After a hard fought—but convincing—second-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago's focus immediately turned to adding marquee names from the most anticipated free-agent class in the history of professional sports. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and a host of other impact players were available, and the Bulls' combination of a strong media market and burgeoning talent base made them serious players.
Fast-forward a couple months, and most Bulls fans are disappointed at their team's inability to land one of the Miami Thrice. Chicago certainly didn't leave the summer empty-handed, however. The Bulls added longtime Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau as head coach, All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer via free agency, as well as proven role players Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. It might not have been what they initially wanted, but the summer of 2010 proved to be a very successful one for Chicago nonetheless.
Just when it seemed as if the Bulls had completed their relative overhaul, in late August a proverbial bomb was dropped on the NBA world: Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony wanted out. Fast. Despite Denver's feeble attempts to appease their unhappy franchise player, Anthony's mind seems made up. If the Nuggets don't deal him prior to February's trading deadline, they run the risk of losing him to free agency in the summer of 2011.
In the last week, news of Carmelo's "wish list" of teams he prefers to be traded to has torn its way through the sports world. Sitting atop that list with the New York Knicks? The Chicago Bulls.
On paper, acquiring Anthony seems like a slam-dunk for Chicago. The Bulls have valuable young assets to get a deal done, the necessary cap room and strong offensive forces to keep defenses honest in emerging superstar PG Derrick Rose and Boozer.
Look closer, though, and acquiring Anthony—despite his incredible wealth of talent—is not worth it for the Bulls.
Chief among Chicago's concerns in dealing for Anthony should be what they have to give up. According to reports, Denver is scoffing at Chicago's offer of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and future draft considerations. Instead, the Nuggets are insisting that C Joakim Noah be included in the deal. If so, the Bulls brass needs to forget about Anthony.
Noah, more than anyone else on the current roster (save for Rose) is the reason many are calling for the Bulls to challenge for a top-three seed in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. After struggling in his first two seasons in the league, Noah routinely lived up to his considerable potential in 2009-2010 by averaging a double-double. In the playoffs against Cleveland, he took his game to another level, notching 15 points and 13 rebounds a game to go along with a handful of blocks, steals, and assists.
Though Noah is effective offensively, he makes his greatest impact on the other end of the floor, using his combination of length, rare quickness, and agility to frustrate opponents.
With the savvy addition of Thibodeau as head coach, Noah’s importance to Chicago took on a whole new meaning. The architect of Boston's championship-level defense the last few seasons, Thibodeau's schemes call for bigs who can aggressively hedge, recover, and even switch pick and rolls.
For Boston, Kevin Garnett served as the catalyst for Thibodeau's defense, winning Defensive Player of the Year and leading Boston to a title in 2008. In Noah, the Bulls possess a player that has the potential to be for Thibodeau what Garnett was since 2008.
Players like Noah don't grow on trees. While adding Anthony’s dynamic scoring ability to the burgeoning talents of Rose and solid interior contributions of Boozer is certainly enticing, offense isn’t what Thibodeau does best. He is perhaps the most respected defensive coach in the league, and he needs the proper pieces to run his system. With that in mind, there isn't a more important player to their team's defensive schemes this season than Noah; and as long as Thibodeau is around, Chicago needs to hold onto him.
Even if it means sacrificing their chances of winning the Anthony sweepstakes.