MORRISSEY: NBA free agents have options better than Bulls
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org | @MorrisseyCST January 10, 2014 9:54PM
Coach Tom Thibodeau (too tough) and point guard Derrick Rose (too hurt) aren’t luring NBA free agents to Chicago. | Wilfredo Lee/AP
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Updated: February 13, 2014 6:35AM
Most of us love Chicago. Visiting NBA players
often say they love Chicago, too. But when it comes time to commit, the top ones don’t love Chicago enough.
It would be wonderful to bring you happy news that all this will change during the offseason, but history hints at more cold winters ahead for Bulls fans.
Clearing salary-cap room, as the team began doing with the trade last week of Luol Deng, doesn’t mean elite free agents will flock to town. It means the Bulls will have money to give a huge contract to somebody, the way they did to — wait for it — Carlos Boozer in 2010.
There would be reason for optimism if the past revealed a conga line of elite players clamoring to sign with the Bulls.
Three years ago, Dwyane Wade said he loved Chicago, his hometown, but the possibility of a Bulls jersey with his name on the back never seemed real. He stayed in Miami. Despite meeting with Bulls brass, LeBron James never was coming to Chicago, either.
In 2012, Dwight Howard didn’t want the Magic to trade him to the Bulls. It sent him to the Lakers.
And so on. You can go back to 2000, when Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan and Grant Hill snubbed Chicago. Brad Miller and Ron Mercer, on the other hand, we’re gettable and gotten.
Why does this happen to the Bulls? Lots of reasons — some good, some weak.
The reality is that a player with a truckload of money can be happy no matter where he lives. Chicago has great culture, great restaurants, great bars and a Great Lake. But guess what? You can play Xbox in San Antonio, watch Netflix in Oklahoma City and chase women everywhere. There are beaches in Los Angeles and Miami.
Consistent winning and postseason success draw players. So does having a star point guard who can stay healthy. Players want to make their money, but they want to win, too.
You would think free agents would want to join Derrick Rose. But now there are at least two reasons — his right and left knees — to look elsewhere in the pursuit of an NBA title. The Bulls don’t look all that close to one anymore.
Players see Chicago, and they see something better elsewhere.
They see the Bulls, and they’re not impressed enough to sign.
They see coach Tom Thibodeau, and maybe they see someone who makes players work too hard. One of the things that has made the Bulls so good under Thibs might be one of the things that keeps players away.
Feel free to get on Rose about declining to recruit big-time free agents, but that’s way down on the list of reasons players go elsewhere.
He has become the bad guy in some quarters, as though he took a pipe to both knees on purpose. It’s not his fault his knees have failed him, nor is it his fault the Bulls offered him a huge contract and he had the nerve to sign it.
Free agents no longer care that Michael Jordan played here, nor should they. Where once the idea of playing on MJ’s court at least warranted an awed sentence or two from visiting players, now it’s little more than a passing comment. Jordan left 16 years ago, and, if you recall, it didn’t end well.
It has been so long that free agents no longer bypass Chicago based on what they perceived as then-general manager Jerry Krause’s shabby treatment of Jordan. They ignore Chicago just on general principle now. And Krause is off somewhere measuring the hands of right-handed pitchers’ mothers.
This is grim. Not bottom-of-the-conference grim, but grim in that flat-lined, middle-of-the-pack grim. The Bulls are a team with a fuzzy, indistinct future. The draft picks from the Deng trade are middling and of the non-lottery ilk.
It’s going to take a lot more work from vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman. It’s going to take vision. Or a 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery that turns into another Rose, a strong-kneed Rose.
When the Bulls do sign a free agent to a big contract, he has to hit. Signing a player such as Boozer doesn’t help, no matter how loud and engaging he might
be during practice, as Paxson gushed of him last week. I think Boozer gets paid for every ‘‘Hey!’’ that comes through my TV during Bulls games.
We love Chicago, but we can’t make somebody love us. We’ve learned that the hard way.