NBA: Bulls must weigh if they want James . . . and Calipari
By K.C. Johnson
CHICAGO — In the first 24 hours after the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers on Thursday, the Bulls sold more than 500 new full season tickets and a team official estimated incoming call volume to their sales office stood roughly 50 times normal levels.
The question now is whether the allure of LeBron James will have a similar effect on Bulls management.
League sources said Sunday that noted NBA power broker William Wesley continues to work back channels to sell John Calipari and James as a package deal to franchises such as the Bulls, Nets and Clippers with coaching vacancies and salary cap room.
Another league source confirmed that an unknown Calipari connection contacted Bulls management over the weekend. This not only once again renders the coach's vows to remain at Kentucky hollow, it underscores the juggling act general manager Gar Forman and senior vice president John Paxson must navigate as they tackle a coaching search while planning for free agency, which begins July 1.
Forman addressed this dynamic at the news conference announcing Vinny Del Negro's dismissal on May 4. And while initially it appeared the Bulls' coach search might pick up steam — and perhaps conclude — when the NBA world descends upon Chicago for this week's predraft camp, James' possible departure from Cleveland should prolong it.
James' uncertain future also introduces an internal debate on whether the two-time reigning Most Valuable Player is even the best fit with Derrick Rose. While James unquestionably is the game's most dominant player, he dominated the ball on the court and input on organizational decisions off it in Cleveland.
As his relationship with Wesley attests, James also brings with him a small army of friends and advisers to whichever franchise for which he plays. James repeatedly referred to this group — which also includes respected agent Leon Rose and business manager Maverick Carter — as "my team" when discussing his free agent plans in the aftermath of the loss to the Celtics.
Signing James and hiring Calipari would seemingly cede more organizational control than the Bulls historically are known to do. But that's what Wesley, who is becoming a certified agent for coaches with the same firm Leon Rose started, is trying to accomplish with various teams.
Add in the fact a strong buzz continues to circulate that All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson is strongly open to signing with the Bulls and that his agent, Arn Tellem, enjoys a close relationship with Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the intrigue becomes greater.
There's no guarantee James will sign with the Bulls, obviously, no matter what rumors pop up between now and then. No matter what machinations his advisers try to orchestrate, it's James' call in the end.
But the question — as crazy as it sounds — that Bulls management has to ask itself is if it already has its alpha male superstar to build around in All-Star Rose.
Would the Bulls be better off adding a space-the-floor shooter in Johnson — whose only drama would be a poor performance in the Hawks' Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Magic — and perhaps having enough money left to sign another piece?
These are questions for a higher pay grade. But the drama between now and whenever the Bulls hire a coach and enter free agency will remain intriguing.