Carmelo Anthony informed the Knicks he will opt out of his contract, his agent confirmed Monday.
The news didn't surprise anyone, but it's a relief for the Bulls. There would be no Anthony pursuit this summer if he wasn't available.
The Bulls seem reasonably optimistic about their chances of landing the high-scoring forward, but there are plenty of speed bumps to navigate once NBA free agency begins July 1:
So many unknowns:
Is Anthony serious about leaving New York? How much of a pay cut would he accept to join the Bulls? Would Knicks president Phil Jackson be open to sign-and-trade scenarios, which would allow the Bulls to give Anthony a higher salary?
Obviously, the Bulls' sales pitch to Anthony will focus on Chicago offering the best chance to win a championship.
They have a first-team all-NBA center in Joakim Noah, a former MVP in Derrick Rose, and coach Tom Thibodeau has gotten a good return with undermanned teams the past two seasons.
Anthony would have made $23.5 million with the Knicks this season if he didn't opt out. The Bulls could come close to matching that, but they'd have to clean house and trade just about every asset except Rose and Noah.
The "win a championship" pitch sounds better if they keep Taj Gibson at power forward and Jimmy Butler at shooting guard. The Bulls could field that lineup while giving Anthony a contract that starts at around $18 million.
What they need is for Anthony to tell the Knicks, "I want to play for the Bulls. Work out a sign-and-trade if you want, but I'm leaving either way."
Faced with the prospect of Anthony leaving, the Knicks should be open to taking the Bulls' first-round draft picks, Tony Snell and nonguaranteed contracts of Mike James, Ronnie Brewer and Lou Amundson.
By doing that, the Bulls would be able to use matching salaries and the 125 percent rule to give Anthony a better contract.
Boozer is not a coveted trade target:
Unless they can work out a trade, the Bulls will use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer this summer. They'll still have to pay his salary next season, but it won't count toward the salary cap or luxury tax.
There have been suggestions the Bulls could trade for Orlando shooting guard Arron Afflalo and plug him into a fantasy lineup next to Anthony. This would require using Boozer in a trade, perhaps a three-way sign-and-trade with the Knicks.
Reality check: Boozer will make $16.8 million next season, and the most money the Bulls could give another team in a trade is $3.3 million.
Orlando has plenty of cap space, but ask yourself how eager the Magic would be to pay that kind of salary. Or whether New York would pay such a huge sum for Boozer to back up Amare Stoudemire.
Both teams would require gobs of incentive to make such a deal, and the Nos. 16 and 19 picks in the draft won't get it done. Trading for Afflalo is more likely to happen if the Bulls don't get Anthony.
Anthony could stay in New York:
Even though Anthony opted out of his contract, he still could re-sign with the Knicks, either for one year or longer term.
The outlook isn't promising for the Knicks this season, but they could have ample cap space in 2015 after contracts expire for Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani.
So there could be a nice payoff for Anthony in New York. The problem is, it's all a mystery now. The Bulls are trying to offer a safer contending scenario, although Rose's injury history complicates that idea.
A video interview with Anthony was released Monday by vice.com where he talks about deciding whether to move his family to a new city.
"My son goes to school and loves it here," Anthony said on the video. "To take him out and take him somewhere else, he has to learn that system all over again. He has to get new friends."
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, released a statement about Anthony's decision.
"Carmelo loves being a Knick, he loves the city, and he loves the fans," the statement read. "At this stage of his career, he just wants to explore his options."
Getting Anthony into a Bulls uniform, either through a free-agent deal or a sign-and-trade, can be done, but there are a number of steps involved.
They may have to clear salaries. Using the amnesty clause on Boozer is easy enough, but the Bulls might have to find teams with cap room willing to take on Snell, Butler or Mike Dunleavy.
They have to figure out whether to trade their first-round draft picks, choose a player who will stay overseas for a couple of years or make the picks and be willing to deal them later.
They'll have to win over Anthony, agree on the finances and try to engage the Knicks in sign-and-trade scenarios.
The backup plan isn't bad:
If the Bulls don't get Anthony, they'll likely sign rising European star Nikola Mirotic, probably keep their first-round picks and still would have cap space to add other pieces.
A report in a New York newspaper claiming Rose would prefer Minnesota's Kevin Love to Anthony should be taken with a grain of salt.
It was reported here long ago that Rose's brother Reggie pushed the Bulls to trade for Anthony back when the forward was looking to leave Denver.
Rose's biggest concern for this summer is to demonstrate he's healthy after two knee surgeries in the last three years.