The Chicago Bulls' first-round defeat against the Washington Wizards was a painful reminder of how badly this team misses former MVP Derrick Rose. But it was also a sign that this team needs more, that even when Rose comes back, something will have to change.
The organization has been linked to two potential changes that would shake things up in the best possible way.
The question is how one might affect the other.
Wojnarowski further notes, "It is unclear how the Bulls' pursuit of Afflalo would impact the franchise's free-agent interest in New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony."
In a completely theoretical sense, adding Afflalo would certainly make the Bulls a more attractive destination for Anthony.
According to The Chicago Tribune, "League sources said targeting Afflalo ... signals to primary target Carmelo Anthony the win-now mentality the Bulls must have with Joakim Noah turning 30 next February and Derrick Rose coming off back-to-back knee surgeries."
Signals are all well and good, but what about dollars?
Afflalo is set to make $7,562,500 next season and has a player-option worth $7,750,000 for the 2015-16 season. Should the Bulls acquire him, it's hard to see how the organization would then have enough cap space to sign him outright.
In order to sign Anthony straight-up, the franchise would already have to amnesty Carlos Boozer and trade Taj Gibson away without receiving a comparable contract in return. Rose and Joakim Noah alone will make over $31 million next season, so Chicago has to make a number of moves to create cap space. Afflalo would take up a pretty good chunk of that space, however, perhaps making it impossible to add him and Anthony both.
There is at least one alternative that might work, however, and that's a sign-and-trade arrangement.
That's no slam dunk, though, according to The Tribune:
League sources continue to indicate that despite Boozer’s expiring $16.8 million deal dovetailing with the Knicks’ plan for massive salary-cap space in 2015, the Knicks have no interest in acquiring Boozer as of now.
Thus, the Bulls might have to sign Anthony, whom everyone from coach Tom Thibodeau to Rose is on board with adding, via outright salary-cap space. Using the amnesty provision on Boozer only nets them roughly $11 million of space, depending on where the cap is set July 1. The Bulls would have to sell off other pieces for nothing in return to create more cap space and would prefer obviously to keep Taj Gibson. So would Anthony should he land with the Bulls.
Of course, the Knicks may change their minds about Boozer in the event they're faced with the possibility of losing Anthony for nothing. Chicago would be able to create a package around Boozer that may be somewhat enticing—or more enticing than nothing, anyway.
New York doesn't have much leverage in the situation. If Anthony makes it known he wants out, then it's in the team's best interest to get something in exchange, even if that something is an expiring contract (Boozer), a complementary piece (perhaps Mike Dunleavy) and a draft pick or two.
So even with Afflalo in the fold, there's hope for the Bulls' grander plan.
As long as Anthony wants to be in Chicago, the two sides should be able to find a way. And by all accounts, he's plenty interested in Chicago—especially in the notion of playing for head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring reports:
According to a league source, Anthony is intrigued by the idea of playing for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. During the season, Anthony sought out multiple ex-Chicago wing players—separate from the widely reported conversations he had with Bulls center Joakim Noah, the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year—about Thibodeau, according to the source.
There's not always a way where there's a will, but stranger things have happened in this league.
Besides a sign-and-trade deal, it's also possible that Anthony could accept a pay cut in order to sign with Chicago as a free agent. The 30-year-old's bottom line at this point in his career has to be winning, and sometimes that requires financial sacrifice. Just ask the Miami Heat's Big Three. To date, Anthony has already made $135,865,275 during his career.
Could he stomach something less than a maximum deal if it meant a chance to play for a preferred coach? If it meant playing alongside an MVP-caliber point guard and the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year (Noah)?
It seems unlikely that Anthony would flirt with the idea of coming to Chicago if a path to signing with the team weren't already cleared. But he's not just flirting with the idea—he's doing his research, too.
ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley reports, "According to league sources, Anthony has talked to at least one high-profile person who lives in Chicago about what it's like to be famous in the Windy City."
That doesn't sound like a guy who's been convinced by any of Phil Jackson's pitches. Nor does it sound like someone who's just a Chicago pipe dream.
So one of a couple things must be true. Either the Bulls are only pursuing Afflalo in the event things with Anthony don't work out, or acquiring Afflalo wouldn't jeopardize signing (or trading for) Anthony. It's simply unthinkable that Chicago would ruin its chances with Anthony in order to land Afflalo.
That's no knock on Afflalo. He's a solid two-way player, and he'd be a great fit with the Bulls.
But he's no Anthony.
The Bulls are committed to adding another star, and they'll spend all summer finding a way to do just that. With or without Arron Afflalo.