Who in their right mind would dare write anything suggesting that the Chicago Bulls might be better off without LeBron James? After all, LeBron James is considered by nearly everyone in the world outside the city of Los Angeles to be the best basketball player in the world. How can the Chicago Bulls be better off without LeBron? Well the answer to that question depends on the LeBron James that you get — the best basketball player in the world, who wants to legitimize his basketball legacy by winning — and winning multiple NBA Championships, or the LeBron James that is morphing into this persona of a global media icon?
In past interviews leading up to his free agency, LeBron has spoken about cemeting his legacy by winning multiple NBA Championships. He has also spoken about building himself up as a global icon and his desire to be the first billionaire athlete. What I’m unclear about is which is more important, and that unclarity should be resolved in about 8 hours, when LeBron picks his “choice” on ESPN.
Chicago seemed to be the early favorite in the LeBron derby, offering the best roster that would allow James to compete for titles immediately. As rumors persisted that Chicago was moving down the list of possibilities, the Bulls reportedly reached agreement with former Utah Jazz PF Carlos Boozer on a very cap favorable 5 year, $75 million deal, filling a major hole in the Bulls lineup, a hole that has existed for years. With a young nucleus of PG Derrick Rose, C Joakim Noah, surprising rookie PF Taj Gibson, and even SF Luol Deng, if he ever reaches his potential, Boozer provides the grit and determination of a back-to-the-basket inside game that the Bulls have lacked since the Jordan days.
Adding LeBron James to the mix would vault the Bulls to the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, especially if you get the best basketball player in the world version. Even with all the hype, the circus-like atmosphere and potential disenfranchisement of many basketball fans for the garish way in which this free agency season ended up for the Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Bulls may somehow be better off without LeBron.
If LeBron chooses Miami and links up with Wade and Bosh, there will be one less team (The Cleveland Cavaliers) competing for dominance in the Eastern Conference. In addition, the “Three Amigos” and a remaining roster of minimum salary players is still not guaranteed to be a championship roster, not to mention the potential ego clashes once play begins. Anywhere else, LeBron is no better than his situation is in Cleveland — other than Chicago. If LeBron chooses not to come to Chicago, the Bulls can spend their remaining $18 million of cap space on getting quality role players (a pure shooter or two, backup center for instance) that truly make the difference between contending and winning championships (ask Kobe Bryant about Ron Artest and Derek Fisher). Finally, the Bulls would not have to deal with a circus-like environment that would enevitably follow James wherever he goes.
Believe it or not, the Chicago Bulls are in the driver’s seat tonight so to speak. They have the least to lose in the LeBron sweepstakes. If LeBron is not in Chicago, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it might be the beginning of a run of championships that could potentially rival the Jordan days.