If the title and tone of this post seem familiar, it's because I wrote the exact opposite piece about LeBron a few months ago:
As a die-hard NBA fan, I watch a lot of basketball. I recognize talent, and it's obvious that LeBron is the best player in the Association. (I might technically argue that Kobe is a better basketball player and LeBron is the best athlete playing basketball, but that's not the point.) LeBron is awesome. I went to game 3 of the Bulls/Cavs series a couple weeks ago, and it was incredible. I hated every single second of it, but LeBron was ridiculous. Just so we're clear, I get it: he's great. So would I want the best player on my team? Seems dumb to say no. But I hate him so much, how can I possibly say yes?
I will cheer for the Bulls. I will hope they win every game, just like I do now and always have. But I will never love LeBron the way I love those 1990s Bulls players: MJ, Pippen, BJ Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Horace, Rodman, Will Perdue, Craig Hodges, Cliff Levingston (the list goes on and on ...) and current Bulls D-Rose and JoaNoah. I will never love LeBron like that. He will never be included in my list of "Top 10 Favorite Bulls' Players" (or even my 'Top 25'). I hate him enough that I can be sure of that.
Now the rumors are swirling that Melo wants to be traded to the Bulls:
Carmelo Anthony(notes) still hopes to persuade the Denver Nuggets to trade him, preferably to either the Chicago Bulls or New York Knicks, an NBA source with knowledge of Anthony’s wishes told Yahoo! Sports.
The Knicks have limited assets to offer the Nuggets, which makes the Bulls a more appealing potential trade partner. The Bulls can offer a replacement small forward in Luol Deng(notes), as well as two young forwards in James Johnson(notes) and Taj Gibson(notes). New York officials would like to make a run at signing Anthony next summer if he were to opt to become a free agent. The Knicks will have salary-cap room with Eddy Curry’s(notes) contract expiring after the season.
At first glance, I wouldn't hesitate ... we have make that trade. Deng has a terrible contract, and the other 2 players aren't even starters. But then I got to thinking about everything I've been reading over the last few months ...
Is Deng's contract really that bad? I hate to admit it, but no, it's not:
Now let’s take a quick peek at the comparitive 2010-11 salaries of Dwyer’s top eight SFs (from ShamSports): LeBron ($14,500,000), Durant ($6,053,663 from his rookie contract but jumping to $13,603,750 in 2011-12), ‘Melo ($17,149,243), Wallace ($10,500,000), Iggy ($12,345,250), Granger ($10,973,202), Pierce ($13,876,321) and Deng ($11,345,000).
This biggest knock against Deng is his supposedly cap-killing contract. And yet based on Dwyer’s rankings, Deng’s pay is roughly commensurate with his standing among the league’s elite small forwards.
And is Melo really as good as we think he is? I hate to admit it, but no, he's not:
Of course, whether he actually is on that level is another question. The “is Melo an elite player?” debate was widely discussed throughout the blogosphere over the past few weeks. (We miss you, NBA. Please grab this stupid summer thing by the nose and banish it forever). Statistical master wizard (it’s when you’re too masterful to be just a wizard, but too wizardy to be just a master) Tom Haberstroh pointed out over at ESPN Insider that Melo’s greatest skill – scoring the basketball – is overblown because of his less-than-stellar efficiency at doing so.
“Let’s first talk about Anthony’s shot volume. It’s not exactly a secret that ‘Melo likes to shoot the rock, but his propensity to launch shots may raise some eyebrows. This past season, no player in the NBA took more shots per minute than Anthony — not Kobe, not LeBron, not even scoring champ Kevin Durant.
[Note to readers: be sure to click on both of the above links for a great breakdown of both Deng (from 'By The Horns') and Melo (from 'Both Teams Played Hard'). Both posts are must-read when you are considering this trade.]
So now the trade seems less like the obvious, no-doubter that I first thought it was. And that's just considering that maybe Deng isn't so bad after-all. Then we have to consider that we're also including our backup PF, a second-year player who put up a steady 9/7.5 his rookie year. I'm not trying to imply that Deng and Taj should be untouchable ... they definitely should not be that. But I think the Bulls made some legit improvements in the past two months, and I don't think Melo is the missing piece that gets us from contender to NBA championship. I would rather let this team go into the season as is and see what happens, rather than salvaging part of the young core for a player that might not be the missing piece.
I could be wrong, I am the same person who hated the Taj pick because I was certain Ty Thomas was our PF of the future. But coming from someone that loves Melo, and has openly hated on Deng and his contract, maybe my hesitation actually means something this time.