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LeBron James signing with the Heat instead of the Bulls has worked out pretty well so far, eh?
Only a fool would attempt to compose a comprehensive chronicle of what would have happened if King James had brought his talents to Chicago. But a few conditionals are undeniable.
First, if the Bullls had signed LeBron, Derrick Rose would not have become the tremendously exciting all-around player he has become in a tremendously small amount of time.
Second, fans would have had to watch Luol Deng reach his potential with another team (in order to sign sidekick power forward Chris Bosh - which the Bulls would have done - they would have had to dump Deng and his contract).
And third, if the Bulls had signed James, they would have become the symbol of NBA excess that the vast majority of fans have so enjoyed rooting against so far this season.
Instead, the Bulls are a fan's dream:
A team with a home-grown (South Side!) star with two teammates in particular (Deng and Joakim Noah) who we have watched struggle and then start to develop and then come into their own during their Chicago run. And those guys are starting to turn the dream of a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs into reality. They now have two fewer losses than the Heat overall with about 20 games left to play.
Sunday's spine-tingling 87-86 victory over Miami doesn't mean that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can't co-exist or that the Heat can't finish off close games. Clearly they have struggled to do so so far but there is still a ways to go. And the playoffs will be another matter entirely.
Still, one lesson attentive Bulls fans learned during the Michael Jordan era was that it is a bad idea to let players be general managers. Fans may love to hate guys like Jerry Krause but he always resisted making the personnel moves Michael wanted him to make and he was almost always right. A couple examples? Michael surely didn't want Krause to trade power forward Charles Oakley for center Bill Cartwright in the late 80s but the Bulls had to have a man in the middle who could score at least a little, and in a couple years they were on their way to their first three championships.
Around that time Michael was also agitating for the signing of fellow former Tar Heel Walter Davis as a free agent. Davis had a great run with the Phoenix Suns in the late 70s and well into the 80s but his career went off track due to recurring back injuries and other off-court difficulties, and the Bulls' decision to take a pass on bringing him was also validated by titles in 1991, '92 and '93.
Back in Miami, one element of the attempted construction of a Super Team saga that has been underplayed is that James and Dwyane Wade essentially made themselves general managers. Of course, team president Pat Riley had to find a way to make their contracts (and Bosh's) work under the salary cap. And he had to bring in rolel players who would fill in the holes in the lineup around the team's Big Three. But it was James and Wade who decided that they should be teammates. Only time will tell if putting two alpha dogs with such similar games together was the right call.
One final big picture note: In the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls still trail the Celtics by three games after the kelly green team eked out a tight victory at Milwaukee later Sunday against the undermanned Bucks (star center Andrew Bogut was sidelined).
Two teams (the Pacers and the Jazz) have already fired their coaches after losing to the Bulls earlier this season. The Heat had a more emotional response.
Speaking of Spoelstra, what is he doing coaching this team? Maybe if the Heat had a coach who, I don't know, had a game of NBA head-coaching experience (or at least more than a decade of NBA assisting, like plenty of coaches in general and Tom Thibodeau in particular) before taking the Miami job, the player-head coach dynamic might be a bit more productive.
The play in the third quarter when Derrick Rose elevated for a shot, realized he was covered and then passed to Carlos Boozer, who fired it right back to Rose before the point guard dove down the left side of the lane and then banked one in? That was one of the coolest plays of the season.
Here's that play and the rest of the highlights.
Missing the second free throw with 20 seconds left in the game, the one that momentarily preserved Miami's lead at that point (86-85), seemed to unnerve Mr. Deng. Noah managed to contest the rebound, tipping the ball back toward Deng, who was fouled by Mike Miller in the resulting scramble. The Heat complained bitterly about the call but the replay seemed to clearly show Miller reaching out and shoving the Bull forward.
When Deng returned to the line he looked nervous and his first free throw, which rattled around and seemed right on the verge of spinning out before dropping through, didn't seem to restore his confidence. But he stepped up and rattled in the second shot as well and the Bulls were on their way.
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