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Tuesday, June 24, 2014
LeBron's decision can't alter Bulls' focus

By Nick Friedell



CHICAGO -- LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and the Chicago Bulls would be wise to get in front of him again and make their best recruiting pitch just like they did four summers ago.

But that does not mean they should lose focus on what should remain their ultimate prize this summer: Carmelo Anthony.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony
The Bulls have to pursue LeBron James, but they can't lose focus on landing Carmelo Anthony.
James, who will opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat and become a free agent, is undoubtedly the better all-around player. He is a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion coming off his fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. But it's Anthony who figures to be more attainable for the Bulls, and the interest appears mutual.

As fans consider the possibility -- however small it may be -- of James pairing up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, remember that James passed on the chance to do the same thing in the summer of 2010. And that was before Rose had two serious knee injuries that caused him to miss the vast majority of the past two seasons.

The Bulls are in a better place than they were that summer four years ago thanks to the rise of Tom Thibodeau as one of the best coaches in the league, the development of Taj Gibson and the elevation of Noah to an All-NBA center and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.

But if James wasn't going to tie his professional future to Rose back when Rose didn't have any knee problems, why would he change his mind now? It's a question that hovers over every recruiting pitch the Bulls will make this summer to James and other players throughout the NBA.

The interesting dynamic of the Bulls' courtship history of James is that while he has always been respectful of the way Chicago has played under Thibodeau, he never responded to Noah's overtures about coming to play in the Windy City.

"I did not talk to LeBron," Noah told ESPNChicago.com in August 2010. "I reached out to LeBron. I think of course he's a great player, and I wanted to win, and he would have definitely helped. That being said, he did not reach back out to me. He did not want to talk to me, which is fine. I really don't give a [crap] at all. I really don't care. I think we have a really good team and we're going to be ready to compete against the Miami Heat."

The Bulls have had some intense games with the Heat over the past four years and have been bounced out of the playoffs by Miami in two of those seasons. They should do everything they can to speak to James and talk to him about playing for Thibodeau, a coach he respects.

But the front office can't lose focus on Anthony. He is the player the organization has targeted for months, and he is the player who likely gives the Bulls the best chance to topple James, wherever he may land. While it's no sure thing that Anthony lands in Chicago -- he might even team with James somewhere else -- he is a much safer bet than James when it comes to playing for the Bulls at this point.

James had the chance to play for the Bulls and turned it down. What makes this time any different?