The Bulls can throw stacks of cash his way, but not the max dollars he could find elsewhere. The Windy City can provide major-market comforts, but its lights don't shine as bright as the ones in New York and Los Angeles.
In fact, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said during an appearance on WMVP-AM's Carmen and Jurko Show that a source told him "Chicago is not out of the mix," (h/t NBC Sports' Dan Feldman). Ken Berger of CBS Sports also reported that the Bulls are still in the running:
If Anthony's mind is anywhere but the hardwood, he will not be calling the United Center home.
According to the man himself, though, he's making this a basketball decision. He wants to win, as he said at his exit meeting, and no suitor gives him a better chance to do that than the Bulls.
Better Supporting Cast Than He's Ever Had
The NBA book on Anthony is brief: He scores at will, lightly packs the rest of his stat sheet and ultimately does not do enough to help his team win.
Now, that's the grossly oversimplified version, which also dismisses the increasing impact he has made on the glass (career-high 8.1 rebounds last season). However, that conclusion is the most critical aspect of the plot.
Have any discussion about Anthony, and this line will inevitably come up: In 11 seasons, his team has only advanced past the opening round of the playoffs twice.
That sounds like pretty damning stuff, doesn't it? With individual legacies unreasonably defined by team success, one of the NBA's most complete offensive weapons has often been seen as an incomplete player.
Not surprisingly, there's some logic missing in that argument.
He has never been surrounded by players like the Bulls can offer. As Grantland's Andrew Sharp explained, Chicago is built to maximize Anthony's effectiveness:
Carmelo would have the best teammates of his career, and that’s probably true regardless of whether Derrick Rose can stay healthy. … He would be surrounded by great defense. Worst-case scenario, this would help mask his greatest weakness. Best-case, it becomes infectious, and playing for psycho Tom Thibodeau helps make him a more complete player than he’s ever been.
Anthony has often been painted as a black hole. Considering the volume of his offense (21.8 field-goal attempts a night over the past two seasons), that might seem like a tough reputation to shed.
However, that argument makes the assumption that the New York Knicks haven't asked him to play that role.
Anthony, who ranked second in scoring last season with 27.4 points per game, was by far New York's strongest weapon. The team's second-leading scorer, J.R. Smith, put up only 14.5 points a night on 41.5 percent shooting.
If Melo didn't find his own offense, the Knicks' scoreboard stopped.
Anthony did not have another creator with him in New York. Raymond Felton led the club with a 5.6 assists average, which was just a shade better than that of Bulls center Joakim Noah's 5.4 mark.
Noah, of course, is not Chicago's most potent producer. That title belongs to Derrick Rose, one of only two players not named LeBron James to have earned MVP honors in the last six years.
Rose, who has played only 49 games the past three seasons, can only help as much as his body will allow. Questions surrounding his health can only be answered with time, but there are already encouraging reports coming out of Chicago.
"Rose is playing 5-on-5 on a daily basis, and, according to one witness, 'looks like the old Derrick Rose,'" CBS Sports' Ken Berger wrote.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of getting the former MVP healthy.
"The return to form of Derrick Rose, who has practiced well this week with the summer-league team, remains the franchise’s most important storyline," K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune noted.
Between Noah and Rose, Anthony will find more help than he has ever had.
Arguably the best point guard Anthony has played with wasn't even an actual point guard: Allen Iverson. Anthony's best frontcourt teammates had their best days before teaming up with him: Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Yet Chicago's All-Stars are only pieces of the puzzle.
The Bulls also have a perimeter stopper in Jimmy Butler, an explosive and efficient bruiser in Taj Gibson and a rookie with off-the-bus range in Doug McDermott. A deal to sign stretch big Nikola Mirotic—who ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said would have been selected fourth in this year's draft during an appearance on WMVP-AM, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times—is "almost done," a source told Comcast SportsNet's Aggrey Sam.
When has Anthony ever had this type of quality-plus-quantity assistance? He hasn't.
With all due respect to Jeff Bzdelik, George Karl, Mike Woodson and Mike D'Antoni, Anthony has never had an NBA coach like Tom Thibodeau, either.
How impressive are 93 wins and a playoff series victory over a two-year span? Perhaps not much in a vacuum, but for the short-handed Bulls, this two-year ride has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Consider the cards dealt to Thibodeau's team since the start of the 2012-13 season.
The Bulls spent that entire campaign without Rose while being constantly peppered with questions about a possible return. In his 10th appearance of 2013-14, he suffered a torn meniscus and has not seen any game action since.
At the trade deadline, Chicago moved Thibodeau's horse Luol Deng for future assets (financial flexibility and draft picks). Journeyman D.J. Augustin, who was waived by the Toronto Raptors in December, wound up leading the Bulls in scoring with 14.9 points a night.
That sounds like the sob story of a cellar dweller. The Bulls won 48 games and secured the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed.
No matter the number of chips stacked against them, Thibodeau's club refused to accept its fate. The Bulls left nothing to chance inside the lanes, punishing opponents with the NBA's second-most efficient defense (97.8 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com).
Accountability is demanded at all times by Thibodeau, and that could be the key that unlocks Anthony's full potential. The seven-time All-Star can excel in all aspects of the game—if the right level of focus is brought out of him.
"It's not that Carmelo can't play defense, it's just how often," one of Anthony's former coaches told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "And he knows every trick in the book on getting around that."
Admittedly, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. There is no quicker route to Thibodeau's doghouse than taking plays off:
Yet who are we to say that Anthony would not welcome that challenge?
Any interest coming from the scoring forward is also reciprocated by the coach.
"If you don't think Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau desperately wants to add a star like Anthony, you're nuts," ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg wrote. "No one in the NBA wants to win more every night than Thibodeau. He'd be a perfect coach for Anthony."
Considering what Thibodeau has done with less, imagine what he could do with more.
The last time the Bulls had a mostly healthy Rose—he played 39 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season—they matched the San Antonio Spurs with a league-best 50 victories. The Bulls won 62 games the year prior, before Butler was added to the mix and players like Noah and Gibson had really found their footing.
If Rose can lower his medical red flags, the Bulls are a championship contender without Anthony. With the 12th-best scorer in NBA history aboard, Chicago's title odds improve exponentially.
For those that have found themselves on the outside looking in at the championship picture recently, now could be the perfect time to strike.
The East has been the league's path of least resistance, and there's a chance that path could become even easier to navigate.
The Miami Heat, like the rest of the basketball world, are waiting to see the next step for their free-agent Big Three. The Indiana Pacers, already working with a slim margin of error offensively, risk losing their best playmaker, Lance Stephenson, on the open market.
Even if the conference's top teams retain their current pieces, would either club have an obvious edge over a Bulls team featuring Anthony, Rose, Noah and Thibodeau? It's hard to answer that in the affirmative with any sort of conviction.
Chicago needs Anthony's offense. Without it, Rose still won't have a secondary scorer to keep defenses honest.
Anthony needs a support system—both in terms of players and coach—like the Bulls can give him.
He won't find the money or the market in Chicago that he could get elsewhere. If this is a basketball decision like he has said, though, it's an easy call to make.