The Bulls basically need to hedge hard and plan on Anthony going elsewhere this offseason. That's not because Chicago isn't the best free-agency destination, as you could certainly argue it could be, but rather because so much would have to happen to create the cap space for Anthony to sign as a free agent.
Even if Chicago uses the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer, it'll still be well short of being able to offer Anthony a max contract. That hypothetical max offer, by the way, is already one year and $30 million short of what Anthony can get by staying in New York.
If Anthony wants to come to Chicago, he'll have to take a massive pay cut to do so, unless the Bulls are willing to trade Taj Gibson and his $8 million owed next year and bring very little back in return. In that scenario, you can forget about star European prospect Nikola Mirotic coming over this offseason as well.
With all that in mind, is it impossible for Anthony to join the Bulls this offseason? Of course not, but it would require an awful lot of cap juggling to do it. Here's Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago with his take:
Aside from the panache that [Phil] Jackson's hire gives the Knicks, it also likely closes the door on the possibility of Carmelo Anthony heading to the Bulls.
The idea of Anthony coming to Chicago this summer as a free agent was always a long shot, especially given the many moves the Bulls would have to make to clear cap space, and the reality that Anthony still might have to take a pay cut.
So what should the Bulls do this offseason? Carry on as though Anthony isn't a realistic option, or do everything possible to lure him in?
That's why Noah, Chicago's center, approached Anthony over All-Star Weekend last month about joining the Bulls, according to sources with knowledge of the conversation.
The sources said Noah told Anthony something to this effect: You can go to Los Angeles, but if you really want a ring, if you really want your legacy to be about winning, you should come to Chicago.
The best option for the Bulls to pursue might be somewhere in between. Recruit him, sure, but don't move the earth for him.
It's Anthony who holds all the cards here, after all, so if he were to tell New York's management that he was leaving New York no matter what, you'd have to imagine the Knicks would be open to working out a sign-and-trade deal to get something back in return.
That would be by far the best option for the Bulls to explore—and significantly less dangerous than clearing out the roster for Anthony's arrival.
Instead of amnestying Boozer, the Bulls could use his massive expiring deal worth $16.8 million to come close to matching salaries in a deal for Anthony. The addition of last year's first-round pick, Tony Snell, and future draft picks (the Bulls could have a gem of a pick from the Sacramento Kings next year, the Charlotte Bobcats' pick this year, and all their own choices) and that would give the Knicks some valuable assets for losing Anthony.
Obviously, trading Anthony to another major Eastern Conference power wouldn't be ideal, but again, in this scenario Anthony will have made it clear he's not returning no matter what. The Knicks would get pieces to keep or trade, and the Bulls would save money from not having to amnesty Boozer and get to keep their entire core intact. And, of course, they'd get one of the league's best offensive players in Anthony.
Essentially, the Bulls would need Anthony to make all the moves if he wants to come to Chicago. He's the one who has to force the issue, as the Bulls would have no reimbursement if Anthony got cold feet or decided to go elsewhere after amnestying Boozer and trading Gibson in an effort to sign him outright. A sign-and-trade deal is by far the safest bet.
Considering all the options Anthony will have, playing it safe is the prudent thing to do. Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports with the latest on Anthony's upcoming free agency:
Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.
"He'll give New York every option," one source with knowledge of Anthony's plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. "But he has options – and he's going to explore them all."
There may be a temptation to get into a bidding war for Anthony and clear the decks for him, but Chicago doesn't need to be desperate here. Anthony is an elite player, but Gibson is certainly no slouch either. The Bulls don't have a ton to lose if Anthony opts to sign elsewhere, as they'll still have cap space for the loaded 2015 offseason and the option to sign Mirotic to a deal.
This won't be Chicago's last chance at another star by any means, especially when you consider that a player like Lance Stephenson should fall more in Chicago's price range.
Ultimately, Anthony knows what the Bulls can offer. Chicago has a title contending team in a major media market, which separates it from most of the league. There's also an elite coach and supplementary stars in place who can give Anthony the elite defensive backing he's never had without stealing away offensive touches. Anthony can keep being exactly who he is, and Chicago can help him win the ring to justify it.
If Anthony wants all that, he can make it happen. The ball is in his court, not Chicago's.
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