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Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Updated: July 8, 9:42 AM ET
Bulls can still be contenders in East

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Radio hosts were singing, tweets merrily tweeting. The mood swing in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, between 3:40 and about 3:50, would qualify a good portion of the city for medication.

Fortunately for Bulls fans, the news of Carlos Boozer agreeing to a deal with the team should keep them on about a five-year high, which is the length of the deal that is expected to be worth between $75-80 million for the 6-foot-9, 270-pounder, a two-time NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.

Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer is no Chris Bosh, but his addition gives the Bulls much-needed low-post scoring.

The signing of the 28-year-old power forward was Plan B for the Bulls after the day began with the announcement that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had agreed to deals with the Miami Heat. And as the never-ending speculation about LeBron James' future continued Wednesday, and the Bulls' chances of landing free agency's top prize appeared to be dwindling, a combination of depression and desperation took hold among Chicago sports fans.

At midday around here, the angst was as suffocating as the heat; visions of Daley Plaza on Olympic bid day unavoidable. And the Boozer option began to look very, very good.

With the Bulls still expressing hope they can somehow snag James, and with room under the salary cap to do it, giddy optimism was restored.

But make no mistake: If this is as far as it goes and James does not become a Bull -- even if he joins Wade and Bosh in Miami -- Plan B is still good.

"The Bulls were the eighth seed [in the East] with such a young team, and now to add Boozer at really the position they need the most is huge and I think it elevates them significantly," said Steve Kerr, the former Phoenix Suns' general manager who will return next season as an NBA analyst for TNT. "They still have work to do. They need more shooting for sure. But they're really starting to put together a hell of a team."

A rugged and reliable post-up player who averages in double figures, Boozer will be mighty nice on the pick-and-roll with Derrick Rose and seemingly the perfect compliment to Joakim Noah, who will defend the rim and willingly do most of the dirty work inside.

"[Boozer] gives the Bulls something they don't have, a legitimate low-post scorer," Kerr said. "I really love Chicago's bigs with Noah and [Taj] Gibson, but more as defenders and rebounders. The ability to throw the ball down to the block when they needed a basket was missing from that team for a long time -- even four, five years ago when they were playing through [Ben] Gordon and [Kirk] Hinrich, that was always the weakness. So they've really addressed that and balanced out the team considerably."

They've also balanced out the power base in the East, seemingly neutralizing the additions of Bosh to Miami and Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks.

The shooting guard candidates may not send Bulls fans racing to the Internet to find Kyle Korver or J.J. Redick jerseys, though Utah's sixth man and Redick (a restricted free agent and the guy Doc Rivers called "Pistol Pete") can fill it up.

The day started out lousy for the Bulls, to be sure. Wade said he seriously considered coming home to Chicago and there is no reason to doubt him. In the end, he said, it was a basketball decision and he had to take the emotion of returning to his family and two young sons, in particular, out of the equation.

"It was very difficult [to say no to the Bulls]," Wade said in a live interview on ESPN. "There's a lot of speculation out there [that Wade was not serious about the Bulls]. But it was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make as a professional player.

"Chicago, they have my heart. It has my emotions. I get [teared] up a little just thinking about the opportunity I had. Of course, it came down to Chris and his decision to want to be here in Miami with me. I couldn't pass up on that decision."

If Wade had insisted on Chicago, you'd have to think Bosh would change his mind. But there was also the possibility that Toronto's sign-and-trade would not go smoothly with the Bulls (reports had the Raptors insisting on Noah in trade).

Either way, Wade's Chicago-based agent, Henry Thomas, texted late Wednesday afternoon that "Dwyane's interest in the Bulls was, indeed, genuine."

Wrote Thomas: "The Bulls' presentation was fantastic. They did a terrific job in managing their roster and contracts to be in the position they were in to be major players in this free-agent class. Chris' decision was very impactful on Dwyane as was his family situation."

It's hard not to think a big part of it came down to money, though both Wade and Bosh insisted otherwise. And there will be no reason to change that opinion unless Bosh gets $125 million in a sign-and-trade, and James takes an outright deal from the Heat for "only" $95 million. At this point, that's hard to picture. Just as hard to imagine James both insulting and injuring his hometown by announcing that to the world during a television special on Thursday night.

But either way, Bulls' fans should find it a little easier to watch.

"Boozer is a steal," Kerr said. "He was sort of under the radar, not quite as big a name as Bosh or Stoudemire but every bit as good a player. Getting Wade would have been a home run and it sounded like they had a legitimate shot, so that's disappointing. But they ended up filling the spot they needed with an all-star and they're in great shape."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.