It's Carmelo Anthony or Nothing for Chicago Bulls' Offseason

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It's Carmelo Anthony or Nothing for Chicago Bulls' Offseason
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When the 2014 NBA offseason is finally put to bed, the Chicago Bulls will remember it as the summer they collared Carmelo Anthony—or the one during which they didn't.

That's it.

There is no other superstar free agent preparing to ride into Chicago on a swanky steed, decked out in shining armor, his razor-sharp sword pointing in the direction of the San Antonio Spurs.

This is it for the Bulls. There is no one else.

Not even if Anthony decides to sign elsewhere.

 

The Apple of Chicago's Eye

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

All of the Bulls' (covert) energy has been spent trying to woo Anthony.

Joakim Noah began recruiting Anthony over the All-Star break, and according to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, he hasn't stopped since. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is pining after the New York Knicks superstar too. He's even spoken to Anthony's former Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim, per The New York Post's Marc Berman

I’ve talked to Tom about Melo, his name has come up. I think Tom is very excited about the possibility of getting Carmelo. He likes him. He likes how he plays. He feels he’s coachable. I think Tom Thibodeau is one of the better coaches in the NBA. Carmelo would be happy playing for him. It would be a good fit — the coach-player relationship.

Not even Derrick Rose has been able to resist Anthony's prospective charm, despite what he's saying publicly. He told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears that he won't be recruiting the seven-time All-Star because it's "not my job."

"My thing is if they want to come, they can come," he adds.

Cute. 

Anyone who truly believes that Rose won't be recruiting Anthony in some capacity better cut down on the peanut butter and contemporary psychedelics sandwiches. He will be involved, even if it's through back channels, publicly indirect plaudits and flattering text messages coming from a burner phone. 

Rose knows what Anthony can do for his team. He does everything the Bulls don't: score consistently. Sources told ESPN.com's Chris Broussard (subscription required) that Rose wants the Bulls to add Anthony. There's exactly a zero percent chance his stance has changed just because he's talking about Chicago selling itself.

Most of you realize this, hopefully. And hopefully even more of you realize how blatant the Bulls are being with their devout interest in Anthony.

Once LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat, teams went into a cap-dumping frenzy. The Houston Rockets unloaded Omer Asik following a report from Bleacher Report's Howard Beck that stated they were planning an "all-out push" for LeBron. The Atlanta Hawks shed Lou Williams' salary.

Even the Phoenix Suns have come creeping out of the woodwork, trying to secure face time with the King, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Craziness. James-cajoling craziness.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Unlike other teams, the Bulls are focusing on Anthony first, ahead of even LeBron.

Some teams—like the Rockets—will portray jockeying and finagling and contrived tinkering as nothing more than ultimate flexibility, as an attempt to chase anyone and everyone worth chasing. But this is all about James first and foremost. Though he's unlikely to leave the Heat, everything we see and hear is the result of his free agency.

Unless you travel to Chicago. Then it's all about Anthony.

While every other team with cap space or the means to create cap space zeroes in on James, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune explains that the Bulls are pressing on with their own all-out push for Anthony.

None of which is to say the Bulls wouldn't welcome James with open arms and a red headband. If he indicates he wants to play in Chicago, they'll be all over it. They have the flexibility to pursue Anthony, so they can reverse course if necessary.

But they know stealing James from Miami is a long shot. Anthony is a more realistic target. Focusing on him is the smart play, a form of savoir-faire in itself. That's why the Bulls won't have to wait in line to meet with him, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to meet with the Chicago Bulls in Chicago on the opening day of free agency after the NBA's offseason market officially opens Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., according to sources familiar with Anthony's plans.

Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony is in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, then intends to travel to Texas for Wednesday meetings with both the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.

Earning Anthony's first meeting isn't a crystallized foretoken of his eventual arrival, but it's certainly not inconsequential. The Bulls have made Anthony their top priority. He, if only for a brief moment, has returned the favor.

 

The Other Guys

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Other free agents and potential trade targets are out there, just so we're clear. The Bulls have even been linked to some of them. 

Restricted free agent Chandler Parsons is a person of interest, according to Spears. The ever-available Kevin Love has caught their eye as well. 

Yet there's something plainly obligatory about their other offseason ventures. Consider, for a moment, what ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required) said they were reportedly offering the Minnesota Timberwolves for Love ahead of the draft:

The Wolves continue talking trade now with a number of teams. The Warriors, Celtics, Nuggets and Bulls are getting the most play right now. The Warriors' deal was "near the finish line" according to one source before it stalled because of the other players involved in the deal. The Bulls, who are offering Taj Gibson, Tony Snell plus Nos. 16 and 19, are the latest suitors.

Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and two first-rounders is a solid offer—you know, if Love had the Timberwolves' collective tongue in a vice and chained president and head coach Flip Saunders' hands to an airborne helicopter's coaxial rotors. 

This "offer" didn't enable the Bulls to take back any of Minnesota's less favorable contracts, and it didn't include premier assets like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic. Why? Because the Bulls want Anthony. And they want Anthony because they're cautious.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Chicago has the ability to be aggressive in its pursuit of Love, yet it hasn't.

When's the last time you saw Bulls general manager Gar Forman or owner Jerry Reinsdorf back a risk-addled gambit? Exactly.

Acquiring players like Parsons or Love would be out of character. Parsons is due a big-money contract, but he hasn't shown he can be the No. 1 or, in this case, No. 2 option on a championship-caliber team.

Love, meanwhile, is going to reach free agency no matter where he plays next season. Any team that trades for him could be paying for a glorified rental. It benefits him financially to explore the open market in 2015, and at that point, anything goes.

Hedging valuable assets on unproven novelties and potential flight risks isn't the Bulls' style. They take safe routes. This is a team that would trade the remaining $60-plus million on Rose's contract if it could, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times implies.

Locking Anthony down for the next four years is the safe play.

It's the Bulls' play.

 

Chicago's One and Only

Signing Anthony is not without its risks.

Loyal rumor-mill lackeys know how yours truly feels about Anthony for the Bulls: It is, at best, a questionable, uncertainty-riddled move for both parties. 

But the interest is understandable.

The Bulls need another superstar to take pressure off of Rose. More importantly, they need another superstar to carry them if the injury bug crawls under his skin again. 

Anthony can be that superstar. He has his faults and impurities, but last season was the first time his team ever missed the playoffs. He led 10 consecutive squads to the postseason as the offensive focal point. Even if Rose goes down again, the Bulls—who won 48 games despite Rose's latest injury and Luol Deng's departure in 2013-14—are still a playoff team. They would even be a contender in the emaciated Eastern Conference.

And like Blog A Bull's Jay Patt details, now is as good a time as any for the Bulls to take a risk:

But while I might not necessarily do "whatever it takes" to acquire Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls must do their due diligence and at least put forth an honest effort. The org. has been talking about the #2014Plan for years, and the time is now to make a bold move. Anthony certainly has his warts, and one can argue whether it would be better to acquire him or Kevin Love, but that's a story for another time, and even if Love was more preferable it shouldn't preclude them from going after Anthony.

Understand that the Bulls will only step so far outside their normal skin. Anthony is a risk they're willing to take. There is nothing to suggest they'll look anywhere else.

Who will the Bulls aggressively pursue if they miss out on Anthony?

Submit Vote vote to see results

If Anthony doesn't join the Bulls, expect a series of modest, marginally needle-pushing moves to follow. And don't count on them amnestying Carlos Boozer. They won't pay him $16.8 million to go away if it doesn't mean landing a superstar.

Such is the Bulls way. They are uncharacteristically putting themselves on the line for one player, for one relatively safe investment, who stands to yield predictable gains. If their Anthony pursuit doesn't pan out, the Bulls aren't screwed.

They as a team aren't finished. 

Their foray into the combative, superstar-scouring, hand-tipping unknown is. 

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.


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