DEERFIELD, Ill. — At the introductory press conference for new Chicago Bulls draftee Doug McDermott, the rookie-to-be was far from the center of conversation.
This is the biggest offseason the Bulls have faced since they whiffed on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010. The talk at the Berto Center, the Bulls’ practice facility, revolved around Derrick Rose’s latest comments, about his reticence to recruit Carmelo Anthony or any other big name free agent.
Rose told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that recruiting is “not [his] job. ... My thing is if they want to come, they can come.” The timing of the story—which was released on June 29, two days before free agency officially begins—was ultimately coincidental. But to Bulls insiders, it felt ominous.
Coach Tom Thibodeau, however, said he wasn’t too worried about it. “You don’t know the context in which [that] was said,” he said, when the McDermott pleasantries inevitably gave way to the topic on everyone’s mind. “What we’re selling is our team. Free agents are well aware of our team. ... We think we have a lot to offer.”
The Bulls’ discussions with Anthony have reportedly already began, via Marc Stein of ESPN.com, and they're with any other team. Anthony was slated to begin talks as the free-agency moratorium lifted at midnight, when the Bulls were expected to pick him up at the airport for a day of negotiations and wooing.
The seven-time All-Star and 2013 scoring champion has been known to be the Bulls' biggest target since January, when Chicago traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move’s intention was obvious: It severed financial commitment to Deng early.
But the Bulls need to clear more salary-cap space yet, if they’re to afford the hefty salary Anthony is likely to demand. The New York Knicks, ‘Melo’s team for the last four seasons, can offer him a huge $129 million, five-year deal. The Bulls can’t offer him as much, but they can offer him about $18 million if they shed Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million salary via trade, or by finally using the amnesty provision on him.
Mike Dunleavy could also be on the trading block. His $3.3 million salary for next year isn’t much, but every financial step taken goes a long way toward getting money ready for Anthony. The arrival of the sweet-shooting McDermott can also be seen as a presage to Dunleavy’s exit, as many expect “McBuckets” to fill a similar role off the bench for the Bulls.
And what if the Bulls can’t find the dollars for Anthony, or if he simply chooses to stay in New York or leave for a different team? This is a possibility fans should be ready to accept, as ‘Melo in Chicago is no sure thing, and here’s the thing: The Bulls have other options.
Pau Gasol, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angles Times (h/t Jason Patt of SB Nation), and Chandler Parsons, via Spears (h/t Mark Strotman of CSNChicago.com), are also said to be on the Bulls’ radar. Additionally, much-hyped Spanish prospect Nikola Mirotic may finally come over to America—the Bulls have had signing rights to Mirotic for three years now. Any of these players’ fates, of course, depend on how things go with the pursuit of Anthony.
Fans concerned that Taj Gibson may have to be jettisoned to make room for Anthony’s salary should breathe a little easier today, as reports from ESPN Radio suggest Gibson will be present (along with Joakim Noah) for Anthony’s meeting with the team. Gibson is part of the core ‘Melo’s being sold. Things could always change if push comes to shove, but for the time being it seems safe to put Gibson on the team's 2014-15 depth chart.
There are also going to be guard slot openings.
Jimmer Fredette, Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin all filled roles for the Bulls last year, but they are now free agents. It's a fairly safe bet that at least one of the three will be back, but whether it's them or someone else, they'll have to wait to see what happens with Anthony first.
More of a long shot is the Bulls' superstar contingency plan: trading for Kevin Love. The Bulls were initially mentioned as a team the disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves forward would like to land with, but talks between Chicago's camp and 'Wolves general manager and head coach Flip Saunders haven't gone too far. It's clear that, for now, the Bulls are more focused on landing Anthony.
Until Carmelo decides, the Bulls organization and their fans will be hanging in a purgatory of free-agency ambiguity. For better or worse, Anthony's decision will determine the make of Chicago's roster next year.