Commentary

Disappointed but not deterred

Jerry Reinsdorf made sure to keep the free-agent courting process professional

Updated: July 9, 2010, 2:32 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Jerry Reinsdorf had a good day on Thursday and LeBron James was not going to spoil it.

The Sox and Bulls chairman spent the afternoon watching his baseball team complete a four-game sweep over the Angels, reveling in the two-hit shutout of pitcher John Danks.

"Kid was great," Reinsdorf said.

And Thursday night?

"I'll probably watch the Minnesota-Toronto game and whenever the appointed hour comes around, I'll turn to ESPN," he said.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reinsdorf
AP Photo/Phil LongJerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls made a professional pitch to LeBron James.

Reinsdorf wasn't surprised with James' much-anticipated decision to join the Miami Heat. Despite receiving no answer after the Bulls' contact with James' agent, Leon Rose, and friend and adviser Maverick Carter, Reinsdorf was not getting his hopes up Thursday.

"We're not banking on getting him," Reinsdorf said. "He certainly has not given us any indication that he's coming here, so we have to assume he's going somewhere else."

On that front, Reinsdorf was like the rest of us. No real guess. And no real idea of what was going to happen.

"I mean, I have to think the team he's going to must know," he said. "If he comes here, we have a great team. If he goes to New York or Miami, I think we're [still] going to be better ... Miami will have three great players, but no center, no point guard and no cap room. I think we'll be better if he comes to us, but I think we'll be a great team without him."

As word trickled out shortly before 8 p.m. CST and his televised "The Decision" that James had contacted the team he was going to join, the Bulls had still not received any word.

An hour later, Bulls general manager Gar Forman issued a statement saying, "I remain convinced that this organization made the strongest of bids to acquire LeBron James during this free agency period. While we're disappointed he chose to go to another franchise, our strategy for the future competitiveness of this organization did not begin or end with James, and we feel today's addition of two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer significantly strengthens our team's already talented roster.

"It is our goal to keep exploring every avenue that it may take, whether through trades or free agency, to continue to build this team to compete at a championship level."

Reinsdorf was succinct in an e-mail.

"I respect his decision," he said. "As I said before, I believe we will be better than Miami."

No regrets.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bulls fans react to LeBron James' decision
AP Photo/Paul BeatyOf course, Bulls fans are disheartened by the team's inability to land one of the top free agents.

The Bulls went the old-school, no-frills route in their approach. Only the top four in the front office traveled to Cleveland to make their pitch. And it was straightforward, Reinsdorf speaking first and directly to James.

"I opened the meeting saying, 'If it's in the best interest of your family, and for loyalty reasons, you want to stay in Cleveland, you should stay in Cleveland. I am not here to tell you to leave Cleveland, but to let you know that if you decide to leave Cleveland, we're the best place for you to go,'" Reinsdorf said.

"I wouldn't even try to talk him into leaving Cleveland, but I would tell him that we're better than New York, New Jersey and Miami. If he comes here, we have a great team. If he goes to New York or Miami, we're going to be better than New York or Miami."

The Bulls, Reinsdorf said, wanted Boozer, discussing a trade for him more than once "over the last couple years."

"[But] the best thing was [Boozer] told us in no uncertain terms that we were his first choice," Reinsdorf said. "We could have closed the deal then and there [July 1]."

They didn't close the deal because the Bulls wanted to talk to Wade again, and had not yet spoken to Bosh or James.

"Once Wade and Bosh went to Miami, then Boozer was our guy," said Reinsdorf.

Obviously, Boozer was not insulted, but there had been talk that Wade was when he felt he was not the Bulls' first priority.

"We told Wade we wanted him here, that we didn't have to wait for LeBron," Reinsdorf said. "Frankly, I was a little surprised he wanted to meet with us after saying what he said."

Reinsdorf had not forgotten Wade's recent comments in the Tribune questioning Bulls management's loyalty to its players and evoking Michael Jordan's and Scottie Pippen's names in the discussion.

It is an albatross the organization has had to bear since the departure of Phil Jackson after the Bulls' sixth title and Reinsdorf was face-to-face with it.

"When [Wade] came in, I said, 'I'm surprised you're here after what you said,'" Reinsdorf recalled. "'And we heard you were recruiting players for Miami.'

"[Wade] said [the loyalty comments] didn't come out the way he [meant] it. He was trying to say 'I don't have enough knowledge about the Bulls organization. I just know Michael and Scottie aren't there.' Then he saw the outburst from our alums the next day."

This column isn't long enough to list the number of former Bulls who have worked and still work for the organization. Pippen still represents the Bulls. But it's the Michael question that keeps coming back. Another in a long line of NBA conspiracy theories, this one has Jordan still bad-mouthing the organization to free agents.

Reinsdorf is not buying it, and though Jordan was certainly not shy about expressing his negative feelings about former GM Jerry Krause, there has never been any solid evidence that he has engaged in negative recruiting.

"To the contrary," Reinsdorf said. "LeBron told us he talked to Michael, and Michael said very positive things about the Bulls and about me. It's nice to hear, but I've seen Michael many times since he stopped playing, and we have a very cordial relationship. So I wasn't shocked, but I was gratified."

If it sounds as though things were awkward with Wade, maybe they were. But he did agree to a second meeting and called his decision spurning his hometown the toughest in his career.

The loyalty issue wasn't held against Boozer, despite his decision in '04 to negotiate a six-year, $68 million deal with the Utah Jazz after reportedly convincing the Cavs and then-GM Jim Paxson that he would re-sign with them if they made him a free agent.

So controversial was Boozer's move that his own agent reportedly considered leaving him before Paxson convinced him to stay, thinking the Cavaliers still had a chance to keep Boozer.

So how does Boozer end up six years later with the Bulls, a team with two Paxsons -- Jim, now a consultant with the Bulls, and brother John, the executive vice president of basketball operations?

"The funny thing is, Jim never said anything bad about Carlos," Reinsdorf said. "When we discussed with Jim trading for him the last few years, he said, 'Go get him.' There were no hard feelings at all. It wasn't an issue.

"[Boozer] was 23 years old at the time. We don't know how much was the agent. But if Jim didn't feel bad, there was no reason for us to."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is apparently ecstatic over the Boozer signing.

"The funny thing is that we wanted Boozer over Bosh, and right from the beginning," Reinsdorf said.

Boozer also curried favor with his new bosses by trying to recruit James himself by reaching out to him on Wednesday.

"He volunteered once we agreed on a deal," Reinsdorf said. "[Boozer] said 'I want to get hold of LeBron and tell him, "Come with me. Come to Chicago."' They talked once or twice to try to get him to come here."

That said, there was only more baseball Thursday night, no high hopes.

"I'm too old to get up or down," Reinsdorf said before "The Decision." "If I were 15 years younger, maybe I'd be hyper about the whole thing, but at my age, after all that's happened in my life, whether LeBron or Wade comes to the Bulls is not that important."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.