The Chicago Bulls cannot afford to dream this summer.
Their pursuit of former scoring champion Carmelo Anthony has to end with a signing, not only for the basketball itches he could scratch but also for the badly needed emotional lift he could provide.
The Windy City's finest have tossed all their eggs into the Anthony basket—as they should. For an offensively challenged franchise, there isn't a better option available than the 30-year-old scoring machine.
The Bulls are desperately seeking an offensive sidekick for Derrick Rose, the former MVP with a career 20.8 points-per-game scoring average. Anthony could do the Bulls one better. He's a primary option of the highest order, 12th among NBA players all time—fourth among active players—in career points per game (25.26).
Anthony, despite his reputation as a gunner, is more than just a scorer, though.
The 6'8" forward is an active, aggressive rebounder (8.1 a night last season). He's a capable creator if he has capable scorers around him (career 3.1 assists per game). When he's engaged, which shouldn't be an issue under coach Tom Thibodeau, he can defend, too.
On paper, Anthony will have a hard time finding a better landing spot than Chicago. The Bulls would have an even tougher time uncovering a player more deserving of their free-agent funds, as David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune explained:
Playing for Thibodeau alongside Derrick Rose, Anthony would provide the second star required to overtake the Heat and Pacers in the East. Eventually, the styles of Rose and Anthony would complement each other as they shared a scoring burden too heavy for either one to carry alone to the NBA Finals.
Rose might not possess a strong enough personality to put Anthony in his place when necessary — but Joakim Noah does. Assemble a trio of Rose, Anthony and Noah and suddenly the best Big Three in the league no longer plays in Miami.
Chicago's courtship of Anthony goes beyond the box score, though. That much became apparent when the Bulls adorned the United Center with his name and likeness during his recruiting trip Tuesday, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell:
Carmelo, in a full Bulls uniform, is on some of the other video boards around the United Center. pic.twitter.com/WeKY3OJWUK— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) July 1, 2014
The Bulls' recruiting pitch to Carmelo is already underway. This is the message on the side of the United Center. pic.twitter.com/7vsu4kCpuL— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) July 1, 2014
The franchise's sales pitch didn't stop at some fancy Photoshop work, though.
The Bulls brought out all the stops for Anthony, including an unexpected appearance from Rose, who told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports only days before that recruiting talent is "not my job."
Yet Rose was present to sell Anthony on everything Chicago has to offer. So, too, was Thibodeau, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and anyone else the Bulls could find to help deliver their message.
Friedell shared the details of Anthony's all-day (and all-night) visit:
Anthony rode with Thibodeau to the United Center, and when Anthony arrived at the Bulls' home, he was greeted by a picture of himself in a Bulls uniform wearing his No. 7. The marquee in the front of the stadium showed him as a Bull with the Larry O'Brien trophy as the organization clearly tries to appeal to his stated desire to win, possibly even taking less money to do so.
... The meeting ended with Anthony being given a tour of the Bulls' new practice facility near the United Center by team personnel. Later, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen joined Thibodeau, general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson along with several other members of the organization as the pitch to Anthony continued into the night at a downtown hotel.
Chicago's pitch, as relayed to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson by a source at the meeting, centered around "a ready-to-win roster, the city, attendance that annually ranks first or second in the league, the championship tradition, facilities and strong ownership and organization."
It also included a scan of the Eastern Conference, which the Bulls described as being "there for the taking," via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Bulls utilized every weapon in their arsenal. As the meeting stretched into the night, some wondered if a handshake agreement would be in place before Anthony embarked on the next stop of his cross-country tour:
Carmelo still visiting with Bulls. Do they let him get on the plane without a verbal commitment?— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 2, 2014
Of course, the motivation for Anthony to commit to anything cannot be high at the moment. Not with his itinerary still featuring planned visits with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. He already held court with New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher and could reconvene with them again after his recruiting tour is over.
None of his suitors can offer more money than the Knicks, but it remains to be seen how big a role that will play in his decision. He told reporters at All-Star Weekend that it isn't his greatest concern.
"As far as the money, it doesn't really matter to me," Anthony said. "... My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career."
That should give the Bulls a leg up on the Knicks, who managed just 37 wins last season.
Of course, the Knicks have more than dollars to offer Anthony. There are family factors he'll have to consider, which he said in an interview with Vice Sports (h/t ESPN New York's Ian Begley) could it make tough to start over in a new city.
"My son goes to school (in New York). He loves it here," Anthony said. "To take him out and take him somewhere else, he has to learn that system all over again, he has to get new friends. And I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age."
For the Bulls, they have to hope their win-now pitch still rings the loudest when Anthony's wooing sessions have finished.
They've been crafting this pursuit for a long time. They understand what bringing him on board would mean for their championship hopes, as Friedell explained:
As an organization, the Bulls have been focusing on this pitch to Anthony for a while. They know he is the type of player they've been missing the most. They know he is the man who can score 25 to 30 points a night and take a large amount of pressure off Rose's shoulders. That's why they left no detail unturned during their day with the superstar scorer.
They also still have the bad taste left in their mouth from their fruitless superstar chase just four summers ago.
In 2010, Chicago had the financial flexibility to go after the biggest and brightest names in the business. The Bulls set their sights on the skies and nearly left that summer with a pair of stars.
James and Bosh, of course, ultimately opted for the white sands of South Beach, joining Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. The Bulls' biggest prize of that summer wound up being Carlos Boozer, a one-way contributor then and an amnesty candidate now.
History doesn't have to repeat itself.
The Bulls have a better product to sell, particularly if they can paint Rose as anything close to healthy. The point guard has played just 10 games over the last two seasons combined, derailed first by a torn ACL and later a torn meniscus.
This franchise is a lot closer to contention now than it was back then.
Noah has emerged as one of the league's most versatile bigs, securing back-to-back All-Star appearances with a well-rounded skill set that allowed him to average 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists this past season. Gibson finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting after putting up averages of 13.0 points (a career high), 6.8 boards and 1.4 blocks.
Thibodeau has cemented himself among the NBA's premier coaches. He's survived a pair of calamitous injuries to Rose, guiding the Bulls to a 93-71 record and a playoff series win over the past two years.
Chicago is knocking at the championship door, but it needs Anthony to carry it across the threshold. The Bulls tied for 27th in offensive efficiency this past season, via NBA.com, and Rose can only do so much on his own to improve that ranking.
Which team will Carmelo Anthony sign with this summer?
The Bulls need Anthony—and they need him now. Both Noah and Gibson are 29 years old, and Rose's knees may have aged the 25-year-old quite a bit.
That's why the franchise did what it could to leave nothing to chance during Anthony's visit. The Bulls can only hope they've done enough. Sources close to the situation told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy the Bulls are "very confident that Anthony is seriously considering signing with Chicago," so this pursuit at least seems to be starting on the right foot.
Being a possible landing spot doesn't mean much, though. The Bulls should remember that from 2010.
Chasing Anthony isn't about dreaming big; it's about answering opportunity's knock. If Anthony goes, so too does that opportunity. He wouldn't simply widen Chicago's championship window—he'd keep it from being sealed shut.