Report: LeBron leaning toward Bulls

Updated: June 27, 2010, 4:54 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

An NBA executive says the Chicago Bulls have emerged as a favorite in the free agency sweepstakes for LeBron James, along with Chris Bosh, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

The executive said he had gleaned from his discussions with other league executives that James is leaning toward joining the Bulls, along with Bosh, his teammate on the United States' gold medal-winning 2008 Olympic team. The Times reported the executive did not want to be named because he was discussing a player who was not yet a free agent.

"I think it's a done deal," the executive said, according to the report.

James' friend and business partner Maverick Carter told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that James will have would-be suitors visit him in his native Ohio, rather than embark upon a barnstorming tour of cities hoping to land the two-time MVP. Free agency officially starts at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday.

"LeBron is not going on a tour," Carter said. "He never planned to go on a tour and has not been a part of any team's plans for a recruiting trip."

Teams including the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks are in the hunt for James, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the only team he has played for in his seven-year NBA career. Fans in Cleveland and cities hoping to woo James have already made high-profile pushes for his services.

But the NBA executive said he believed James would meet with those teams as a courtesy, out of consideration for the overtures and personnel moves they have made to clear salary cap in hopes of signing James, The Times reported.

Sources said various teams were made aware of James' anti-tour stance Wednesday. The Knicks -- who, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, were planning a spectacular, celebrity-laden dinner cooked by a world-renowned chef for James on July 1 -- quickly canceled it and began drafting an alternate plan, according to two sources.

While several teams had hoped to sell James on the non-basketball advantages of their cities, it's believed that James wants to keep the focus on basketball. The executive quoted by the Times also said that James wanted to keep the focus on the game.

"He is going to make a basketball decision, so all that is unnecessary," the executive said, according to The Times. "He just saved a lot of people a lot of money."

While the Mavericks are regarded as a dark horse in the LeBron sweepstakes, sources say they remain confident that they will also be granted a turn to make a direct pitch to James, thanks largely to the high regard members of James' inner circle have for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and James' close relationship with Mavericks guard Jason Kidd.

Although he would not discuss specific names, citing league rules against publicly courting free agents before July 1, Kidd acknowledged in an interview Friday with ESPN Radio's Ben and Skin Show in Dallas that he will be at the heart of the Mavericks' recruiting efforts.

"Yes, my phone bill will go up," Kidd said.

The Mavericks will enter free agency with their first objective re-signing star forward Dirk Nowitzki, who will opt out of the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

The Mavericks' dream scenario, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, is securing a verbal commitment from Nowitzki on a new four-year deal early in free agency and then pursuing top free agents -- starting with James -- through sign-and-trade offers.

Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard was used in this report.

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