The 2010-11 NBA season is now fully underway and LeBron James has already "taken his talents to South Beach" as a member of the Miami Heat.
Yet some of us cannot seem to forget the chaos and unpredictability that was the highly-touted "Summer of 2010" Free Agency period - with the likes of James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, and David Lee all up-for-grabs.
And "The Decision" that was watched by nearly 10 million of us...
The Miami Heat and their mega-signings of James, Wade and Bosh shook the basketball world to its core. But for LeBron James the question is this: Did he make the right decision?
If he did then why did so many analysts and fans believe that he would be in the best position to win, and win now, if he took his talents to the Windy City? Let's take a look.
The elite teams like the Orlando Magic, L.A. Lakers, and Boston Celtics all have the capability of spreading the floor and are excellent at moving the ball to get easy open and easy baskets. The Heat cannot and do not. James, Wade, and Bosh are all above average shooters in this league. But how can they expect their offense to be the golden standard of the NBA when opposing defenses are so easily able to force them to be a purely jump-shooting team? Their offense looks lethargic and far from flashy when their slashing game is taken away from them.
Though the Bulls do not have the best half-court offense in the league, they are able to spread opposing defenses much more effectively than the Heat. Luol Deng and Derrick Rose have both made great strides in improving their shooting strokes from long-range. Kyle Korver joining the team proved to be a big addition for Chicago. The 29 year-old small forward averaged 53% from beyond the arch last season - setting the best mark in NBA history for three-point shooting percentage in a single season.
A perimeter offensive attack which includes Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver, Luol Deng and LeBron James would have been deadly to say the least. The ball movement would have been fluent in the half court, and defenses would be forced to close-out on at least one spot-up shooter at all times - while needing to respect the slashing ability of both Derrick Rose and LeBron James. And with a third scorer in the form of Carlos Boozer, who tends to demand a double-team, it would have left a wide open lane for LeBron James to create plenty of offense.
The Heat bench was doomed to be subpar the moment that LeBron James announced that he would be taking his talents to South Beach. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh make a cumulative 43 million dollars of the 2010-11 pay-roll for the Miami Heat. By the 2013-14 season, that amount will have risen to nearly 58 million. It is unclear how Pat Riley and team owner Micky Arison plan on squeezing quality NBA players onto their roster under the salary cap. This is a current problem that will continue to compound itself into the foreseeable future for the Heat franchise.
Miami came through with a very fortunate re-signing of veteran power forward Udonis Haslem. But now that he and guard Mike Miller are out of action, the rest of the league are seeing a very vulnerable Heat second unit and teams are exploiting the fact that Miami has a bench full of veteran-minimum salary players. The Heat currently have a 3-7 record against teams with winning records.
The Chicago Bulls have a stellar second year big man from USC in Taj Gibson to go along with Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and James Johnson. Miami has a second unit of Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, James Jones, an influx of aging big men, and an injury-prone Mike Miller to boast...
Chicago's young and serviceable bench players would have given a spark with James on the bench, while Miami's reserves seem to stall the team. It seems rather clear that LeBron James did not have many concerns about the guys who might be relieving him of minutes when he made his decision to go to Miami.
You might think that if an organization has a figure like Pat Riley then they might have the upper hand when it comes to a coaching situation. Instead, the Miami Heat have lingering questions about current head coach Erik Spoelstra's future.
Riley has credited the 40-year-old Spoelstra as being one of the great young basketball minds in the NBA today. But realistically how well can a relatively young and inexperienced coach handle the pressure of coaching three enormous egos? Perhaps the shoulder bump that LeBron James gave to Erik Spoelstra, in the third quarter of a loss against Dallas, was blown out of proportion. But does he actually hold control of the reigns of that locker room? This is highly doubtful.
And this holds true especially considering that Spoelstra has a 5-time NBA champion coach as his boss. Pat Riley has made a living coaching superstar players to the NBA promised land over the course of his career, while Erik Spoelstra has yet to even see the second round of the playoffs. Team President Pat Riley has not publicly guaranteed that his current head coach's job is safe. But even if Coach Spo got the ax, would Riley even be willing to take his seat?
If LeBron James had chosen the Chicago Bulls, at the very least, he would not have been walking into a coaching controversy.
Over on the Chicago sidelines, Tom Thibodeau is a proven coach in the NBA. He has the experience of being an assistant coach for 19 seasons and a reputation of being one of the great defensive minds in the game. Unlike Erik Spoelstra, Thibodeau has a championship ring and two Finals appearances under his belt. And he knows exactly what it is like to coach larger-than-life NBA superstars and personalities - in the form of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen as an assistant to Doc Rivers in Boston.
The way Miami's offense has been running early on in the season is slow-paced, despite the team's overall lack of height. LeBron James must be having plenty of flashbacks to Mike Brown's "walk it up the floor" approach to the game.
Bulls' coach Tom Thibodeau's focus is on forcing turnovers and getting easy points in transition - where LeBron James shines the most.
Perhaps LeBron James would care enough to avoid walking into his head coach if it was Tom Thibodeau at the helm...
The bread and butter of championship basketball is having a quality inside game. Most people might have thought that having the 6'10'' Chris Bosh would be enough to answer that call. And then the season started...
Did LeBron James actually believe that the former Raptor forward was going to serve as a viable low-post presence? Or that he would be an interior stopper? Maybe James should have taken that recruitment call from Carlos Boozer, on the eve of "The Decision," a little more seriously.
The Chicago Bulls showcase one of the youngest and most talented front-court players in the game today. They feature Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and veteran low-post specialist Carlos Boozer.
The Miami Heat feature Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, and the likes of Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, and Jamaal Magloire - not exactly the most vibrant group of guys.
The Bulls as a team are respectively ranked second at third in rebounds per-game (44.3) and rebound differential (plus-3.6). Joakim Noah currently stands as the league's second leading rebounder at 12.2 per-outing. Chris Bosh has seemingly fallen flat on his face under the glass and is only averaging 7.5 boards this season - often times getting out-rebounded by his much smaller teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Bulls' 6'11'' center is no fan of LeBron James and made no friendly gesture in regard to extending open arms to acquire him in free agency - even calling him "the enemy" prior to last year's first round battle between the Bulls and Cavaliers. But maybe James is the one at fault for not recognizing a supremely gifted up-and-coming talent when Joakim Noah was making a mockery of the Cavs' Anderson Varejao in the first round of the playoffs last April. Noah is a fiery and out-spoken up-and-coming big man in the NBA today. He has quickly improved into an All-star caliber player alongside Carlos Boozer.
Maybe LeBron and Joakim could have managed to put their differences aside about the issue of whether or not it is appropriate to dance on the sidelines - and perhaps even found a bond in their mutual dislike for being in the city Cleveland.
Did LeBron James ever consider that maybe he, Wade, and Bosh would not necessarily be the best fit for each other? James and Wade do not always need ball in their hands to be effective scorers. But that is certainly the way the two have been accustomed to play basketball over the previous seven seasons of their careers. Apart of the problem is cohesion and they will reduce the turnovers and find a way to make easy plays together once they have gotten used to each others' tendencies. The main problem in Miami is that their "Big Three" all operate almost completely from 8-20 feet away from the basket. Chris Bosh makes his living on offense with his mid-range shooting rather than his low-post scoring. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are not great low-post players either - and neither are dependable three point shooters. There is no inside-outside game for Miami. Their best back-to-the-basket scorer is shooting guard Dwyane Wade or 37-year-old Juwan Howard. Their two best three point shooters are Carlos Arroyo and James Jones. Neither of those two guys is going to get a lot of minutes or will be much of an impact player come time for the post-season.
As for Chicago, they have the ability to play multiple ways on offense. They have the option to throw two or three good shooters on the floor at the same time. They also have Carlos Boozer to anchor their inside production. He and Noah are among the top passing big men in today's NBA and are bound to find Kyle Korver and Luol Deng as they stretch the floor for the Bulls.
LeBron James would have a field day with Derrick Rose at picking their spots within the offense and ripping apart defenses around the league.
This current Miami Heat team looks more like the bad shooting version of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When Big Z is out there with them, LeBron might need to do a double-take sometimes just to remind himself that he left Cleveland...
Obviously, damage control was not a thought that LeBron James had when he decided to go on ESPN and announce to millions of people that he was "taking his talents to South Beach."
LeBron James may have irreparably damaged his name and brand by his actions. He dropped from the fourth most popular athlete in the country to the sixth most loathed essentially overnight...
At least if James had decided to go to the Bulls, he would have instantly became a folk hero within the city of Chicago. Ticket sales at the United Center topped the NBA last season, and attendance at Bulls' home games is consistently at or near the top of the league every season - even in the dismal seasons following the break-up of the 1990's six-time champion roster.
He would be still be largely hated in New York and Cleveland. But, who knows, maybe some of the fair weather Cavs' fans who hate him now would have been been loyal to the Akron King if he had stayed true to his mid-western roots. That is - instead of going on television and callously telling the world that he was abandoning his native, economically-struggling Ohio for the tropic beaches and glamorous life-style of Miami, Florida.
The thing that surprised most people about LeBron's decision seemed to be that he was not going to a location that has NBA basketball has a major priority. Professional franchises like the Miami Heat, Florida Marlins, and even the Miami Dolphins for that matter all take a back seat to NCAA Football and Basketball. The Miami Hurricanes get all of the limelight in Southern Florida.
In fact, the Miami Heat franchise even started a promotion in which they, not so subtly, told their fans to get their act together in their "Fan Up, Miami!" campaign.
Basically, the promotion involves letting the people of Miami know that LeBron James and Chris Bosh coming to town 'is exciting!' And showing up late is not really what fans should do.
They are even offering bonus incentives for Heat fans to show up earlier to games by offering reduced food prices at American Airlines Arena and 10% discounts for Heat gear if they can somehow drag themselves into the stadium before tip-off.
It appears that the quality of the fans he represents is not as important to LeBron James as not paying state income taxes...
In the midst of his decision, LeBron James stated that he believed each he and teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would have their own spotlight. The thing that he did not consider is that great players playing on great teams become fused together in the realms of discussions and the history books - at least in some regards.
The problem for LeBron is that they are not a great team yet. By deciding to go to a team with a perennial All-star and future Hall-of-famer, in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James has taken himself out of a lot of people's minds as "the man" or the leader of a franchise.
Dwyane Wade is already an established superstar in Miami. By already winning an NBA Championship in 2006, D-Wade has already taken Miami to the promised land. Cleveland fans chanting the words "Sidekick" and "Scottie Pippen" might have reinforced the idea into James' mind that many fans believe that all he did was ride Wade's coattails by joining the Heat.
While Derrick Rose certainly wants to be the man in Chicago, LeBron James would have been the main weapon in Chicago's arsenal. Even though Derrick Rose did not make a big time recruiting effort like Wade did, he still has plenty of admiration for James - saying that he believes him to be the best player in the NBA. Rose may prefer playing against James but he certainly would have made a very decent sidekick to LeBron.
Going to Chicago to play with the 22-year-old third-year point guard Derrick Rose would not have been perceived in nearly the same way as it did by joining the 6-time All-star and former Finals' MVP award winner Dwyane Wade.
But regardless about whether LeBron is a first or second scoring option, it is always going to be "Wade County" in Miami...
A Chicago-based promotion made public during this past summer's free-agency festivities made a bold challenge to LeBron James.
A two-page ad was taken out in LeBron James' hometown Akron Beacon Journal with a photo of the Chicago skyline with a large shadow cast over it in the form of Michael Jordan. The ad stated:
“LeBron, the fans of Chicago have a question for you. Can you cast a shadow this big?”
The campaign also sent LeBron James pairs of Jordan Shoes in Bulls' colors of red, black, and white - daring him to step into them. But perhaps the biggest challenge they issues him was sending him seven empty ring boxes with the message, "Can you fill these boxes?"
By going to the Bulls, James could have shattered the notion that he lacks the competitive fire that players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are said to have. The Chicago Bulls may have a winning legacy, but by going there LeBron could have reached for heights of greatest even unbeknown to His Airness himself.
But it seems that James was not up for the Challenge...
Bulls' fans and NBA fans alike have "witnessed" the emergence of a new superstar in the basketball world this season.
Phenom point guard Derrick Rose has risen his game into the top tier of the NBA this season. At only 22 years of age, he is already feared by defenses across the league. His calm and surprisingly modest demeanor would have complemented LeBron's rambunctious personality and risen this duo to the top of the NBA for over a decade to come...
D-Rose's strength, speed, size, and vast array of skills sets him apart from the other point guards in the league. He has a crossover that is unmatched and natural finishing ability around the basket that may only match "The King" himself.
Dwyane Wade may be a great teammate and asset to have, but Derrick Rose is a great player in his own right. And already Rise is unselfish and dedicated to winning at such a young age.
If LeBron James is not already thinking about what 'could have been' if he had picked Chicago, he very well might be if Derrick Rose's Bulls are the team that bounces Miami out from the playoffs during this coming Spring.