Lebron James has the chance to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat this summer and once again be a an unrestricted free agent. While he is unlikely to announce his choice in a soul crushing hour long televised special, or go on to the declare “not one, not two” with whichever team he chooses, it is highly likely that Lebron will choose to become a free agent.
So which team makes the most sense for Lebron to sign with? Conventional wisdom suggest he may be considering staying with the Heat, a homecoming to Cleveland, or being lured by the lights of New York or LA. LA and New York are frankly put, pipe dreams to those fans; Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert has made so many mistakes since Lebron left (just for fun lets try to run them down– firing Mike Brown, his open letter guaranteeing the Cavs would win a championship before Lebron, trading their first round pick for Antawn Jamison, drafting Tristan Thompson 4th overall in 2011 [players they could have gotten instead– Klay Thompson, Kahwi Leonard, Iman Shupmert, Kenneth Faried], waiving Danny Green for nothing, selecting Dion Waiters 4th overall in 2012 [could have gotten– Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, or Andre Drummond], hiring Mike Brown, selecting Anthony Bennett 1st overall in 2013 could have been Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, or a stashed Nerleons Noel to build for the future]; and firing Mike Brown again. Pretty sure that’s not comprehensive, and I know a few of those are pre-decision decisions made in desperation to try to keep Lebron, but still. . . could they be any worse as organization? Oh, that’s right– they could be the Cleveland Browns.)
Staying in Miami is admittedly the most likely option. This is less than ideal since it leaves the Heat with Lebron, Chris Bosh, the decaying corpse of Dwyane Wade, Norris Cole, and whoever will sign for the Vet minimum to try to gravy train Lebron’s coattails to a ring. Unless Dwyane Wade and Christ Bosh opt out and take huge paycuts. To be clear though– any team which is paying Dwyane Wade more than the Vet minimum is overpaying him and will not win a championship. And Wade would be insane to give back money on his current contract since, again– realistically his level of production is not worth 15 millions, 12 million, 9 million, or even 6 million per year.
Lebron isn’t going to join the Chicago Bulls. But if he wanted to win more championships he should.
Why Lebron James Should Join the Chicago Bulls
1. The Bulls+ James would represent the most complete team he has ever played for
The starting lineup of a James led Bulls squad would be:
PG Derrick Rose, SG Jimmy Butler, SF Lebron James, PF Taj Gibson, C Joakim Noah
Think about that lineup and compare to his Heat starting 5 (Mario Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, random guy whose not really a starting caliber center).
Derrick Rose (assuming health) is a better all around player than Wade; Noah provides a true defensive anchor Lebron has never played behind. The bench would feature DJ Augustin (Or Kirk Heinrich), Nikola Miritoc, Mike Dunleavy for shooting.
Most importantly– Lebron would no longer be asked to guard the opposing teams best player every night/ all game. Imagine a world where Jimmy Buckets is guarding the explosive smaller wings like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, where Taj Gibson is locking down opposing power forwards like Kevin Durant and Lemarcus Aldridge, where Rose is nullifying point guards like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook. Lebron would feast on turnovers by inferior offensive players, conserve defensive energy to use on the offensive end, and play in part of a defensive system which would likely rank among the best all time.
Imagine who Lebron would be guarding in this situation–
Against the Thunder– Lebron Guards Reggie Jackson; Noah or Taj guards Serge, Taj and Jimmy share Durant responsibility, Rose guards Westbrook; in general everyone helps off Kendrick Perkins constantly.
Against the Pacers– Lebron guards George Hill; Noah can guard Hibbert, Taj on David West, Jimmy Butler on Paul George, and Derrick Rose shift up to cover Lance. All Lebron needs to do is follow Hill to the corner and intercept lazy Pacer passes.
Against the Spurs– Lebron guards Danny Green; Jimmy has Kahwi; Noah/Taj trade between Splitter and Duncan; Rose is fast enough to cover Parker. Much like the Indiana match up, Lebron is mostly in the corner picking passes and helping for weak side blocks.
The defensive prowess of this line-up would be truly terrifying. Much like the late 90s Bulls with the defensively superb Jordan/Pippen/Rodman core James/Butler/Gibson would take a Bulls defense already ranked in the top 5 every year since 2009 and make it substantially better.
On the offensive end, James would be playing with Rose (a creator/scorer/perpetrator good enough to be the only non-Lebron MVP since 2007 until Durant won the award and the first PG to win it since Steve Nash in 2004-2006); with Noah who is the best passing center the league has seen in decades (imagine the kind of two man game the Bulls have been running the last few years using Noah/Taj and Noah/Boozer as Noah/Lebron sets), with Taj whose post game has been growing substantially the last few years. The only weak piece offensively is jimmy Butler– but that’s doesn’t need to be his role; lock down defender + decent catch and shoot player would be all the Bulls need to ask of Butler in this scenario, which he is quite qualified to do.)
2. For the first time in his career Lebron would have a real coach.
Mike Brown is/was one of the worst coaches of all time. Don’t look at his record as a head coach. It doesn’t show how horrendous he was. For 8 years he stifled Lebron’s growth as a player by running out an offensive system that amounted to “Lebron– you’re better than everyone, just do whatever you want”.
Eric Spoelstra’s offensive and defensive schemes have both amounted to “You three guys are so good– just go out there and be good”. It worked really well because Lebron is probably the 2nd most talented player ever (notice I am saying talented, not best– major difference.) In the history of the NBA on Wilt Chamberlain had more natural talent, physical gifts, and more innate potential. And like Lebron, Wilt never reached that potential.
Realistically Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan should not even be a discussion. If Michael Jordan had the size and strength of Lebron combined with his tenacity and attitude and Jackson’s guidance… well, lets just say that two three-peats in 8 years would have been nothing to that guy. But Lebron lacks Michael’s attitude– not something he can control anymore than Michael could have chosen to be 2 inches taller and fifty pounds heavier of muscle.
The key, controllable factor that has separated Lebron from Michael thus far in Lebron’s career is quality of coaching. Lebron has consistently played with coaches who let him do what he wants, give him no systems for offense or defense, and cater to him in a way the Zen Master never would have with any of the star players he coached. Phil Jackson was always in charge. Think of the dominant personalities he coached over the years– Michael, Shaq, Kobe. Yet he always imposed his system on them, and there was never a question of who was in charge. Think of the wild cards who played for those teams that Jackson controlled and rode to championships where others could not– Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Dennis Rodman? Within 3 years of Jackson leaving all of those players had crazied their way out of the league. Did the 90s Bulls or 2000s Lakers ever have to ask Michael/Kobe/Shaq whether they should fire Jackson and bring in a coach who the player liked? Nope. Because they had a quality coach, not guys like Brown and Spoelstra who the players love because they aren’t receiving real, tough coaching.
The Bulls have Tom Thibodeau. He is one of the top 3 coaches in the league. (Behind Greg Popovich and perhaps Doc Rivers, and no one else– who else could you even argue for here?). He has a disciplined, powerful, well defined defensive system which has been slowly copied by nearly the entire league since 2008 and which has, again, turned out a top 5 defense every year its been employed (Bulls 2nd 2013, 5th 2012, 1st 2011, 1st 2010, Boston 5th 2009, 2nd 2008, 1st 2007.) Lebron has never played in a defensive system like this before.
Meanwhile on offense Thibodeau and the Bulls have been limited due to roster limitations and injuries throughout his entire tenure. The linchpin of the offense (Rose) has missed all or large parts of the 2013, 2012, and 2011 seasons. Yet, the Bulls earned a home playoff series in tree of those years winning 45 or more games every year. (Imagine if the best player on the Heat had missed similar time in the last four years– do you think a Lebron-less Heat were a 4 seed this year? A 5th seed last year pulling an upset win?) The only year Thidobeau has had an intact roster most of the year they won 62 games, were the #1 overall seed, and made the Conference Finals.
This year has shown the offensive creativity which Thibodeau has been willing to try to generate offense with a somewhat limited offensive roster. It led to the blossoming of Joakim Noah, the vast improvement of Taj Gibson offensively, to the resurgence of DJ Augustin as a genuine player after having been waived earlier in the year. Thibs has had success with many other players over the last few years who had career offensive years (or resurgences) with the Bulls before being lost to higher paying suitors in free agency and not achieving the same results– Nate Robinson (13 ppg off the bench compared to a low of 3 and 7 earlier), CJ Watson (10 off the bench for the Bulls, then less than 7 for Brooklyn and Indiana), Lual Deng (averaging 19 a game with the Bulls before being traded and averaging 14 a game with the Cavs). What would a Bulls offense look like with a truly talented offensive player like Lebron added to the formula?
If Lebron doesn’t go down in history as the greatest player of all time, he has only Mike Brown and Eric Spoelstra to blame. Poor coaching has hindered his development and caused his teams to underachieve. Yes, it seems a bit much to suggest that making the Finals 5 times by the age of 29 and winning twice is underachieving. But we are judging Lebron against the specter of history. Anything less than dual three-peats leave him behind MJ; at his own position Larry Bird won three times; Magic won five times. It becomes very difficult to justify Lebron above these kinds of players if his resume continues to include failure and not living up to his limitless potential.
Lebron needs three more rings and the best way to get those would be with a coach who doesn’t put up with lack of defensive effort. Who doesn’t let players spend more time whining to officials than getting back on defense. Who demands professionalism from his players. (Hint– this is not Eric Spoelstra. The Heat were over matched in the finals due to their entire salary cap being eaten up by overpaid Wade and Bosh, but if Wade would you know, try playing basketball instead of spending 5 seconds whining to the refs after every single call they might have had a better chance.)
In summary– Lebron should join the Bulls because he would enjoy the best roster, best coach, and best chance for titles and repeat titles he has ever had in his career. It would allow him to rip off at least three more rings to get to his potential and possibly push himself past a top 5 all time player to being the greatest of all time.
But. . .
Why Lebron James Won’t Join the Chicago Bulls.
Its pretty simple– James chose a lesser roster in Miami in 2010 (could have brought one of Bosh or Wade with him to Chicago and joined Rose, Noah, Taj, Deng, and the super deep bench that year) to play in a situation where it was him and 2 friends with a coach who bent to their whims against the world. Basically, Lebron James has already shown that winning championships is not the most important factor to him.
Also, James is scared of the shadow of Michael Jordan. If he wins 3 more championships in a Chicago jersey he feels that he will always be accepting that he is inferior to MJ by joining the icons former team. The fact that he is highly unlikely to win even one more championship in Miami without serious counter-intuitive concessions by Wade, Bosh, and possibly Carmelo if chatter is to be believed does not seem to factor into his decision. If James truly cared about championships he would need to have a frank discussion with D Wade and tell him flat out that he needs to take about 12 million less per year so they can win. But he won’t.
Which leads me to. . .
Why Lebron James Doesn’t Deserve to Wear a Chicago Bulls Jersey
Lebron is allergic to hard work. He doesn’t try on defense consistently. He lacks the kind of leave it all on the floor kind of heart that personifies the Chicago Bulls under Tom Thibedeau. Lebron doesn’t want to play for a coach who will hold him accountable. He doesn’t want to live under the shadow of his talent and achieve his potential. He wants to be given the title greatest of all-time without achieving it. Its just as well that Lebron is going to choose to resign in Miami because he doesn’t have the mental makeup to fit in with guys like Noah and Butler who play with everything they have. Lebron spends most of the regular season playing with 50% of his talents and energy and turns it up to 75% in the playoff. He simply doesn’t have it in him to bring full effort, hence being not defeated in the Finals, but blown out. Would MJ have ever been blown out in three straight Finals games?
The answer to that is why Lebron will never be a Bull.