And why not? Boasting both a big market and All-Star talent at two positions, the Bulls are potentially one piece away from positioning themselves as true title contenders.
That it’ll have a shot at both franchise forwards speaks to Chicago’s unquestioned status as a bonafide basketball destination.
Which leaves just one question: Which of the two represents a better fit for the Bulls?
First, some financials.
Melo and the Business of Winning
With over $64 million in salaries for 2014-15 on the ledger, the infamously spendthrift Bulls would need a front-office miracle to land either Love or Anthony this summer.
And while Anthony’s impending free agency will allow him to sign with whatever team he chooses, Chicago—assuming it remains steadfastly frugal—would need to do two things: amnesty Carlos Boozer (thereby removing his salary commitment from the books completely) and convince Anthony to sign for something resembling a paycut.
The reason being the Bulls would still have to pay a portion of Boozer’s salary, a crucial caveat to the aforementioned clean salary slate.
Basically, the Bulls would be banking on two leaps of faith: the first from Anthony, who would have to be convinced that a title was nigh before accepting anything less than the max; and second from owner Jerry Reinsdorf, he of the notoriously penny-pinching perspective, who would likely be forced to dig a bit deeper into his pockets than he’d prefer.
Judging by recent reports from Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, Anthony certainly seems enamored enough with Tom Thibodeau’s system to at least make his signing on the cheap a possibility:
That was preceded by Adrian Wojnarowski’s scoop for Yahoo Sports indicating Anthony indeed has Chicago on his free-agency short list:
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.
For the Money of Love
Love, on the other hand, is a trickier beast. After ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported Monday that the All-Star forward had “no interest” in a contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love has been linked to everyone from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Golden State Warriors to—surprise, surprise—the Chicago Bulls.
The biggest x-factor here is, of course, how Minnesota will ultimately react. Do they try and trade Love as quickly as possible in an attempt to acquire at least some assets in return? Or do they ride out the 2014-15 season with the slim hope of making the playoffs and ultimately convincing Love to change his mind?
Aside from Boozer’s expiring contract, the Bulls don’t exactly have the assets to get a deal done right away—short of emptying the pantry of any and all productive pieces, anyway.
Alternatively, Love could wait until the summer of 2015, when the Bulls payroll plummets down to the $40-$45 million range. At that point, Reinsdorf would then have to decide whether adding another max deal to the accounts—to say nothing of how much it might cost to round the roster out—will be worth a run at a banner.
As you can see, Anthony and Love each pose their own financial pitfalls, making Chicago’s fiscal consideration vis-à-vis the two a veritable wash.
Whether the Bulls pull the trigger on one, the other or neither, however, hinges on how good a fit these all-world forwards can ultimately be.
Tale of the Tape
At first glance the, two boast a somewhat similar profile: versatile forwards who can score from anywhere on the floor, rebound extremely well for their size and, in a pinch, pass with surprising aplomb.
Even Melo and K-Love’s defense—disinterested half the time, disastrous and surprisingly serviceable in equal proportions thereafter—binds them by a common weakness.
Of the two, however, Anthony’s defense has been far more consistent, making him a much better on-the-surface fit for Thibodeau’s exacting standards on that end.
That’s not to say Love’s lack of defensive effort will be a deal-breaker. Indeed, one need look no further than Carlos Boozer to see the Bulls are more than capable of surviving—thriving, even—with a subpar stopper at the 4.
Ultimately, when we say “fit”, we really mean “how Love or Melo would fit with a score-first point guard like Derrick Rose.”
Here, again, Melo may have an edge. As Anthony’s performance at the 2012 Olympics proved, he’s more than capable of taking a secondary role if the goal—in that case, winning gold—is worth the sacrifice.
Then again, what if Rose comes back at considerably less than 100%? What if the explosive exploits that defined his first three years in the league suddenly atrophy?
The question then becomes, which of Love and Anthony is the best primary option.
It depends on your time frame. While Anthony is widely considered to be in the midst of his career peak, Love—at just 25 years old—holds the higher upside and, suffice it to say, longer staying power.
For his part, here’s how ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell fell on the question:
Love would have an instant comfort level with Rose, given the pair's history of working out with personal trainer Rob McClanaghan in the summer the past few years. But the Bulls need Anthony more. He can create his own shot and is the scoring threat the Bulls have missed most over the past few seasons under Tom Thibodeau. Anthony would be able to take the most pressure off Rose as the former MVP makes his way back from another knee injury.
Love and Noah would be a formidable force on the glass in Chicago for years to come, but it is Anthony who would put the Bulls closer to a title.
Without copping to convention, Friedell raises an excellent point: For as woeful as Chicago’s offense has been without Rose, Anthony’s uncanny ability to get buckers from everywhere and anywhere gives him the slightest of edges over the younger but less offensively versatile Love.
At the same time, how Rose feels—that is, whom he prefers to play with—will certainly be a crucial deciding factor, and in that sense Love may well have the inside track.
But if the Bulls expect Rose’s recovery to yield anything resembling the pin-balling basketball superstar we’ve all so sorely missed, pairing him with a player like Anthony—offensively gifted, defensively passable and positively desperate for a ring—makes the most sense.
All this might seem an impossibly crushing conundrum for Chicago fans. But lest they torture themselves wondering which of these two show-stopping stars provides the best fit for their beloved Bulls, some perspective is in order.
After all, that you stand to land either means you’re in a pretty great place.