Derrick Rose lay on the United Center floor, clutching his knee, grimacing in obvious discomfort. One season-ending injury to the OTHER knee and one trade of all-around iron man Luol Deng later, and the writing seemed to be on the wall for the dismantling of this Chicago Bulls core; the core that was supposed to stand as one of the only obstacles to LeBron James and the super friends running roughshod over the legacy of Michael Jordan… the legacy of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. But someone forgot to tell Chicago.
Rather than throwing in the towel, the Bulls have rallied around coach Tom Thibodeau and emotional juggernaut Joakim Noah, en route to a nearly-guaranteed fourth spot in the playoffs and a first round home series. While the Bulls look to be too undermanned and outgunned to advance past the second round of the playoffs, the foundation that looked to be in disarray is actually rock solid. Joakim Noah is as solid of a supporting star as you could ask for, and Tom Thibodeau just wins, no matter what you throw at him. Throw in the return of former MVP Derrick Rose, in whatever form that may be, and the Bulls remain a legitimate title contender for years to come. But they are still missing that one piece that will put them over the top… that one X-factor player that can remove the weight from the shoulders of a man who literally doesn’t have a healthy leg to stand on. And with that in mind, we look to the 2014 NBA offseason.
In spite of the brutal winter that Chicago just endured, the Bulls look to be a top free agent destination for the right player. When I say the right player, I am referring to a player that values winning above all else; above the weather, above the income tax rate, and above the need to be the number 1 option on offense. I won’t fault a player for taking the money or the location; at the end of the day you need to do what you need to do to be happy. But for a player like Carmelo Anthony, who will always be known as the player that came after LeBron in the 2003 NBA draft, your legacy in the game is reliant on whether or not you can win a title. If you can’t, then your legacy will be as just another All-Star in the LeBron era.
Anthony has repeatedly said that he wants to retire as a member of the Knicks, and the odds still say that he’ll be returning to the Big Apple next season. But the Knicks can’t offer what Chicago can in terms of the pieces necessary to win a championship. New York is buried beneath the albatross contracts of Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and J.R. Smith, and they have a virtually guaranteed lame duck coach in Mike Woodson. New York will always be a premium free agent destination, so a quick overhaul in the vein of the Brooklyn Nets isn’t out of the question either. On the other hand, Chicago has the flexibility required to clear cap space quickly to accommodate Anthony’s max or near-max contract, and they can still retain a premier supporting cast to go to war with for the remainder of Anthony’s prime.
The Bulls would have to do some shuffling to accommodate Anthony’s $20 million salary, however. Boozer and his $16 million are as good as gone, and the Bulls will then have to choose between bringing over the European superstar Nikola Mirotic or staying with the emergent Taj Gibson. Mirotic probably gets the call as he is only 23 years old and has a ton of potential, but Gibson’s play will make it difficult to drop him for nothing. Mike Dunleavy would be shipped to allow Tony Snell and his rookie deal to play behind Carmelo. And long-time Bull Kirk Hinrich would either have to sign a veteran’s minimum or find a new team. Even with those moves, the Bulls will be right at the projected cap of $62.1 million (with half a roster still to sign). Chicago is notoriously thrifty, but luring Anthony would almost undoubtedly include a foray into luxury tax territory.
Could Anthony make the move to the Midwest? To do so, he would be leaving roughly $30 million on the table to leave New York, but he has plenty of money. The one thing he doesn’t have is a championship, and a core of Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, and coach Tom Thibodeau is better than anything New York or even the Lakers could offer him. If Anthony steps back and looks at this decision objectively, and he truly wants to win a title more than anything else, then the choice becomes clear. Anthony should be suiting up at small forward for the Chicago Bulls in the 2014-2015 season.