HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the answer was an easy one, Carmelo Anthony might have already committed to continuing his NBA future in Chicago. Or perhaps LeBron James would have chosen to take his talents to the Windy City in the summer of 2010 instead of to South Beach.
There is no question the Chicago Bulls offer the proper platform for any superstar looking to chase his championship dreams. The organization has a rich title-winning history (the Michael Jordan era remains fresh in the minds of many). There is a resident superstar, albeit one who is coming off two straight seasons of significant injury issues, in Derrick Rose. There is already an elite rim protector and defensive backbone in KIA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. And there is a coaching savant in charge in Tom Thibodeau.
The Bulls have stable ownership, a shrewd front office led by Gar Forman and John Paxson, cap space, again, and with the league’s moratorium on free agent signings just days away from being lifted, the Bulls don’t have a taker for all that they offer.
The Bulls are not out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes yet. According to the Chicago Tribune they are still alive, but they are not the favorite to land him despite being the logical fit. The Bulls need an elite scorer to pair with Rose and Anthony can basically get 30 in his sleep.
Why is it so hard for the Bulls to snag one of these available superstars?
And I don’t want to hear anything about the harsh climate. Chicago is a world-class city and the Bulls don’t play outdoors. So we can toss the weather report out as a factor right now.
There are deeper issues at play here, in my mind, and they have more to do with the nuts and bolts components of the Bulls team awaiting the player who takes the leap.
- Is it the trepidation about what Rose will be like in his latest comeback, the worry that his MVP days are over and perhaps he’ll be merely a good but not great player? Rose’s future is easily the most pressing issue for any superstar considering the Bulls. The Bulls couldn’t get over the hump when he was healthy, so there is no guarantee they’ll be able to do so now.
- Maybe the prospect of playing for a grinder like Thibodeau, who is relentless in his approach to everything from practice to the postgame messages he delivers to the media, isn’t as attractive to the superstar crowd as it is to blue-collar studs like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and others.
- And even though we are two full NBA generations removed from the Jordan era, elite stars like Anthony and James have to wrestle with the vast shadow cast by the player considered by most to be the greatest that’s ever played. The prospect of trying to live up to his legend, in the same jersey, is added pressure no one needs.
To be fair, the Bulls didn’t enter free agency last week with all of the flexibility of some of the other major players on the market this summer, as K.C. Johnson of the Tribune pointed out:
Entering free agency, the Bulls always knew that, without a sign-and-trade transaction, they couldn’t compete with the Knicks’ five-year, $129 million offer or even the Lakers’ four-year, $96 million deal without gutting their team. But Anthony is the one who emphasized winning is a priority. And athletes often can maximize endorsement potential by doing exactly that.
Even the most jaded free-agency observer might agree the Bulls offer the best chance to win in 2014-15.
The fact Taj Gibson played an active part of the Bulls’ pitch played to Anthony’s desire to keep Gibson and possibly join a ready-to-win roster. A source familiar with the Bulls’ pitch said Anthony and Gibson “connected.”
Without a sign-and-trade and by keeping Gibson, the Bulls only can offer Anthony a four-year, roughly $73 million deal via salary-cap space. This is one of the many reasons acquiring Anthony via a sign-and-trade is more ideal. It can make Anthony’s offer far more lucrative and allow the Bulls to remain over the salary cap, thus allowing them to sign other players via exceptions.
Multiple outlets, including the Tribune, have reported that Knicks President Phil Jackson hasn’t shown much inclination for sign-and-trade talks. This, obviously, could change should Anthony inform Jackson he’s choosing the Bulls.
The Bulls have been used before in the post-Jordan era. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and even Tim Duncan all flirted with the Bulls in free agency and ultimately decided to go elsewhere, for whatever their specific reasons were.
I’m convinced the Jordan factor, no one wants to follow “The Man,” was at play for all of those guys. Trying to live up to that sort of standard would have made their basketball lives far more difficult than going somewhere else and establishing a championship legacy of their own (And Duncan has certainly done a fine job of that).
The challenge for today’s stars, however, is much more about Rose than the ghosts of Jordan, Scottie Pippen or even former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, whose reputation hurt the Bulls with big-time free agents for years after he was gone.
Rose is not only the Bulls’ resident superstar, he’s the hometown kid who will always have sway with the organization. He was the first Bulls’ star after Jordan to reach MVP status and put the team back into the ranks of the league’s elite. No one will ever forget that. And anyone who shows up trying to force their way into his realm will no doubt be viewed through that prism.
These superstar conglomerates require some shared sacrifices, financial and otherwise, among players who consider themselves friends and even brothers, in a sense. Rose has been a reluctant, at best, recruiter and a loner of sorts in a league where relationships between players are paramount this time of year.
Having grown up in a previous era of the league, I can appreciate Rose’s “we’ll win with or without you” approach.
But it’s become clear to me that perhaps the biggest impediment to the Bulls attracting another superstar is the superstar already in place …