By Argie Grigorakos
The 2013-14 NBA season has been completed for a few weeks now and all 30 teams look ahead to the summer in order to upgrade their rosters. Scouts and General Managers have scouted collegiate players for months, and on Draft night dreams came true for many young athletes. This off season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent memory as major stars have, and may continue to hit the free agent market. The likes of Carmelo Anthony and 4 time league MVP Lebron James have already opted out of their contracts, and other All-Star players like Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade may be doing the same in the next few days.
The potential of having a star studded free agency class this summer has led fans to take to social media to voice their opinions of where these players should go. Be it through sign and trade or salary dumping scenarios, many fans are coming up with ideas of how their teams can get the best player available, Mr. Lebron James. Using media sources like Twitter and Facebook, fans are sharing their views and great optimism. There are many Chicago Bulls fans that see Lebron James as the missing piece in creating another dynasty in the Windy City, and therefore enthusiasm is at an all time high. It can be argued that any team that adds number 6 to their roster will automatically be at least a Conference Finalist.
Every NBA team should be scrambling to open a salary slot for the Akron Ohio native. The Chicago Bulls are in a very promising situation, having the tools to add a player of Lebron’s magnitude from a financial standpoint. They have the Amnesty Provision that they can exercise on current Power Forward Carlos Boozer, which can open up cap space. Also, the Bulls have promising young players on reasonable contracts that they can move, like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Chicago also possesses multiple future draft picks that can be packaged with players to sweeten any pot. Adding Lebron James to the Bulls roster could be seamless, and catapult the team to being heavy favorites in raising the Larry O’Brien trophy come next June. Unfortunately however, there is no conceivable way that Lebron James will be wearing a Bulls uniform come next season. Some or most readers may disagree with the notion that there is no chance a signing could occur, but looking at how things have unfolded the last few years in South Beach and the Windy city, it is difficult to fathom the idea of the King relocating his thrown to the Mid West.
When the Big Three decided to take their talents to sunny Florida in 2010, they had to take a pay cut in order for their salaries to fit into the cap collectively. At the same time, Pat Riley had to cleverly fill in the roster with role players that would compliment his 3 stars. To this day the sports world has complimented the Big Three for taking a pay cut and sacrificing max money they could have gotten with their original teams. However, if analyzed closely the monetary sacrifice wasn’t as big as many had thought. The state of Florida does not have annual income tax, so therefore an athlete in the state could benefit tremendously calling Miami home. The Illinois income tax flat rate is currently at 5%. LeBron James earned approximately 72.3 million dollars in total when adding his salary to his endorsements this past year, and like some American citizens, he would have to pay a hefty tax bill in most other states. Imagine if income tax took 5% of that. Mr. James would owe a little over 3.6 million dollars just in income tax. However, also keep in mind because LeBron James is an Athlete he is still required to pay a jock tax, which demands all NBA players who are playing on the road to pay the higher tax for that individual game, be it the home state or away state tax. Obviously that is not an issue for the Miami players for their 41 annual home games. The financial ramifications have to play a great part in LeBron’s next decision. Looking at the numbers, if the Chicago Bulls went ahead any amnestied Carlos Boozer to free up about 12 million dollars in cap space, that surely wouldn’t be enough to lure LeBron James to the Bulls solely based on tax purposes, thus other key players would have to be moved via trade for future assets, but consequently the great supporting cast that awaited LeBron in Chicago would be drastically depleted. Unfortunately, Mr. James would no longer look at the Windy city as an attractive destination.
Another factor that may be overseen by many is the game plan Tom Thibodeau has laid out for his team since the beginning of his tenure in 2011. Coach Thibbs has a tendency to play his small forwards heavy minutes as he seems to view the position as a vital role in his offensive and defensive schemes. Loul Deng played for Tom Thibodeau for 4 years and he didn’t play less than 37 minutes per game, one of those seasons. He went on to lead the league in minutes per game in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 season. When Deng was eventually traded in the 2013-2014 season, Jimmy Butler a natural small forward, went on to average a little over 38 minutes a contest. That had him tied with Carmelo Anthony for first in the league. LeBron James has played 11 seasons in the Association, and 33,276 regular season minutes in total. He is at a point in his career where proper rest is needed during a grueling 82 game season, and managing minutes throughout the campaign is a priority. It is not in LeBron’s best interest to lead the league in minutes per game. It is safe to assume that LeBron James would take issue if the Bulls played him major minutes. Many can look at game 1 of this past year’s Finals as an example of LeBron succumbing to the fatigue of 4 Finals appearances, and an Olympic tournament. The cramps he experienced may have been associated with the wear and tear his body endured the last few years. Also, he carried a huge load this season as Dwayne Wade was constantly missing games throughout, and it seemed to take its toll on LeBron. Michael Wallace of ESPN on January 24, 2014 quoted LeBron when talking about the injuries the team was facing, “With some of the guys being in and out, and with concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us trying to fill that”. By opting out of his contract James is putting the Miami Heat on notice that an upgrade in the roster is needed.
LeBron is ultimately protecting himself from doing too much as he approaches age 30. It is hard not to see that he would have the same dilemma in Chitown. This ironically brings us to possibly the most critical point for LeBron’s “Decision 2.0”. It is hard to argue that LeBron is not looking for an opportunity where his supporting cast is at full health with no uncertainty. If we learned anything from the first decision, it’s that LeBron is looking for the safest root to an NBA championship. He has faced tremendous uncertainty the last 2 years with Dwayne Wade’s health, which has to make most think, why would he put his faith in Derrick Rose. It wouldn’t be a surprise, due to modern medicine, if Derrick makes a full recovery from his latest knee injury, but would LeBron put his trust in that? Why would LeBron leave a situation where there is so much uncertainty regarding a teammates health, for a destination he feels may have the same dilemma. Nick Friedell of ESPN made a very strong case on June 24 2014 by saying, “But if James wasn’t going to tie his professional future to Rose back when Rose didn’t have any knee problems (2010), why would he change his mind ?”. Come July 1, LeBron James will have the opportunity to be courted by many NBA Executives and their respected organizations. He will research rosters and their cities and ultimately make his final decision. What we learned from his first decision, is that he will choose a destination that presents him with the safest and most fulfilling situation. Unfortunately, for Mr. James the drive, passion and relentlessness that is the staple of the Chicago Bulls will not be the home to his kingdom.