Chicago Bulls Going All-In for Carmelo Anthony Would Be Massive Mistake

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

Too many strings are attached to the Chicago Bulls' pursuit of Carmelo Anthony for it to be anything more than an idea that's better in theory than practice.

Sense of it can be made on the surface. The Bulls need another star and they need scoring, and Anthony scores better than almost anyone else in the NBA. He's also available. 

Anthony officially informed the New York Knicks of his decision to become a free agent this summer, and he's said to be "intrigued" by the Bulls and Houston Rockets, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Where some free agents are expected to simply test the market, he is considered an actual flight risk. And the Bulls know it.

Joakim Noah began recruiting New York's superstar over the All-Star break, and per the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Derrick Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau have started buttering Anthony up as well: 

According to one of Anthony’s former coaches, Thibodeau has reached out to him and to several other coaches who have worked with Anthony with numerous calls.


And it would seem Noah isn’t alone. Point guard Derrick Rose reportedly has gotten involved, too, and Thibodeau has used back channels to let Anthony know his addition could mean big things for everyone involved. 

Early indications point to a happy union, a logical merger that poses just one problem: Where in tarnation will the Bulls put all those gleaming championship rings Anthony's arrival promises?

If only that were the lone issue, or even an issue at all. 

Acquiring Anthony doesn't guarantee anything. There are problems and hangups. Loads of them.

More than there should be.

Enough to make this cogent coupling a behemoth blunder.   


Colossal Cost

There is no easy way for the Bulls to land Anthony.

Negotiating a sign-and-trade with New York built around Carlos Boozer's expiring contract would be convenient for them, but not the Knicks; K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune said they aren't interested in trading for Boozer at the moment.

Free agency is the most likely means of acquisition. Perhaps the Knicks could inevitably be swayed to deal Anthony, but team president Phil Jackson has no intention of taking on salary that compromises their financial flexibility for summer 2015.

Reaching an agreement will be difficult, even if the Bulls are slinging draft picks. Selections turn into players who must eventually be paid.

Signing Anthony outright removes the middle man. Ink him to a new contract, and you're done. No Zen master to go through, no demands to satisfy.

Creating the necessary cap space to sign Anthony isn't mindless work, though. There will be collateral damage that has Chicago sacrificing some combination of players and picks.

The Bulls have approximately $64 million committed to nine players heading into July. This is before accounting for their two first-rounders—No. 16 and 19—and the three non-guaranteed deals that could also count against their books.

Let's assume those non-guaranteed pacts are waived for maximum financial flexibility. Those two draft picks would combine for a cap hit exceeding $3 million, leaving the Bulls with $67 million devoted to 11 players. And that's being generous.

We haven't even included what it will cost to bring Nikola Mirotic stateside yet. The number isn't etched in stone, but it should ensure the Bulls clear $70 million, putting them well above the projected $63.2 million cap.

Making room for Anthony is contingent upon absurd amounts of maneuvering. Kevin Anderson of says the Bulls should aim to create $17-18 million in cap space. He's being kind.

But let's roll with those numbers. If the Bulls stash Mirtoic overseas for another year and draft two foreign prospects who can be hidden as well—or just dump their two first-rounders altogether—they can replace those three roster spots with minimum-cap holds totaling $1.5 million.

That leaves the Bulls with $65.5 million spread among 12 roster spots, one shy of the league minimum, which Anthony would represent. Creating $17 million in spending power demands they clear $19.3 million in salary.

Amnestying Boozer's $16.8 million cap hit and unloading Mike Dunleavy's $3.3 million contract opens up $20.1 million in space, minus two minimum holds worth a combined $1 million. Another $19.1 million in wiggle room brings the Bulls' salary commitments down to $46.4 million, allowing them to offer Anthony a starting salary of $16.8 million.

Even after delaying Mirotic's arrival, dumping Boozer and Dunleavy and trading or stashing two draft picks, the Bulls still fall short of that $17 million proposal.

Though they won't want to part ways with Taj Gibson, they'll have to. His $8 million salary allows them to keep some combination of Dunleavy, Mirotic and their two draft picks while manufacturing $17 million in cap space.

Is Anthony really worth all this trouble? Maybe, provided he's willing to take $17 or $18 million to start.

Here's the colossal catch: Anthony isn't willing to sign for that much. Or rather, that little.

According to Johnson, "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."


Producing $16.8 million in room was hard enough. Willing max space into existence—Melo can earn a little more than $22.4 million in the first year of his new deal, per Larry Coon's CBA FAQ blog—means they must do everything we just outlined: amnesty Boozer, hold off on Mirotic, forfeit or stash both first-rounders, dump Dunleavy and trade Gibson while taking less than $2.4 million back in return.

Adding Anthony is barely worth the previous trouble, let alone this. Gutting the roster for one player not named LeBron James doesn't make any sense and goes against part of the reason Anthony is interested in Chicago.

He wants the Bulls to keep Gibson, according Johnson, which they can't. Not unless he's prepared to make more than $5.5 million below market value in the first season of his new deal, a pay cut that exceeds $22 million over four years. 


Questionable Fit

Anthony has never played alongside a point guard in his prime like Rose, so we can only guess whether or not he actually can.

Rose is a score-first floor general who has yet to show he can succeed as a spot-up shooter. In the event he makes the necessary adjustments, defers first and hones his off-ball scoring, there's the matter of Anthony remaining a reluctant passer.

Chicago's point man appears to be thinking along the same lines. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News alleged that Rose has his sights set on someone else:

Noah will be disappointed if it turns out that Anthony uses the Bulls merely to get Dolan to up the Knicks' offer. But one of his teammates won't be crushed. Derrick Rose hasn't called Anthony once and isn't expected to do any recruiting when the Bulls make their run at the Knicks' top scorer in free agency.

According to sources close to Kevin Love, Rose's preference is for the Bulls to work out a deal as soon as possible for Minnesota's All-Star forward because he sees Love as more of a team player than Anthony.

Make of this what you will, since the report refutes some of Cowley's findings. But there's merit to the theory that Kevin Love is the better fit.

Take what CBS Sports' Matt Moore discussed here: 

I mean, don't get me wrong, Love fits much better with Chicago than Anthony. He's a better passer, can work in the pick and pop, and doesn't need the ball in his hands for 15 seconds on the shot clock each time. The Bulls have maybe the best set of assets to offer the Wolves for Love including the No. 16 and No. 19 picks, Nikola Mirotic who is set to join the NBA next season, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Carlos Boozer's contract. Some combination of all of those elements would surely be better than the David-Lee-and-Klay-Thompson-or-the-pick-but-not-both offer the Warriors are dangling.

Everything emanating out of Chicago suggests the Bulls' primary focus is Melo, perhaps because they view him as more obtainable or because Love hasn't indicated he wants to sport red long term. 

If the latter isn't an issue, the Bulls could be forced to reconsider their priorities following the draft.

Most of Love's suitors—teams like the Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets—will concoct trade proposals around 2014 first-rounders for obvious reasons. This draft class is deep and allows the Minnesota Timberwolves to hit reset and start over completely. 

But what happens if Minny doesn't trade Love by or on draft night? The field for him narrows.

Phoenix, Boston and Denver won't be able to offer anything nearly as substantial, unless they plan on selecting players with the Timberwolves' interests in mind. That leaves teams like the Bulls and Golden State Warriors with an advantage. 

The Bulls have assets outside their No. 16 and 19 picks that can help push a deal through. Their offer isn't overly reliant on selections alone. Even if it were, trading for Love will wind up costing them less than signing Anthony would. 


Too Much Risk, Not Enough Reward

Mortgaging the farm is rarely a good idea. If you're going to do it, make sure it's for the right player.

Melo isn't that player for the Bulls.  

This is a sticky situation that cannot be approached lightly, as general manager Gar Forman explained after the season, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell:

You don't know what direction it could go. When I say we could have flexibility, that's dependent on some different ways that we could go. At this point, it's not definite that we would have a large amount of flexibility, but that's one of the roads we can take. There's so many moving parts that can happen. It will obviously be an active summer for us.

Were Love to cost Chicago the same number of assets and residual casualties, he would still be the better fit. If the Bulls are going to move heaven and earth for more star power, if they are prepared to add another superstar at all costs, it needs to be one in the thick of his prime.

At 30, Anthony has maybe three years of superhuman production left in him. That falls on the overly optimistic side of things considering the 31,417 minutes he's logged throughout his career—playoffs and regular season—and bruising style of offense he plays.

Knowing Rose has appeared in only 50 games since 2011-12—playoffs and regular season—the smarter play is targeting someone younger, someone with less miles on his treads and more ticks left on his clock.

The 25-year-old Love makes sense. Waiting until 2015 to chase another young and spry superstar makes sense.

Raiding the roster of depth and present and future assets for an aging superstar who might not accept a pay cut doesn't bring the Bulls closer to a title right now.

Going all-out for roster-rifling, lateral-shifting moves never will. 


Contract information via ShamSports.


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