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Chicago Bulls ready to woo LeBron, Wade, Bosh

CHICAGO (AP) — So, King James, would you like to get the royal treatment in your idol's old hometown and help the Windy City rekindle the joy of the Michael Jordan era?

How about a homecoming, Dwyane Wade?

And what about you, Chris Bosh? Do you like deep dish?

With LeBron James heading what might be the NBA's greatest free-agent class and the Bulls holding enough salary cap space to woo two stars, expectations are soaring in Chicago. The Bulls can make themselves championship contenders for years to come with the right sales pitch.

That means come Thursday all eyes are on you, general manager Gar Forman. Not to mention you, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

"I think there's always some pressure," Forman said. "We challenge ourselves each and every day to make improvements and try to get better — not only myself, but everybody in this organization."

Reports in recent days have linked James and Bosh as a package going to the Bulls and joining Derrick Rose. Others have them teaming with Wade and giving Miami what would amount to a near-dream team.

Agent Henry Thomas, who represents Wade and Bosh, said both are interested in talking with the Bulls. He also told the Associated Press that Wade has talked to both James and Bosh.

Besides those three, perennial All-Stars Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzki could hit a loaded market. And teams like the Bulls might have tough calls to make if a player wants to sign while they're awaiting word from others.

"We put scenarios, hypotheticals, on the board," Forman said. "And those are the things we talk about in preparing, just like we do for the draft. ... If this happens, how will we react?"

The Bulls have been eyeing this moment for a while.

They let leading scorer Ben Gordon sign with Detroit last summer and traded away John Salmons during the season, assuring they would have enough cap room to offer a maximum contract during this free-agent frenzy. They didn't stop there, though.

Last week, they agreed to trade veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and his $9 million salary next season along with the 17th pick in the draft to Washington for a future second-rounder, according to a person familiar with the situation. That deal can't become official until July 8 — when the new salary cap takes hold and the Wizards can absorb Hinrich's salary without sending back something of similar financial value. Once it goes through, it will leave the Bulls with about $30 million in cap room.

Although that might not be enough to offer two maximum free agent contracts, it certainly puts the Bulls in position to be huge players in free agency.

"The flexibility gives us opportunities to get better, and there's a lot of different angles we can take," Forman said. "It's not necessarily one thing. It gives us a chance to get better, and our job is to explore all those different options, be prepared for different options and then try to take advantage."

The question is, can they close the deal?

That's something they didn't do in 2000 when Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Tim Duncan were on the market.

The Bulls put the full-court press on McGrady, with a three-piece band, cheerleaders, Benny the Bull and then-general manager Jerry Krause greeting him at O'Hare, but there was little substance beyond that spectacle. With little talent in place, the Bulls wound up with Ron Mercer and Brad Miller instead of a major star.

This time, they are looking to add to a core that has produced back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round playoff losses. New coach Tom Thibodeau says he "can't imagine" why any free agent wouldn't seriously think about becoming a Bull.

Their sales pitch starts with the unselfish Rose, who made the All-Star team in his second season after winning the Rookie of the Year award.

They can point to Joakim Noah, who averaged 11.0 rebounds in his third season and tied for seventh in the NBA. They might mention Taj Gibson coming off a rookie season that saw him average 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Add a star or two to that mix, and the Bulls figure to be contenders.

"We think there's going to be a real window here for players to come and have success long term," Forman said.

If they lure James, a city that's still basking in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory just might throw another big bash.

Steve Schanwald, Bulls executive vice president of business operations, said the free agency possibilities have led to thousands of new season ticket sales, including 2,100 in the last week alone.

"In my near 24 years with the Chicago Bulls, I've never seen a feeding frenzy like the one we are experiencing right now," he said in an e-mail. "The Jordan-Pippen experience was much more gradual. This was like turning on a light switch or opening the floodgates."

In downtown Chicago, Bulls fans took their sales pitch to a higher level — about 30 feet. The group behind sendLeBrontoChicago.com posted a billboard pleading with "King James" to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In Las Vegas, suddenly the Bulls and the Heat appear to be gamblers' darlings.

John Avello, director of Race and Sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas, said when the season ended, he had the Bulls at 20 to 1 when the season ended to win the championship next year, with the Heat at 40-1 and the Cavaliers at 3-1.

Now?

The Bulls were 10-1, with Miami at 12-1 and Cleveland at 5-1 on Tuesday afternoon.

"If he stays with Cleveland, they'll be lowered back down to 3 to 1," Avello said. "If he's there, they'll be very competitive."

As for the Bulls?

"We feel the potential is unlimited as we continue to build and add to this team," Forman said.

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