Bulls are not a destination for NBA free-agent stars
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist June 16, 2014 8:52PM
Updated: July 18, 2014 6:22AM
Sports people insist they focus only on the things they can control, which means they’re not telling the truth. If they were, they’d admit to being worried about a monster asteroid crashing into Earth and obliterating everything, including my TV remote.
Or is that just my big fear?
The Bulls don’t have control of what their roster will look like when next season begins. They are not in the driver’s seat as to whether Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love will land in Chicago. They’re in the back seat or the trunk or they’re being dragged like wedding cans off the rear bumper. They’re at the complete mercy of these superstars.
Someone asked me recently whether it would be a failure if the Bulls didn’t land Anthony or Love in the offseason. I’ll add LeBron James to that question and still give the same answer: No. It’s not a failure when the players are setting the criteria for how they’ll decide on a team.
The Bulls, like the other franchises hoping to lure one of the big stars, are reduced to getting down on their knees and petitioning a higher power. Rosary beads, prayer beads, worry beads — if they have ’em, they’re using ’em. The very unsatisfying truth is that vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman can do only so much. They can tell the players that there are worse things in life than being teammates with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. They can tell them the Bulls have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau, and that if you work hard, you’ll be fine. They can tell them that the Bulls can’t match the money those players’ current teams will be able to offer, but it can offer them a good contract and a chance to compete for a championship.
If I were the Bulls, I’d tell them to look at the champion Spurs and envision something similar here, only with a real city involved. And I’d tell them there’s no chance Rose will get hurt again on the off chance they might believe it.
After that, it’s up to the players to decide.
Yahoo Sports recently reported that Anthony’s top two choices are the Bulls and Rockets, and, of course, we in Chicago grabbed on to that as if it were the only life raft in an endless ocean. You’d take Anthony or Love. And please don’t tell me you wouldn’t want LeBron on your team. Like Anthony, he can opt out of his contract in the offseason, and, well, a trio of James, Rose and Noah? Are you kidding me?
OK, enough with getting your hopes up. That’ll be a long, painful fall, and I won’t do that to you. But I will give you some truth.
We know Chicago’s a great place. We know that Rose and Noah are wonderful teammates. But history tells us that big-time free agents and other star players just aren’t that into us. It doesn’t make much sense, but that history is a big factor in this. It’s like a long losing streak — you start to think it’s never going to end. And after the winter we just went through, it’s hard to compete with cities that have balmier climates.
That’s what the Bulls are up against — not just that they’d have to clear gobs of cap space if they want to get one of the big-name superstars, but the fact that Chicago traditionally hasn’t been a landing place for stars. Anthony, Love (who has asked for a trade) or James will have to do what rarely has been done. They’ll have to say to themselves, “I can’t believe I’m thinking this, but I want to be a Bull.’’
The lasting image of the franchise’s inability to land notable free agents is from 2000, when then-general manager Jerry Krause, a three-piece band, cheerleaders and Benny the Bull met Tracy McGrady at O’Hare. McGrady signed with the Magic. The band has played on.
You build through the draft, but in this new NBA in which players merge with other players to form hoops conglomerates, you cross your fingers that a superstar will pick you.
I’m sure the Bulls would rather put together a team like San Antonio did rather than buy one like Miami did. But they need help, immediately, if they want to have the kind of team that can compete for a title consistently. Thibodeau’s declarations aside, they do not have more than enough to win. So they wait and pray. And pray some more.