A prelude to a miss
If the Bulls come up empty, how will fans deal with missing something they never had?
CHICAGO --- We are witnesses, more so than ever.
One week into a free agency period that was supposed to redefine the league, we are bored and excited and overstimulated.
Fans, and reporters, of a handful of NBA teams, we are amateur psychologists and cheerleaders and Twitter smart alecks.
We can read Dwyane Wade's mind. We will welcome LeBron James with open arms. We will come up with a funny Twitter hashtag that expresses our ironic detachment to this neverending saga.
We are waiting, we are guessing, we are ... Geraldo?
I'm going to age myself with the younger millenials among us, but I have a feeling we're having a Geraldo moment in Chicago. The Bulls' free-agency chase of Wade, James -- who could announce his decision on Thursday on ESPN -- and Chris Bosh is turning into Geraldo's overdramatic special on Al Capone's vault, a lot of buildup with little treasure.
LeBron is going to re-sign with Cleveland, Wade with Miami and Bosh, seemingly against his public statements of wanting to be "the man," seems as though he'll fulfill everyone's preplayoff prediction of joining Wade in Miami.
These aren't guaranteed scenarios culled from sources, just educated guesses contingent on real-world scenarios. As of this writing, all three are still free agents in every sense of the word.
Bulls fans entered July as psyched up as American TV watchers in 1986 when Rivera hosted "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault," one of the weirdest made-for-TV specials in modern history, and one that certainly wouldn't work today. Just as there was nothing but old papers and an empty bottle in that random Chicago safe, the buildup to the free-agency chase of 2010 was similarly unfulfilling.
Perhaps a better 1980s comparison would be "Dallas" (and later "Newhart," in an homage), in which a season's (or entire decade-long run for "Newhart") worth of turmoil was written off as just a dream.
Did we dream the Bulls had a chance to land an A-list superstar to deliver the franchise back to Jordanesque levels of glory, only to find pretty much everything as it was: Wade in Miami, James in Cleveland, even Joe Johnson still in Atlanta, now improbably filthy rich.
There is going to be a lot of talk that the Bulls failed this summer, that they blew a chance to land one or two of the big three, and there's something to be said for the commiseration. But I think the Bulls should be commended for what looks like, on the surface at least, a professional effort devoid of slapdash attempts at recruitment or embarrassing public displays of groveling.
From what I've seen and heard, the Bulls treated their pursuit of James, Wade and Bosh as though they were a basketball team in need of basketball players. And if it doesn't work, it's not for a lack of effort.
But if you're reading this, there's a good chance -- say 40 percent, Kirk Hinrich's shooting percentage -- that you're emotionally invested in this situation. And you're probably quite disappointed. How does one deal with losing something you never had?
So let's look at the famed, and kind of clichéd, Kubler-Ross model for dealing with grief and predict how you, the diehard Bulls fan, will get through a possible three strikes scenario:
1. Denial: There's still a chance the Bulls might land Wade and Bosh, right? Wade's a hometown guy and Bosh wants to play in a big city. Their agent, Henry Thomas, is here, and why else would they take second meetings on Friday? And heck, if LeBron was going to sign with Cleveland, wouldn't he have done it already?
2. Anger: New year, same story. Ten years after Jerry Krause loused up the Tracy McGrady pitch, the Bulls are screwing up again. Why didn't they hire John Calipari and Maverick Carter and rename the United Center "WorldWide Wes Side Center" to land the King? Why didn't they wow the free agents with a big-time multimedia pitch? Why can't I blame this on Reinsdorf? Isn't he cheap or something?
3. Bargaining: Well, maybe it's good the Bulls aren't spending all their money on free agents. How many titles have LeBron and Bosh won anyway? Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose are going to be up for big deals, so the team would've lost valuable flexibility. Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver are pretty good and Carmelo Anthony could be a free agent next year. He'd fit perfectly on this team.
4. Depression: The Cubs stink, the White Sox will choke, Bears season is still months away, the Blackhawks have traded away everyone, and now this. Being a Chicago sports fan is miserable. This Bulls team will be lucky to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. And my wife/girlfriend keeps making me watch "The Bachelorette."
5. Acceptance: I guess it wasn't meant to be. At least we still have one D-Rose, and no Vinny Del Negro.
So what's next for the Bulls should they whiff on the big three?
Well, first, they would probably try to sign Boozer, a proven if not bulletproof option at power forward, to a slightly less than maximum deal and make do with what's left in the free agent pool. Ronnie Brewer, a 6-foot-7 slasher who wasn't offered a qualifying deal from Memphis, would add some size in the backcourt.
Korver, Boozer's Jazz teammate, would be a natural fit. He's coming off a truncated, 52-game season in which he shot a career-high 53.6 on 3-pointers. He took only 110 3s last season, and had only five or more attempts in seven games. The 2006-07 season was probably a better gauge of his performance, as he hit 43 percent of 307 shots in 74 games.
If it comes down to it, throw some cash at Chicagoan Shannon Brown, who just won his second ring with the Lakers. The Bulls had him briefly in 2008 when they dealt Ben Wallace to the Cavs, and they should've held on. He's an athletic combo guard with YouTube hops. He'd be a great fit in the locker room. Brown's Lakers teammate, Adam Morrison, could be had for a song, and none other than Kobe Bryant sung his praises on a talk show after the championship. Maybe the classic draft bust reinvents himself in Chicago.
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I know, I know. Kyle Korver, Adam Morrison, Shannon Brown, Brad Miller. Not exactly a sexy list.
Here's another idea: Scrap the plan to bring in steady role players and Boozer and go the reality show route. We're a nation of reality junkies, and if Bosh and Wade team up while James goes back to Cleveland, the East is going to be tough for the next few years. Why not scrap mid-level contending and make a splash?
So, here's my pitch for "That's Bull!":
Everyone knows the Bulls have a great core of young, hungry players. But what if you paired them with some classic Chicago busts from the past 12 years, make them all live together in Jordan's old house in Highland Park and film it?! Hilarity, that's what.
On second thought, let's hope it doesn't come to that. What's Boozer's Twitter handle?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.