As if the Bulls losing to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals wasn't enough, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen has added to Chicago's pain by suggesting that LeBron James could be better than Michael Jordan.

Pippen stirred the pot in an interview with ESPN radio yesterday morning, saying Jordan "is probably the greatest scorer to play the game" but James "may be the greatest player to ever play the game."

That set off an explosion on Twitter.

Pippen responded first by posting, "For all of you that don't know, I played the game you keep watching and cheering." He softened his stance later, writing: "Don't get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday."

Jordan and Pippen won six championships with the Bulls in the 1990s. James moved a step closer to his first title when the Heat knocked out Chicago on Thursday, setting up a matchup with Dallas.

In other James news:

 Whenever he wants to feel humbled, LeBron James pops in the tapes of the 2007 NBA Finals. No matter what, the outcome never changes. He got swept. San Antonio simply outclassed Cleveland 4 years ago in the title series, and that still serves as a colossal source of motivation for James - who makes no secret that he's fueled by slights and disappointments.

Since then, he's won two MVP awards and earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. Still, nothing fills the void created by those four losses.

Here comes his chance to change that. James is heading to the finals for the second time, after he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh carried the Miami Heat to a wild series-clinching comeback victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference title series in Chicago. The season's final challenge is the Dallas Mavericks, who visit Miami in Game 1 of the finals on Tuesday night.

"I think about it all the time," James said of that 2007 series. "I even go back and watch some of those games and see how I wasn't that good of a player, especially on both ends of the floor. You just try to use those moments. I feel like there's no way I should be out on the floor and the team that I'm on can't win a game in a series. I use that as motivation . . . I've got a lot of motivation."

Noteworthy

* A person familiar with the situation says the Houston Rockets are close to hiring Kevin McHale as their new coach. The person says the team is negotiating a contract with McHale. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is not yet complete.

McHale would take over for Rick Adelman, who left the team days after his fourth season in Houston.

McHale, 53, a Hall of Fame player for the Boston Celtics, spent 15 years with the Timberwolves in his native Minnesota. He was let go in 2009 and has recently served as a TV analyst.

Houston has missed the playoffs the last 2 years as it dealt with injuries that have limited All-Star center Yao Ming to just five games since the 2008-09 season. That year, Houston reached the Western Conference semifinals, breaking a streak of seven consecutive first-round exits for the franchise.

McHale was the third overall pick in the 1980 draft, won three championships with the Celtics and was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time in 1996.

* Don't expect Caron Butler to make a dramatic return to the Mavericks just in time to face the Heat in the NBA Finals. Coach Rick Carlisle said that Butler's availability for this series is "unlikely, but I'm not sure."

Butler has been out since tearing a tendon in his right knee on Jan. 1. He was averaging 14 points and 4.1 rebounds in almost 30 minutes per game. He averaged 18 points in Dallas' two regular-season wins over Miami.

Since surgery, he has said he hoped to return during the postseason. He often has been on the court shooting after practices, but has not been fully cleared by team doctors. *