With the rumors persisting that an epic Miami tripod of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is still in the works, it's time to consider the possibility that the Bulls have dreaded for the last 48 hours: When the 2010 free agency period ends, none of those All-Stars will be playing with the Bulls.
It's a scary thought for the city of Chicago, especially given the hoopla which has surrounded the past few weeks, but it's the cold hard reality they could be facing very soon.
If James, Wade and Bosh do indeed stick together and head down to Miami, the Bulls’ Plan B better spring into action quickly. You'd have to think that plan includes Joe Johnson and either Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer. Johnson would give the Bulls the perimeter shooter they haven't had since Ben Gordon left town for Detroit last summer and would fit in quickly with Derrick Rose's penetrate and kick game. Boozer and/or Stoudemire would give the Bulls a more polished low-post scorer to play alongside Joakim Noah. A starting five of Rose, Johnson, Luol Deng, Stoudemire/Boozer and Noah would make the Bulls much better than they were last season and would most likely elevate them into a top-three seed in the East, especially if they added a couple of solid veterans to play alongside Taj Gibson and give the team quality minutes off the bench.
Yes, there would still be a major letdown since that team doesn't include James and Bosh, but it would still be an improvement. Bulls fans, most of them at least, would be able to see that after getting over their disappointment.
Now here comes the tricky part -- the part that nobody around town wants to believe is even possible.
Let's say that James and Bosh decide quickly that they're going take a few less dollars (still highly unlikely) and join Wade in Miami.
Sensing that they're on the outside looking in on the LeBron/Bosh sweepstakes, the Knicks come in and tell Johnson and Stoudemire that they'll offer both max money but each one has to accept the deals quickly or else the team will take them off the table and go after somebody else.
All of a sudden, the Bulls are looking at a scenario in which they could lose out on their first, second and third choices. Now they're stuck with having to overpay players like Boozer and somebody like David Lee. Both players figure to draw interest from New Jersey, while Lee's name has been floated as a possibility in Utah with Boozer on the way out.
In the midst of all this, you've still got the Clippers out there with a ton of money and you'd have to figure despite owner Donald Sterling's historically frugal ways that he is willing to toss around some cash if it means that his team can become dramatically better.
OK, deep breath, Bulls fans.
As I've said over and over during the last couple of months, I don't see how the Bulls don't end up with two All-Stars out of this free-agent frenzy. Their roster is too good and has too many young players for every big name (LeBron all the way down) to completely pass over it. Having said that, the scenario I just outlined above isn't that far-fetched, either. If the Bulls don't lock down James and/or Bosh early, they'll be scurrying like everybody else. One wrong move can set the franchise back down a path into the type of mediocrity they've been trying to outrun since Michael Jordan retired for the second time back in 1999.
Bulls GM Gar Forman has said repeatedly that he and his staff have developed every kind of scenario that they can in order to prepare for the saga that is finally upon us. That preparation will be put to the test in about 24 hours and Forman knows the stakes have never been higher.