joakim Noah, though he would be hated even more by Cleveland fans if he and LeBron won a title in Chicago, is blossoming into quite the talent. Averaging 11.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in the 2009-10 season, Noah seems like an obvious upgrade over Anderson Varejao, although their styles are very similar. Noah really set himself apart from Varejao during the Bulls first round loss to the Cavaliers when he averaged 15.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and a healthy 3.0 blocks per game. Love him or hate him, Noah showed exactly what kind of player he can be during that playoff series. Despite his foolish banter with Cleveland fans, Noah’s play really speaks for itself.
Taj Gibson and Luol Deng are both talented young forwards. It does seem likely though that if LeBron were to arrive, Deng would either be traded or forced to come of the bench. If Deng stays, he makes for an excellent backup, easily becoming one of the top bench players in the league. However, Deng averages 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and it seems unlikely that he would willingly accept a role as a reserve after spending his entire career as a starter. Taj Gibson, entering his second season after spending much of his first as the Bulls starting power forward, is perhaps the weakest link in this chain. Gibson averaged 9.0 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game a season ago, and as he matures, those figures seem likely to increase. Where his production peaks in uncertain, as he will probably never be a great scorer in the NBA. The point here though is that Noah and Gibson, like Rose, are entering the prime of their playing careers. They may seem raw and unfinished now, but they are only going to become better basketball players.
Continuing to forge new links in the Bulls’ chain, first year head coach Tom Thibodeau takes over for the unloved Vinny Del Negro, who was fired in May. Thibodeau was the architect of the vaunted Celtics defenses of the past three years that put the clamps on teams led by Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James. Sure, Wade torched the Celtics this year, but for what it’s worth, Boston dismantled the Heat. Also, Thibodeau designed the defenses that slowed LeBron James during the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Thibodeau is the kind of coach that LeBron James could thrive under. First, Thibodeau is as passionate about the game as any coach in the league and while he may have seemed overwhelmed during his introductory press conference, his passion was evident. Coaches whom Thibodeau served under praise his ability as a teacher and a communicator; something that Vinny Del Negro may have lacked. He is the kind of coach that can take Derrick Rose to the next level with his skills as a teacher.
Given the defensive prowess of James, the utter tenacity of Noah, and the scheming of one of the league’s best defensive minds, the Bulls have a chance to possess on of the league’s top scoring defenses. Obviously the team remains an unknown quantity offensively as Thibodeau will always be known as a defensive guru. However, Thibodeau’s former boss Doc Rivers said that his offensive ability is underrated and praised his knowledge of the X’s and O’s. Sure, he probably lacks the offensive mind to master the painted area like Hubie Brown, nor is it likely that he can somehow scheme this team into the Phoenix Suns. But for LeBron James, this is sure to be an upgrade over the unoriginal scheme employed by Mike Brown.
Take this for what it is, mere conjecture. For the next seven days, all we can do as fans is speculate. It does seem difficult to argue though with the appeal that the Chicago Bulls could have to LeBron James. James teams up with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and the top available coach this offseason. Not to mention the fact that the Bulls have the opportunity to offer another max contract to a one of this year’s best free agents, in addition to the max contract they can offer James. If that doesn’t appeal to the King, nothing will.
One final caveat: too much is being made about LeBron playing in the shadow of Michael Jordan. LeBron is not Michael Jordan; he is a different player with a different style. In my opinion, Jordan will always be the best player to ever play the game. LeBron plays in a new era and is destined to leave his own, unique legacy, regardless of weather he retires in Cleveland, Chicago, or elsewhere. I for one do not think that playing in the so called house that Michael built phases a player like LeBron. One could argue that Kobe Bryant has played his entire career in the house that Magic built, or the house that Jerry West built, or Wilt Chamberlin, or Elgin Baylor, or even Kareem. None of this seems to phase Kobe as he is simply another Godfather in the elite Laker lineage. This could be LeBron in Chicago; first it was Jordan, now James.
If LeBron James ends up playing for the Knicks next year then I will end up looking like a complete idiot.