Signing with the Chicago Bulls isn't one of them.
Enough uncertainty exists in New York for Anthony to consider leaving. The Knicks' 2013-14 campaign was catastrophic and empty, a stark reminder of how far away the end to a four-decades-long championship drought remains. Becoming the first Anthony-headlined team to ever miss the playoffs only diminishes the appeal of a splintery sales pitch crawling with what ifs and an absence of sureness.
Abandoning the Knicks, though, is a risk in and of itself, regardless of how imperfect or morose their immediate and long-term future appears. If Anthony leaves, he must be certain it's for the right bailiwick that offers much, much more—both immediately and long term—than New York.
Chicago isn't that place.
Injury-Prone to the Core
Pointing to the Bulls' first-round exit at the hands of a surprising and hungry Washington Wizards team as a meaningful deterrent won't get you anywhere in this argument.
Does Chicago's premature postseason exodus hinder its chances of pirating Anthony from New York?
No more than the Knicks' complete inability to nab a postseason berth harms their attempt to retain him.
Falling in five games was and remains a significant disappointment for the Bulls. The general consensus was that they would push past Washington and into the second round. Upsetting one of the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks—ultimately Indiana—wasn't out of the question either. Within an unpredictable, wide-open Eastern Conference, the Bulls' playoff ceiling was high, and they failed to approach it, let alone meet it.
Yet their elimination was not without valid excuses.
Derrick Rose was nowhere to be found. After missing all of 2012-13 while tending to a torn ACL in his left knee, he played in just 10 games during the 2013-14 campaign, courtesy of a torn right meniscus. Without him, their offense became a repulsive fungus that checked in at 28th in efficiency. Few players could create their own shots, and All-Star center Joakim Noah was left to initiate most of their offense as a primary playmaker, in addition to anchoring a physical defense.
Noah himself was banged up. Soon after the Bulls' exit, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, according to ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell. The recovery time is anywhere from eight to 12 weeks.
So yes, the Bulls had plenty of understandable excuses, sheer acts of bad luck that began early in the season and led to their undoing roughly six months later. But there, in those excuses, lies problem after problem, reason after reason for Anthony to bypass the Bulls.
For all their bluster, the Bulls are not owners of an undeniably bright future. Their two best players are injury-prone, one of them a former MVP who has been cut down in his prime, the other a genuine warrior with immeasurable heart and a fickle health bill.
Prospective free agents have to look there, at the collective well-being of Rose and Noah. The latter has a knack for suffering injuries he's able to play through, indicative of his mental and physical wherewithal and a red flag for proponents of absolute durability.
The case of Rose is more complex and dire. On the one hand, he's Rose. Explosive point guard. Former NBA MVP. All-around good guy. On the other hand, he's Rose. Young and fragile. Talented yet unreliable. Bearer of glass knees.
By next season, Rose will have appeared in just 50 games—regular season and playoffs combined—since December 2011. That's almost three years.
Three long, trying years.
Worse, his latest meniscus injury is something that may never fully heal. Rose had his meniscus repaired, and while speaking with Sporting News' Sean Deveney in December, Dr. Derek Ochiai, an orthopedic surgeon at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center in Arlington, Virginia, indicated that complete recoveries are rare:
It might not heal. The success rate for meniscal tears is not close to 100 percent, but the younger somebody is, being an athlete, a non-smoker—those things help so there is less of a chance of it not healing. If you follow the protocol and limit range of motion, and you brace appropriately, use crutches appropriately, all those things, it is still about an 80 percent chance it heals, maybe 85 percent. If it doesn’t, he has to either do a re-repair or take out the torn part.
Amar'e Stoudemire has played in 149 games—regular season and playoffs—since December 2011, or almost three times as many as Rose. If he's viewed as a tactical and contractual liability, why should Rose be any different?
Because he's a point guard?
Because he's younger?
That's not enough.
To leave the Knicks, Anthony needs to be guaranteed something different, something more—not the potential for more of the same.
More Money, More Potential Problems
On top of the injury concerns, the Bulls' future flexibility remains a point of issue.
Once they (theoretically) sign Anthony, they're done. They will have next to no financial wiggle room, especially with Jimmy Butler due for a new contract sometime in the next two years.
Before they even make a play for Anthony, the Bulls must trim plenty of salary. There's some debate about how much, but here are the facts: It's going to be a lot.
And then some.
The Bulls have more than $63.8 million in player salaries on their books next season. Amnestying Carlos Boozer's $16.8 million bill pares that down to roughly $47 million. Next year's salary cap is slated to increase to $63.2 million, according ESPN.com's Marc Stein, which would give the Bulls approximately $16.8 million in spending power. That's not enough to sign Anthony, who could be leaving as much as five years and nearly $130 million on the table in New York.
In order to make Anthony a competitive offer, the Bulls must dump Mike Dunleavy's $3.2 million salary, among others. Even if Anthony is willing to accept, say, $19 million per year, the Bulls have first-round draft picks, minimum cap holds and whatever eventually happens with Nikola Mirotic to think about. There is a real chance they would have to move on from Taj Gibson as well to make this happen.
At that point, the Bulls will have erased much of their depth, along with their identity. Why attach yourself to that situation when Rose and Noah combine to make more $31 million next year and are under contract for at least another two seasons (Noah through 2015-16, Rose through 2016-17)?
If this all goes bad, Anthony suddenly finds himself stuck on a team that's bogged down by a faulty roster and overwhelming cap commitments.
Too Many Questions, Not Enough Answers
There isn't a future for Anthony in Chicago. Not the kind he is looking for.
Alongside a healthy Rose and Noah, supported by depth similar to that of what the Bulls have now, Anthony could do some serious damage. Forget deep playoff runs. That team could contend.
Assuming, of course, that team exists.
Which it may not.
Too many obstacles plague a potential relocation to Chicago. That was always the case; Noah's latest bout with mortality just served up a cogent reminder of how unstable the Bulls really are.
For that matter, it also doesn't help that the Bulls are unsure they're even willing to amnesty Boozer, a requisite move for any Anthony pursuit. Stein previously reported that the Bulls would prefer to trade him and aren't necessarily sold on the idea of paying him to go away.
That type of hesitation, that kind of stinginess, is not symbolic of a team that must spend, spend, spend to get Anthony and spend, spend, spend even more to ensure he—along with Rose and Noah—is surrounded by the right supporting cast.
This isn't to suggest the Knicks are Anthony's ideal team. As currently constructed, they're not. The Houston Rockets, while also not ideal, have younger, more prolific talent. But no matter how hard Noah recruits Anthony—something the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley says he's actively doing—it doesn't change reality: Compared to the Bulls, the Knicks can offer Anthony more.
They can give him more money. They have the promise of cap space in 2015. They have the means to dig themselves out of whatever trench they could find themselves in next season.
They have Phil Jackson, a man with a plan and the mystique and audacity to actualize it.
The Bulls do not.
What they do have is history of modest success that has come in spite of cyclical setbacks and hardships. What they have is core encased in questions that won't be answered until next season. What they have is an incredible coach whose relationship with management is so disturbingly tenuous that he's been linked to current job openings while still under contract.
“So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word and we understand what it’s going to take and we will present that to him at that time," Jackson said of Anthony accepting less to stay in New York, per the New York Daily News' Peter Botte.
Expecting Anthony to sign at a discount after the season New York had is gutsy, maybe even naive.
Then again, it would be equally ignorant of Anthony to duck the Knicks' ambiguous, what if-fraught future for the denser, more ambivalent fog enveloping Chicago.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
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