After Missing on Carmelo Anthony, What Do Chicago Bulls Do Now?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 12, 2014

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20:Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers rebounds next to Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 102-100 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Bulls failed to connect on their biggest free-agency swing, losing Carmelo Anthony to Phil Jackson, the New York Knicks and max money in a whiff befitting the Windy City.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Melo made his homecoming official on Saturday.

"Carmelo Anthony will sign a five-year, $120 million-plus contract to return to the New York Knicks," Wojnarowski reported.

The Bulls, a team seemingly just a move or two away from real contention in the Charmin-soft East, must resort to more conservative fallback options now. None of their avenues for improvement will be as perfect as the one that featured Anthony, an elite scoring star, slotting into the starting lineup for a squad perennially in need of buckets.

Still, all hope's not lost.


Go for Gasol

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls pressures Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the United Center on January 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 102-100 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Pau Gasol has been a Bulls target throughout free agency, and even before official word on Melo came down, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Chicago was ramping up its efforts to snatch the Spaniard:

And K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune noted the potential fallout Anthony's return to New York could cause in Chicago: "That would intensify the Bulls' pursuit of Gasol, and league sources indicated the Bulls hope to pursue sign-and-trade options with the Lakers for him involving Carlos Boozer's expiring salary."

Gasol's Windy City arrival now sounds imminent, although it remains unclear how the Bulls will land the big man, as Johnson explained:

The Bulls are working to finalize an agreement with Pau Gasol, and league sources said a sign-and-trade acquisition has been discussed with the Lakers. ... A league source indicated the Bulls have discussed sending Mike Dunleavy and the non-guaranteed contracts of Mike James, Lou Amundsen and Ronnie Brewer to the Lakers.

To the surprise of few, Gasol became the Bulls' fallback option, per an announcement from the man himself:

It makes sense for the Bulls to have moved Gasol to the top of their offseason list. He's a skilled offensive player who can occupy either the power forward or center spot, and his creative passing would give head coach Tom Thibodeau a bit more offensive freedom than he's had in the past couple of years.

Using Gasol in tandem with Joakim Noah as a scary, two-headed facilitating duo should intrigue every offense-starved Bulls fan. Even if it took a little time to get spacing issues right (Noah and Gasol both love those elbows), Chicago would benefit from an additional offensive conductor who could take pressure off Derrick Rose in his upcoming return.

Defensively, Gasol's loss of mobility makes him far less impactful than he was just a year or two ago. But with either Noah (last season's defensive player of the year) or Gibson on the floor at his side, Gasol could easily hide from tougher matchups.


Go Maverick

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) reacts during the second half in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell

After missing on Melo, the Bulls could employ a strategy popularized by the Dallas Mavericks in recent offseasons. No strangers to the painful "thanks, but no thanks" from superstar targets, Mark Cuban's club has bounced back by spending on second-tier talents and overlooked assets.

So if the Bulls were to land Lance Stephenson or Trevor Ariza, a pair of the better two-way wings on the market, they could get a good chunk of the production they were hoping for from Melo.

A note here: We're ruling out Luol Deng, even though he fits many of the Bulls' needs. Because he turned down a three-year, $30 million extension from Chicago before being traded last season, a reunion seems unlikely.

Mar 25, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng (9) against the Toronto Raptors during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Deng's penance served with the dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers last year might have made him appreciate those better days with the Bulls. Maybe general manager Gar Forman should put in a call just to be safe.

Looking elsewhere for free-agent options, the Bulls could turn their attention to finding a capable backup to slot behind Rose. Considering the former MVP has played only 10 games the past two seasons combined, the position could hold more importance than a typical understudy.

With players like Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez off the board, the Bulls' options are dwindling. Maybe that will lead them back to their own free agent D.J. Augustin, who led the team in scoring last season with 14.9 points per game.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27:  D.J. Augustin #14 of the Chicago Bulls during a game against the Washington Wizards in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 27, 2014 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

If Chicago looks outside the organization, veteran Jameer Nelson is still searching for a new home. If the Bulls want someone packing a scoring punch, then Ramon Sessions or Aaron Brooks might be worth considering.

The painful part of "going Maverick" is the up-front overpay. That's just how things work when mildly panicked teams dip into the tier of free agents left over after the big names are gone.

Remember, when Dallas inked Monta Ellis to a three-year, $25 million contract last summer, it seemed like a gamble. But both Ellis' and Jose Calderon's similar contract wound up being great values.

Chicago might have to bite the bullet on a big offer for Stephenson or Ariza, but spending a little extra now could turn out to be a wise decision in the end—if only because Chicago really can't afford to stand pat.


That Proverbial Window

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Maybe it sounds crazy to say this about a team whose principal pieces—Noah, Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Rose— are all under 30, but it doesn't feel like this Bulls core is built to last forever.

Joakim Noah has battled foot issues in the past, and though he fought through 80 games last season, big men with cranky wheels don't generally age well. And Rose's fragility has been documented to the point of absurdity.

Age and physical well-being aside, the bigger sense of urgency should come from the opportunity the Eastern Conference currently provides.

The Miami Heat no longer have LeBron James, and his new supporting cast with the Cleveland Cavaliers is unproven. The Indiana Pacers have their own issues and could lose Stephenson. The Toronto Raptors brought the band back together, which won't be playing championship tunes anytime in the near future. The Brooklyn Nets are only getting older.

You get the idea: The East is ripe for the picking. Chicago's time to strike is now.

Thibodeau loves to rely on the phrase "we have enough" when faced with questions about his team's injuries, offensive limitations or, well, anything really.

Maybe if Rose returns healthy, the Bulls will have enough. Maybe Chicago, as presently comprised, can return to its 60-win ways of just a couple of years ago.

Nobody would ever ask Thibs to change his mantra; it's the key to the Bulls' blue-collar, no-excuse identity. Let's just hope the front office operates with its own refrain after losing out on Anthony, one that goes something like, "We need a little more."

There's more out there on the market. The Bulls just need to get past the disappointment of missing their primary targets so they can go out and get it.