Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love: Who Makes Better Sense for Chicago Bulls to Chase
The Chicago Bulls are expected to have a big offseason this summer. Their two preferred options would appear to be Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, which raises the question: Which of the two would be the best fit?
The Bulls have the Nos. 16 and 19 picks in this draft. They have the protected Sacramento Kings’ pick next year. They also have the rights to Nikola Mirotic, the best prospect in Europe, and they have high-value contracts in Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy Jr.
They can include Carlos Boozer, who will be in the final year of his contract, for the sole purpose of making the money work.
If that fails, they can always amnesty Boozer (as many expect they will), trade Dunleavy and/or Gibson and create enough cap space to sign Anthony outright.
Here are the advantages each has over the other in no particular order. They aren’t ranked because the entire thing is too dynamic to do so.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Kevin Love comes at a price tag of $15.7 million, per ShamSports.com.
Carmelo Anthony would be turning down $23.4 million if he opted out of his contract with the Knicks, something he’d have to do to get to the Bulls.
Anthony has stipulated that he would be willing to take less money in order to win. He told the media on All-Star weekend:
As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern. My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.
But how much less is less? Would he take what would amount to a $20 million pay cut over four years? That may or may not be a realistic expectation.
The cost advantage goes to Love, but it’s in Anthony’s power to make up the difference.
The first instinct is to say that Love has the advantage here because he is significantly younger. Carmelo Anthony turned 30 on May 29. Love won’t turn 26 until Sep 26. That means that Love will be younger when Anthony’s contract expires than Anthony would be at the time he signs it.
Younger is better, right?
Maybe not. Recent history suggests that having at least one of your top two scorers in their 30s is helpful in winning a championship. The last team to win a title without meeting that criteria was the 2005 version of the San Antonio Spurs, when Tim Duncan was 28 and Tony Parker was 22.
Here are the ages of the two leading scorers since then.
- 2013: LeBron James, 28; Dwyane Wade, 31
- 2012: LeBron James, 27; Dwyane Wade, 30
- 2011: Dirk Nowitzki, 32; Jason Terry, 33
- 2010: Kobe Bryant, 31; Pau Gasol, 30
- 2009: Kobe Bryant, 30; Pau Gasol 29
- 2008: Paul Pierce, 30; Kevin Garnett 31
- 2007: Tim Duncan, 30; Tony Parker, 24
- 2006: Dwyane Wade, 24; Shaquille O'Neal, 33
The average age of the top scorer since then is 29, and the average age of the second-leading scorer is 30.3.
The Bulls’ other star, Derrick Rose, is a month younger than Love. Having a seasoned playoff veteran has advantages, and another scorer would not be all bad.
There are advantages to age, particularly if it’s a player who has matured well, such as Anthony, who had a career-best 10.7 win shares this year.
Anthony has played in 66 postseason games, averaging 25.7 points. Love has played in none. Experience counts for something. Granted, Anthony's only been to the Conference Finals once and only past the first round twice, but that’s still more than Love has done.
Over the first two years, the advantage would actually be Anthony’s because of the maturity factor. Over the last two years, it would be Love’s.
Love and Rose would fit together as perfectly as their names suggest.
Love is a stretch 4 who would force bigs to come out and defend him. That in turn would open up lanes for Rose to drive and finish at the rim, which he does as well as anyone in the league.
Both Anthony and Love were extremely effective in catch-and-shoot situations, per NBA.com/STATS. Love averaged a fifth-best 7.1 points with a .568 effective field-goal percentage. Anthony averaged an eighth-best 6.8 points, with an effective field-goal percentage of .591.
Anthony might be slightly more efficient, but playing the small forward wouldn’t stretch the court to the same degree as Love. Putting pressure on a small forward to guard the perimeter doesn’t have the same impact, which is why no one talks about a “stretch 3.”
Additionally, while neither player is exactly known for his defensive acumen, Love’s lack of credentials would be less harmful. The Bulls succeeded in covering up Boozer’s liabilities by limiting his rotation and keeping him in position to secure the defensive rebounds.
In the Tom Thibodeau era, among players with at least 7,500 minutes, Boozer is fourth in defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, with 8.4. Kevin Love is first with 9.8.
That’s not a coincidence. The Bulls’ defensive strategy is to force bad shots and secure the rebounds. Love does a better job of that than anyone.
Anthony is not as bad a defensive player as his reputation suggests. He had a 13.6 opponents’ player efficiency rating last season, per 82games.com. However, the responsibilities of the wings in Thibodeau’s system is much greater than that of the power forward.
They’re expected to make heavy rotations and defend multiple positions. Whether Anthony can stay committed to that is a real question mark.
Neither player is a great defender, but Love fits better into what the Bulls do defensively.
Taking the better style fit in a vacuum only tells part of the story. The Bulls have a greater need at small forward than power forward. Taj Gibson has proven himself a capable starter, averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 boards in his eight starts this season.
He was also a more efficient scorer with the first unit, boasting a field-goal percentage of .496 compared to .476. Add to that the fact he’s one of the top defensive power forwards in the league.
Keeping him appears to be the plan, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Sources said Noah has been in Anthony’s ear as often as possible, and he has told other Bulls to push hard for Anthony this summer. But there is one condition: Backup big man Taj Gibson can’t be sacrificed.
As a starting small forward, Mike Dunleavy Jr. averaged 12.0 points and 4.4 rebounds while providing capable team defense.
In a perfect-world scenario, the forward pairing would either be Dunleavy and Love or Anthony and Gibson. While the former duo would make the Bulls a legitimate offensive threat, the latter coupling would be lethal.
I hate to bring it up, but what happens if Rose gets injured again? That’s a scenario that has to be considered, whether you want to do so or not. In that scenario, Carmelo Anthony is a better option.
Last year, without Rose the Bulls had the worst offense in the league. Only 11 teams since the advent of the shot clock averaged fewer than their 93.7 points and won at least as many games. In other words, the Bulls were incredibly lopsided, winning with their defense while lulling fans to sleep with the league’s worst offense.
The biggest reason their offense was so bad is that Rose is their only true shot-creator. That’s borne out by the numbers. Last season the Bulls averaged 12 unassisted field goals per game. Anthony averaged almost half that by himself, 5.9. Love had only 2.9.
In layman's terms, what that means is that Anthony is really good at creating shots, and Love isn't. They're both great scorers, but Anthony's numbers could survive better if he doesn't have Rose setting him up. That's what the Bulls need.
As an insurance policy against another Rose injury, Anthony makes more sense.
Some would argue that the best course of action is to simply take the best player and let the rest sort itself out from there. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider (subscription required) makes a sound argument for Kevin Love:
People know this, right? Anthony is a more famous person and a great player in his own right -- a borderline MVP candidate at his best -- but Love is a top-five producer in the NBA -- the elite of the elite. Let's start with WARP, which does a great job of blending efficiency and volume. Last season, Anthony posted 14.2 WARP, ranking ninth in the league. That's All-Star production and was the best total, and ranking, of Anthony's 11-year career. Nevertheless, he produced six fewer wins than Love, who was third in the league with 20.2 WARP.
Over the past three seasons, Love has a 39.2 to 33.6 edge in WARP over Anthony even though he missed 64 games in 2012-13. Love's winning percentage -- the per-possession component of WARP -- was over .700 for the third time in four years. Anthony's .643 mark last season was the best he's ever done. Both are high volume players, but Love is more a more efficient shooter, draws more fouls, hands out more assists and, even after accounting for position, he laps Anthony in terms of board work. Neither is a great defender, but at the bottom line, Love's Real Plus-Minus of plus-5.10 is elite, while Anthony's plus-2.73 is merely very good.
In other words, if we’re looking at the advanced metrics which do the best job of removing external factors such as teammates, Love isn’t just better than Anthony—he’s on another level.
Why Not Both?
If you’re having trouble deciding between them, why not take both? It’s not impossible.
First, obtaining Anthony would require a sign-and-trade deal. That actually has some advantages over jettisoning Boozer via amnesty and landing Anthony in free agency. By staying over the cap, the Bulls would remain eligible for their mid-level and biannual exceptions.
Remember too that in sign-and-trade deals the sending team has less bargaining power. LeBron James came in a sign-and-trade. Miami gave Cleveland two late first-round picks and two second-round picks for his services. That’s way short of his value.
First, let's establish the condition that the Knicks and Wolves have absolutely given up on keeping their star players. Second, let's assume that Anthony is willing to start at $18 million (Rose money).
Using that as a baseline, let’s send the Knicks Carlos Boozer (for ballast only), the No. 19 pick in this year’s draft, their 2016 pick and then the 2015 and 2016 second-round picks from Portland. That actually beats what Cleveland got for James, and Anthony is no James.
That helps offset the fact that the Knicks would have to eat Boozer’s salary this year. But the damage (on their end) isn’t that severe because they would have that salary freed up for when they expect to be able to do something in free agency in 2015.
Having the young draft picks to build around wouldn’t hurt, either.
Then the Bulls can send the Timberwolves a package consisting of Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tony Snell, the Sacramento Kings’ protected first-round pick for next year, their No. 16 pick, the rights to Mirotic and the unguaranteed salaries of Ronnie Brewer, Mike James and Lou Amundson.
Doing all that, it’s feasible they could actually acquire both Anthony and Love. They’d have to go all-in to do it, but with Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony, Love and Noah, they’d have a scary starting five.
And since they would stay over the cap, they could retain their mid-level and biannual exceptions. They could use the biannual exception to bring back D.J. Augustin and their mid-level exception to acquire a veteran wing looking to add a ring to his collection (or win his first) such as Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion or Vince Carter.
They’d have to flesh out the team with minimum-salary players, but the potential for an eight-man rotation that potent is tough to beat.
It would be nice if they got both, but to provide that as an answer would be a cop-out.
If they had to choose, my preference would be Anthony, if (and only if) he took a big enough pay cut to get down to Rose-level money. (Some will note that this contradicts a previous article I wrote. It now seems more realistic they could get him at that price, which is a game-changer to me, and why I qualify this with a big “if.”)
That would allow the Bulls to trade Boozer, Dunleavy, the No. 16 pick (technically, whomever the Bulls take with it, as they wouldn’t be able to work the deal until after the draft), the Kings’ pick and two second-round picks for Anthony along with Raymond Felton’s and J.R. Smith’s bad contracts.
With both Boozer and Dunleavy in the last year of their contracts, that gives the Knicks more freedom in free agency in the summer of 2015. They would be obligated to just $24 million.
The Knicks would do it because they don’t have a choice, and honestly, it’s a pretty good deal. It would give them the ideal situation for a rebuild. They would be bad in 2013-14, but that’s a good thing for them. They would actually get their own first-round pick in 2015.
Over a two-year period they could add three first-round picks. That’s how many they presently have between now and 2018 (their own 2015, 2017 and 2018 picks), per RealGM.com. Add $40 million worth of free agents (cue the Kevin Durant rumors here) in 2015, and you have a rapid turnaround. That’s not a bad rebuilding scenario considering where they sit right now.
Felton and Smith would definitely be tough pills to swallow for Chicago, but both players could improve with a change of scenery and Thibodeau’s coaching. They would also have their mid-level exception they could use on Mirotic and their biannual exception to use on a veteran wing.
Furthermore, they'd still have the No. 19 pick in the draft.
This would be the Bulls' new depth chart:
That is a team that would immediately be in competition for the title. It would be arguably the best starting five in the league and own close to the deepest bench. With Thibodeau’s coaching, you know they’ll bring it on defense.
If Rose, Smith, Anthony, Mirotic and Noah are on the court together, scoring certainly won’t be an issue anymore.
If the goal is to win a title now, and if Anthony is willing to work with his contract, this is the best scenario.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.