By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) With all due respect to Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, they're small potatoes.
Both are All-Star-caliber players who would immediately alter the Bulls' title trajectory, if not guarantee real contention. Anthony is the preternatural, instinctive scorer who at 30 wants to begin his career's third act with new options, and Love the younger power forward with deep shooting range and rebounding skill who is pouting his way into a trade out of Minnesota.
Either would now be a fall-back option, worth the effort and money only after exhausting all possibilities to lure LeBron James to the Bulls.
Savvy businessmen understand that periods of market volatility are opportunities for skillful strikes, environments that favor the swiftest and smartest. This is just such a time. As James makes cryptic, guarded comments about his future, huddling with the handful of close advisors he refers to as his "team" as he mulls whether to exercise his contractual right to immediate free agency, there must be back-channel outreach to make clear intentions to pursue him.
Chances -- even very slim ones -- to acquire greatest-ever players in their prime almost never occur, and to not attempt to take full advantage would be small-minded and irresponsible. While taking great pains to adhere to the letter of the law regarding tampering, the message must be communicated now to James's camp that Chicago would be an ideal landing spot for someone wanting to win.
Some certainties can be offered: Derrick Rose will be recovered from his latest knee injury and on the team, the franchise's brand has a solid global footprint and the top-three market size is sufficient for James's corporate partnership interests, as is the size of the fanbase in evidence from attendance and television viewership data.
Everything else is in question and open to negotiation. Salary cap clearance for an outright signing or pieces exchanged in a sign-and-trade scenario mean the personnel situation is fluid, and input would be required from him to determine the most favorable, competitive arrangement of components. James would be offered some responsibility in engineering the roster, within the byzantine league restrictions.
It's possible that coach Tom Thibodeau is a drawing card, having established himself as an expert defensive tactician with the ability to maximize peripheral players. James could warm to the idea of working closely with someone who so clearly shares his focus on film work and opponent-specific game-planning.
It could also be the case, however, that James is aware of both his own heavy load of minutes at age 29 and Thibodeau's relentless expenditure of top players in relatively insignificant regular-season games. He may also see him as a limited offensive mind, in a time that rewards creativity on that end of the floor. If James has any reservations about an alliance with Thibodeau that can't be allayed with guarantees, John Paxson and Gar Forman must make the tough call and bring in his preferred coach.
That would be drastic -- but necessary and correct if it meant landing the game's most powerful individual force. Coaching matters indeed, but any assumed difference from replacement level at that position isn't enough to stand in the way of something that instantly alters the balance of the NBA and guarantees multiple title shots.
There is no time for dawdling or dreaming or worrying about alternative scenarios.
All else can wait, as the message is sent in the shadows from a proud franchise with a case full of trophies to a megastar at a crossroads: Mountains can and will be moved for him.
The Bulls must be actively seeking an answer from LeBron James to the only question at the moment: "What will it take?"
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