Daily Herald
Not an easy decision -- even for LeBron
James said to be torn over thought of abandoning his fans in Cleveland
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 7/5/2010 12:00 AM

If LeBron James had grown up in Billings, Mont., he might have committed to the Bulls by now.

If the Cleveland Browns' defense had limited John Elway to a 97-yard drive in the AFC championship game, or the Indians didn't blow a ninth-inning lead in the '97 World Series, maybe James would be on his way to Chicago.

The Bulls have plenty to offer the two-time MVP if he decides to switch sides as a free agent. James could play in a world-class city with the possibility of two all-star caliber teammates. He'd be in position to dominate the Eastern Conference for the rest of the decade.

According to sources familiar with the presentation made by the Bulls on Saturday in downtown Cleveland, James still is torn by the idea of abandoning fans in northeast Ohio, who have been counting on him to end their 46-year run of misery.

Cleveland hasn't won a major professional championship since the Browns in 1964, and James feels the pain more than most of the city's athletes, since he grew up in nearby Akron.

Of course, the Bulls could make the argument that if James stays with the Cavaliers, he will only prolong the disappointment. He'd risk joining the ranks of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing - great players who never won a title.

Cavaliers management pushed the idea that it's doing everything possible to help make James a winner. The Cavs posted the league's best record the past two seasons and has an owner in Dan Gilbert who is willing to spend money.

The Bulls would counter by pointing out that the Cavs have merely given James a good supporting cast. History has shown he will have a tough time winning a title without a competent sidekick. The Bulls have Derrick Rose and the cap room to add a power forward.

It's also worth asking if the Cavaliers did everything they should to help him grow as a person and a player. Did anyone, besides Joakim Noah, suggest James won't win many fans by dancing on the sideline in the middle of games?

During their meeting, the Bulls stressed there would be no special privileges for his friends and management team, like there have been in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Sunday that James doesn't plan to announce a decision until at least Wednesday, after he hosts a three-day basketball camp in Akron.

Of course, James is just one of the NBA superstars mulling an offer from the Bulls. Miami's Dwyane Wade became a surprise candidate after meeting with the Bulls on Thursday and Friday.

Some have asked if Wade is really serious about signing with the Bulls after consistently pledging allegiance to the Heat for the past several months.

One theory offered by an NBA insider is Wade was simply echoing the will of Heat president Pat Riley. Once on his own as a free agent, Wade was free to consider the advantages of joining the Bulls' talented lineup and playing in his hometown.

Moving back to Chicago may be an appealing idea, but Wade knows leaving Miami would devastate that franchise. The Heat currently has two players under contract for next season, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. Riley has been counting on Wade to help him lure other free agents to Miami.

Wade's custody battle for his two sons will be a factor in his decision, although it's not clear whether he would spend more time with his children by living in Chicago full time. His ex-wife, Siohvaughn, lives in the area. A court hearing on the issue is scheduled for July 19.

If James and Wade decide to stay put, the Bulls would still try to use their $29 million in cap room to line up one of the power forwards on the market - Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or David Lee.

They would have a spot to fill at shooting guard, now that Atlanta's Joe Johnson is off the market. Among the free-agent possibilities are the Lakers' Shannon Brown, Boston's Ray Allen, Utah's Kyle Korver, Washington's Randy Foye, San Antonio's Roger Mason and Washington's Mike Miller.

They also could use the cap space to absorb salary in a trade with another team.

A common theme the Bulls have heard all week during their free-agent meetings is players love the idea of playing in Chicago and teaming up with Rose. Whether James or Wade can pull themselves away from their current spots remains to be seen.