King James’ court won’t be in Chicago
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) – LeBron James went out of his way to praise the Chicago Bulls. He just wouldn’t be like Mike and sign with them.
Rather than go for that elusive championship with the team that his idol Michael Jordan led to six, James is leaving Cleveland to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The superstar trio could dominate the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA, for years to come.
As for the Bulls?
“They’re going to be a really good team,” James said.
But with enough salary cap room to land two stars in this epic free-agent class, they were unable to land James, Wade or Bosh. They did add two-time All-Star forward Carlos Boozer in a sign-and-trade with Utah to a team that already includes All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and one of the league’s top rebounders in Joakim Noah.
After back-to-back first-round playoff losses, the Bulls are looking for more. General manager Gar Forman said in a statement he’s “convinced” the Bulls did all they could to get James.
“While we’re disappointed he chose to go to another franchise, our strategy for the future competitiveness of this organization did not begin or end with James,” he said. He said adding Boozer “significantly strengthens our team’s already talented roster.
“It is our goal to keep exploring every avenue that it may take, whether through trades or free agency, to continue to build this team to compete at a championship level.”
The Bulls aren’t there yet, and were thought to be front-runners for James at one point, with Rose and Noah and the opportunity to capture that elusive championship with Jordan’s old franchise.
James called Rose “one of the best point guards that we have in our league right now” and Noah “one of those players that you can’t substitute for” in his ESPN interview Thursday night. He also praised new coach Tom Thibodeau as a “great coach” and a “great guy.”
“He’s going to have those guys real prepared,” James said.
The Bulls were among several teams that scrambled to create enough cap space to lure the two-time MVP out of Cleveland and reel in stars like Bosh and Wade, a Chicago native who said his decision to go back to the Heat was difficult.
Now, they’re together in Miami and Chicago will have to look elsewhere for perimeter help. Although stars such as Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are off the market, potential targets could include Mike Miller and Kyle Korver along with restricted free agents Anthony Morrow and J.J. Redick.
Whoever they get won’t get to play with James, who would have immediately become royalty in the city, easily the biggest sports star since Jordan left following a second three-peat.
And if he wanted to fill his idol’s Air Jordans, what better way to do that than win it all with the Bulls? With a lineup that now includes Boozer, his one-time teammate in Cleveland, the Bulls would have been a favored contender in the East after back-to-back first-round playoff exits.
As it is, they’re not in bad shape.
“There’s a lot to sell here, obviously – the rich tradition of this organization, great city, a great young nucleus to build around,” Thibodeau said after he was hired away from the Celtics. “There’s so much to offer. I can’t imagine why any free agent wouldn’t seriously consider this team.”
The Bulls put themselves in position to be major players in free agency by letting Ben Gordon sign with Detroit a year ago and trading John Salmons during the season. By agreeing to trade Kirk Hinrich and his $9 million salary along with the 17th pick to Washington in a draft day deal that became official on Thursday, they got the flexibility to sign two stars.
But beyond the roster and cap room, there was the brand itself.
Forbes magazine ranked the Bulls as the NBA’s third-most valuable team in December at $511 million, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers ($607 million) and Knicks ($586 million). In other words, a brand for someone like James to build on, to cash in on.
James, however, couldn’t resist playing in South Beach.