Why Carmelo Anthony and Chicago Bulls Are Better off Without One Another

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Why Carmelo Anthony and Chicago Bulls Are Better off Without One Another
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Some theories are best off remaining conceptual.

Carmelo Anthony and the Chicago Bulls seem like a match made in basketball heaven and New York Knicks purgatory. So much so, that many, including CSN Chicago's David Kaplan, are already lobbying 'Melo to leave the hustle, bustle and humiliation of the Big Apple for the stability of Chi-Town.

A complementary superstar, a head coach who doesn't understand the word "can't," a resilient supporting cast and championship memories more recent than four decades ago—what more could Anthony ask for?

Nothing. 

The Bulls, outfitted with a healthy Derrick Rose, a slick Tom Thibodeau and a supporting act headlined by Joakim Noah, cannot be outdone. Not by the Los Angeles Lakers, and most certainly not by Anthony's current team.

For Carmelo, salvaging his legacy begins with putting himself in a position to win and placing himself under ideal circumstances, within an environment Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal says Chicago can offer:

Anthony must eventually decide what exactly he wants out of his inevitable foray into free agency. If it's winning that he desires, the Bulls are the best option, thanks to the presence of a fellow superstar, a standout supporting cast and a roster actually constructed for a shot at a title.

Chicago is uniquely able to save his career from plunging into the dreaded "he's overrated because he never won a title" category.

Except, despite what my esteemed colleague writes, Chicago can't.

The Bulls are not going to save Anthony's career and cement his legacy among the all-time greats. They won't even offer him an imminent title shot.

And the Bulls, like Anthony, would be wise to reach said conclusion before it's too late.

 

Deja Vu

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The Rose argument is especially flawed.

When healthy, Rose is without a doubt a top-five NBA point guard. His unique blend of athleticism and explosion, and selflessness, makes him an impossible cover.

But when is the last time Rose has been healthy?

At the start of 2014-15, the former league MVP will have played in 50 games—playoffs included—through three seasons, a red flag if Anthony ever saw one. And he has. 

Anthony arrived in New York under the premise that he and Amar'e Stoudemire would forge a superteam talented enough to rival the Miami Heat. Look how that's turned out.

David Dow/Getty Images
Anthony has read this script before.

Of the 207 regular-season games Anthony has played with the Knicks, Stoudemire has appeared in only 133. Joining forces with Rose, a 25-year-old prodigy operating on rickety knees, is all too familiar for Anthony, who has spent nearly half his time in New York soldiering on without the superstar he came to play with.

Unlike Stoudemire, Rose could return and stay healthy. He could return to his former glory, attacking rims with reckless abandon, never once fearing the consequences. He could even return better than ever, using a lethal jump shot to limit dangerous interior exposure.

But that's a lot of "coulds" and "ifs" for an 11-year veteran like Anthony who is approaching the latter half of his prime.

Especially when it is those same question marks that have upended his Knicks tenure.

 

Supporting What?

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To that, you might say the Bulls aren't the Knicks. You might say Rose isn't Stoudemire. 

More likely, you might say New York's downtrodden supporting cast doesn't belong in the same breath as Chicago's hard-nosed adjuncts. And you would be right.

Both the Bulls and Knicks have dealt with their fair share of injuries this season, but it's Chicago battling for a top-three spot in the woeful Eastern Conference despite losing Rose and Luol Deng (to trade). The Knicks, meanwhile, are headed toward the first lottery finish of Anthony's career.

If Rose were to go down again, the Bulls are prepared for it, ready to contend if Anthony is added to the fold.

Only the Bulls wouldn't be prepared for it. Not like they are now, at least. 

Chicago has more than $63.8 million in guaranteed contracts on its ledger leading into next season. Amnestying Carlos Boozer and his $16.8 million salary still doesn't create enough cap room to offer Anthony a max deal.

Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson would also have to be dumped for the Bulls to be in Anthony's financial ballpark, and that's not even taking into account who the Bulls draft this summer and Nikola Mirotic's rumored arrival, per Blog a Bull's Ricky O'Donnell. Chances are, no matter what the Bulls do, Anthony will need to accept a significant pay cut.

The likelihood of him doing so is debatable.

Anthony would already be leaving more than $30 million on the table by abandoning New York. Complete and utter dysfunction makes it more likely that he is willing to sacrifice money for relevance, but it doesn't guarantee anything.

At minimum, barring Anthony accepting an unprecedented pay cut, Gibson, Dunleavy and Boozer would all be gone. Together, those three make up 39 points, 19.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Calculating their value isn't that simple, but is Anthony worth all that production?

Better yet, does 'Melo want to join another depleted core?

New York moved heaven, earth and most of its starting lineup in 2011 to land Anthony, who has since admitted he always knew it would take years for them to recover, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:

Anthony no longer has years. Whatever team he goes to must be prepared to win now. 

Using the "Noah, Rose, Anthony, Jimmy Butler and spare parts" argument is weak and outdated. Supporting casts are important, even for star trios and established powerhouses.

Role players matter for the Heat, and they matter for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The San Antonio Spurs forged a dynasty on the backs of strong supporting acts.

Creating the flexibility necessary to land Anthony strips the Bulls of their depth—the same depth that has them winning now and the same depth they will need to win later.

 

Reality Trumps Reverie

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If Anthony was added to the Bulls of today, plus a healthy Rose, the team would be an absolute juggernaut.

Rose would have to become more of a drive-and-kick facilitator than a score-first point guard, but that's hardly a concern. Next to Rose, Noah, Butler and everyone else currently on the roster, Anthony would remain the offensive focal point without having to sacrifice efficiency. 

Under Coach Thibs, who has guided a top-five defense in three of the last four seasons, Anthony becomes something more than a defensive liability. The Bulls have masked Boozer's defensive flaws for so long, so incorporating Anthony would be a cinch.

But this exact Bulls team is one Anthony can never join.

Even if you move past Rose's ambiguous health, there's no ignoring the personnel price Chicago must pay to pursue Anthony. Though it seems crazy to say otherwise, you also cannot guarantee Thibs will be haunting the Windy City's sidelines next season.

Nevermind Marc Stein of ESPN's Thibodeau-to-Knicks rumors. The head coach's relationship with general manager Gar Forman and owner Jerry Reinsdorf is unpredictable at best, per the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh.

And yeah, there's the Rose thing too.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
The Bulls and Anthony are better off without each other.

Hoops must be jumped through for the Bulls to land Anthony, and luck needs to be on Chicago's side to ensure said jumping is worthwhile. That's not ideal. Beliefs to the contrary are founded upon fantasy.

Would Carmelo Anthony be a good fit for the Bulls?

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"They always are a team who’s going to be there, who’s going to compete, who’s going to play hard," Anthony said of the Bulls, per Isola. "For whatever reason that is, I don’t know if it’s their system, if it’s Thibs' system. For whatever reason they’re always going to be there and compete."

Always competing isn't necessarily an option for an Anthony- and Rose-led Bulls team, who would be indentured to health and depth—much like the Knicks are now.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required). Salary information via ShamSports.


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