Carmelo Anthony will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks, per Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, opening himself up to suitors from South Beach to SoCal—and everywhere in between. He'll have options galore, but two potential destinations—the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls—are particularly intriguing.
Both have talented cores, room to get better, and most importantly, the ability to give 'Melo what he claims to want more than anything else: Wins.
Per Ian Begley of ESPN.com, Anthony said back in April: "At this point in my career, it's about winning. Nothing else even matters."
The question is: Will 'Melo find a better fit (and more victories) in Houston or Chicago?
Ready for Liftoff
There's a lot to like about an Anthony-Rockets marriage.
The Rockets play fast, shoot lots of triples and are run by Daryl Morey, one of the smartest general managers in the NBA. Morey's cap wizardry and roster-management skills are important in this calculus because getting Anthony to Houston, without sacrificing a boatload of talent in the process, will be tricky.
We can safely assume Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik will be gone, which depletes Houston's bench. But beyond that, the fit and surrounding talent depends on how the Rockets go about acquiring Anthony. If they sign him outright to a sub-max deal, they could subsequently go over the cap to re-sign Chandler Parsons and still have Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones as key rotation players.
If Anthony comes to Houston via a sign-and-trade deal, the picture gets murkier.
Assuming the principals—Harden, Howard, Parsons, Jones and Beverley—all remain with the Rockets, the on-court product still might not be as spectacular as it appears at first glance. There's a temptation to automatically conclude Anthony will make the Rockets' already excellent offense even better, but integrating him into the system might not be so easy.
Harden dominates the ball, Howard is still a poor passer in his own right, and we saw the way Houston's offense could bog down into isolation sets and forced shots when the rock stopped moving in last year's playoffs.
For a scoring attack that isn't always so fluid to begin with, adding Anthony to the mix could exacerbate an already troubling problem.
Then again, we know 'Melo has looked his best as a member of Team USA when his touches involve catch-and-shoot or catch-and-drive opportunities. As Houston's potential stretch 4, the thought of Anthony spacing the floor and attacking as a scrambling defense runs at him should have Rockets fans salivating—if that's a role he'll accept.
Chicago feels like a gamble because so much depends on the health and productivity of Derrick Rose.
If the former MVP has another lost season or doesn't come close to resembling his former self, the Bulls aren't a good destination for Anthony. But if Rose can be something like 75-80 percent of what he once was, Anthony would do well to consider a trip to the Windy City.
The coaching infrastructure in Chicago is vastly superior to the one in Houston (or just about anywhere outside of San Antonio, for that matter), with Tom Thibodeau stamping his Bulls teams with trademark grit and defensive dominance.
And hard driving as he is, Thibs would love to integrate another star into the fold, per Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com:
If you don't think Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau desperately wants to add a star like Anthony, you're nuts. No one in the NBA wants to win more every night than Thibodeau. He'd be a perfect coach for Anthony, and I think the forward knows it.
The admiration, apparently, is mutual:
Carmelo on the Bulls success despite injuries: "Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of a Gregg Popovich's system." (Cont)— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 12, 2014
More Melo: on the Bulls: "You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing."— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 12, 2014
Plus, the Bulls feature Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, a wing in Jimmy Butler who can handle the tougher perimeter matchups for 'Melo and, possibly, Taj Gibson in the frontcourt.
As was the case with Houston, it's tough to determine which current Chicago players would remain on the roster if 'Melo were to join up. The Bulls would certainly have to jettison Carlos Boozer and his bloated salary and would probably lose lose either Mike Dunleavy or Tony Snell, as well.
Depending on how much cash Anthony demands, Gibson might be a goner too.
Of course, if 'Melo is willing to take a major salary reduction, the Bulls could retain much more of their rotation players—which is equally true for the Rockets.
On the court, the Bulls offer an intriguing fit, as they'd probably be ecstatic to add another player capable of creating his own shot and drawing attention from the defense. It's also possible that the Bulls' offensive spacing could actually be better than the Rockets might manage with 'Melo because of the way Noah plays.
Chicago's big man is an elbow distributor, not a low-block anchor. And that could help Anthony operate both inside and out. Plus, 'Melo could do serious damage working off the ball as Noah facilitates.
If Rose is relatively close to his old form, there would be no safe place from which to pull an extra defender to bother Anthony. And just imagine how devastating the Bulls' point guard would be as an off-ball cutter when opponents focus in on 'Melo. In fact, Rose's recovery could be made even easier by getting him plenty of off-the-ball touches when he's on the move, which would provide more low-stress scoring chances than he'd get as a primary ball-handler.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons for Anthony to like both Chicago and Houston as his next destination.
The Easy Choice
Despite the positives on both sides, this really isn't a tough call. In fact, it's not even close.
Chicago, you may have heard, is in the East. And even if a couple of other teams in that soft conference are on the rise—like the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats—the level of competition doesn't come close to the one out West.
Even if you think the Rockets (with Anthony) would be objectively better than the Bulls (with Anthony), Chicago is still the superior destination. The road to the Finals is almost comically easier with the Bulls than it would be with the Rockets.
Which team offers the better fit for Anthony?
Sure, it's possible Chicago would have to tangle with the rebuilt Miami Heat. And yes, perhaps the Pacers will come back more mature and focused than they were last season. But the Bulls were the No. 1 seed in the East with the same basic core back in 2011-12, which wasn't so long ago.
Add Anthony to that mix and you've really got something.
And at any rate, surviving the playoff gauntlet out West in the coming years figures to be at least as difficult as it was this past season.
Anthony says he wants to win. If he's serious, the Bulls are the best fit.