Although Mike James’ 10-day contract expired one week ago, a day before NBA All-Star Weekend, all signs point to the Chicago Bulls re-signing the veteran point guard — for good — shortly after the league’s March 15 trade deadline.
At that juncture, the Bulls would ensure that James’ salary will not count toward the cap or luxury tax. James has averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 in seven games for the Bulls this season during two separate stints with the organization.
The 36-year-old was first acquired by Chicago on Jan. 11 when both Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were out due to injuries and he was waived a little more than two weeks later. Then, James was nearly signed by the New York Knicks before Jeremy Lin’s improbable surge, which has been dubbed “Linsanity.” Still, the Bulls had James on their radar and fortunately for them, he was still available and picked back up on Feb. 14 when Rose was shelved because of lower back spasms.
James’ coaches and teammates have constantly praised him, citing his work ethic and veteran presence. The 6-foot-2 product is well-liked in the locker room and has proven that he’s deserving of a spot on the team for the rest of the campaign, stepping up in crucial spots when needed. He’s had several strong efforts in a Bulls uniform, highlighted by a nine-point, 10-assist performance on Jan. 21 against the Charlotte Bobcats. The former NBA champion also played a major role in a nationally televised 89-80 victory over the Boston Celtics on Feb. 16, putting up eight points and four assists and playing scrappy defense on All-Star guard Rajon Rondo.
“Mike’s an excellent pick-and-roll player,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters last month. “He’s a very confident player.”
For their part, Bulls players enjoy James’ company and love the fact that he’s always prepared and a man they can count on. If it were up to them, he would stick around all season and fill the role as a player who is more than capable of providing game and practice depth.
“He’s going in early, running the plays, doing everything,” Luol Deng said recently. “Not only what you see on the court, but off the court as a teammate. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room, a guy that’s going to be there early so everyone sees that. And you need that.”
While James awaits another phone call from the Bulls signaling his return to the team, he will continue training in Houston. The Bulls’ roster currently stands at 13.
When asked on Tuesday about the possibility of re-signing James for the third time, Thibodeau told the assembled media: “Mike stays ready. So you can count on that part. And then if there’s the need, we wouldn’t hesitate to bring him back.”
In the first quarter of Wednesday night’s impressive 96-89 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Rose suffered a knee on knee collision with Spurs guard Tony Parker, but he stayed in the game and went on to score a game-high 29 points. Both Rose and Thibodeau told reporters after the game that he is fine, but they admitted his right knee injury provided a scare at first.
“It was just basketball,” Rose said. “… [My knee] was a little sore but I was able to play through the game.”