Not quite...but perhaps soon.
Part one of his potential departure is complete. Anthony is going to hit free agency:
Part two is a bit more complex. Though Melo has the power to leave New York, the Bulls must now gather the means to facilitate his exit.
Landing Anthony via a sign-and-trade is the best option for the Bulls.
Trading for him ensures they aren't forced to dump too many contracts and assets for nothing. And if they're able to build said deal around Carlos Boozer, it saves them the trouble of amnestying him and paying him $16.8 million to just go away.
Boozer's contract comes off the books after next season, and he makes enough money to satisfy financial requirements of any deal, so the Bulls would be able to pair him with one other asset to push a trade through without looting their roster of valuable depth.
Good in theory? Most definitely, but it's also dependent on the Knicks agreeing to take on Boozer, which the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson says they won't do.
"However, 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," he writes.
Knicks president Phil Jackson has stressed the importance of team basketball over individual success since his arrival, and he seems fully prepared to move forward without Anthony if that's what has to happen. He won't trade him without a just return.
Offering Boozer and one first-round selection won't do the trick. It could take both of Chicago's 2014 first-rounders, plus tangible assets such as Nikola Mirotic or Jimmy Butler.
The Knicks know how much the Bulls must give up to create cap space. They'll play off that. And they have leverage. Daring Melo to sign in Chicago for less is leverage.
Expect them to play hardball in any negotiations, a less-than-ideal stance that forces Chicago to explore an alternative avenue of acquisition.
Signing Anthony will wind up being the more likely course of action, if only because it entails the Bulls making sacrifices that won't be dictated by the Knicks or another team.
Leading into 2014-15, the Bulls have nine players on guaranteed contracts totaling nearly $64 million. That's not including the three nonguaranteed deals counting against their ledger, so even if they waive all three, they're still $1.7 million above the projected $62.3 million cap line.
Before doing anything, the Bulls must determine how much they're prepared to sacrifice for Anthony. Talk of him taking a pay cut has dominated headlines, but there's only so much truth to that concept; he's already leaving one year and $30-plus million on the table by abandoning New York.
Kevin Anderson of CSNChicago.com says the Bulls have to open up something like $17 million or $18 million in spending power. That's not going to be enough.
Anthony can make more than $22.4 million in the first year of his new deal, per Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ. Signing at $18 million would amount to a loss of $17.6 million over four years. When you factor in the fifth year New York could give him, he's sacrificing more than $40 million.
Snatching Anthony is going to take more. As Johnson put it, plenty of "speculation exists throughout the league that Anthony, despite publicly saying he would take a pay cut to play for a winner, still desires a maximum or near-maximum offer."
Creating room for a max contract must be the goal. That's the ballpark the Bulls are working in, just like any other team. While problematic, it's not impossible.
In addition to the nine guaranteed contracts, the Bulls have two first-rounders—No. 16 and No. 19. If they don't draft two overseas players who plan on not coming to the NBA next season, they're looking at more than $3.1 million in extra salary commitments. Bringing Mirotic stateside would impact that number as well.
Let's assume the Bulls are able to stash Mirotic overseas for another year and do the same with their two draft picks. We're back to that $64 million devoted to nine players. Factor in three minimum cap holds—since all teams must have at least 13 players on the roster (Melo represents No. 13 here)—and the Bulls are at $65.5 million.
Amnestying Boozer's $16.8 million salary gives them $48.7 million in salary obligations, plus a $500,000 cap hold to account for the power forward's departure. At $49.2 million, they're $13.1 million under the cap. That's not getting Anthony.
Replacing Mike Dunleavy's $3.3 million expiring contract with another minimum cap hold opens up an additional $2.8 million, increasing their first-year offer to $15.9 million—better, but still it's not enough.
Or rather, who's next?
Jimmy Butler could be shipped out easily, but he's making just over $2 million next season. Dealing him gives them an extra $1.5 million and a best-case Melo offer of $17.4 million. There's no guarantee that's enough to entice Melo, and it demands the Bulls part ways with one of the league's best perimeter defenders.
Taj Gibson would be the most likely candidate to go. He's slated to earn $8 million next season, and the Bulls need to tack on an additional $6.5 million to create max room.
Only then can they offer Anthony the max deal he's still believed to want.
Whatever moves the Bulls have to make, they can make.
There's a lot of maneuvering involved, but unlike the Rockets, their assets have outside value and would be easier to dump.
Will they actually make the necessary sacrifices?
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested they will:
According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice.
“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.
There's aggressive, there's crazy aggressive and then there's potentially shooting one's self in the foot. Jumping through the requisite flaming hoops to have max-contract capacity could fall under the latter, even if we're to believe the Bulls are desperate enough.
Which they may or may not be.
It was Cowley who reported in May that Joakim Noah—who has been actively recruiting Anthony—only wants Melo if the move doesn't cost Gibson. Johnson said that Anthony feels the same, writing that he would "prefer" the Bulls to keep Gibson.
Keeping Gibson just isn't possible if the Bulls plan to sign Melo outright, unless Anthony is prepared to earn under $18 million in the first year of his new contract and, therefore, leave tens of millions of dollars on the table over the life of his deal.
And remember, this is all conditional upon the Bulls hiding not one, not two, but three players overseas. They could have to rid themselves of both first-rounders altogether, further complicating their situation.
Trading Gibson is a move they can perhaps stomach knowing two other assets will be on the way soon enough. If those picks are yanked from the picture completely, their supporting cast is in shambles both now and later.
Brokering a sign-and-trade is the best chance the Bulls have at remaining close to whole. It's not easier, and it's going to take picks and players, but it's the only way they land Anthony while keeping Gibson. Either way, it's going to cost them—a lot.
"There's so many moving parts that can happen," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said in May, per ESPNChicago.com's Scoop Jackson. "It will obviously be an active summer for us."
Active to the point of devaluing depth for star power, it seems.
*Salary information via ShamSports.com.
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