Plenty has been written about the Bulls' impending pursuit of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
The time has nearly arrived.
The NBA's free-agent negotiating period begins at midnight Tuesday, roughly 13 hours after Doug McDermott is set to be introduced by the Bulls on Monday morning.
There's no reason to think LeBron James will leave Miami or seriously consider Chicago this summer, so Anthony is the top priority as the madness begins.
The process is simple and complicated, but can it be accomplished? It boils down to these three steps:
1. Sell 'Melo on Chicago
This is obviously the most important step. After the visits and negotiations, Anthony will decide whether to stay in New York or move on. During the draft, an ESPN analyst made it sound like there would be a battle to concoct the best sign-and-trade deal, but that's not accurate. This is Anthony's call all the way.
Anthony is expected to visit Chicago, Houston, Dallas and maybe the Lakers, while Miami looms in the shadows, perhaps ready to strike.
The feeling here is this will come down to Anthony either joining the Bulls or staying in New York. One advantage is both teams play in the weaker Eastern Conference, where the path to the Finals should be more of a downhill run.
Dallas has a nice lineup and Anthony might feel comfortable with former teammate Tyson Chandler, but Dirk Nowitzki turns 36 this summer, so the championship window isn't quite so wide open for the Mavericks.
Houston won 54 games in the West last season, so there's talent there. Hard to imagine Anthony looking at James Harden and Dwight Howard, then thinking, "This is my dream team." Harden is a high-volume shooter who barely attempts defense, and Howard hasn't been a popular teammate in recent years.
The Lakers are low on assets and probably facing a rebuild. They have Kobe Bryant, who turns 36 in August and coming off an injury, plus 40-year-old Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle. This is a tough sell, even for Hollywood.
The Bulls have the mystery of Derrick Rose's knees as an obstacle, but can create a lineup that, on paper, complements Anthony. They have quality defenders in Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, a second superstar (when healthy) in Rose, and maybe some superb spot-up shooters with McDermott and future addition Nikola Mirotic. Coach Tom Thibodeau has shown an ability to get the most out of this team, healthy or not. Anthony is said to be intrigued by Thibodeau. In New York, he'd play for first-time coach Derek Fisher.
The key might be how well Anthony bonds with his potential teammates. Rose, Noah, Gibson and Butler figure to be in on the sales pitch. Most athletes enjoy playing and living in Chicago, so that part should be easy.
Miami could create a compelling option if the Power Trio splits up or takes pay cuts. But the toughest decision for Anthony will be whether to leave New York. He forced his way out of Denver three years ago and expected more than one playoff series win in NYC. Leave now and his time in Midtown would be a failure.
The future is a mystery for the Knicks. They can free up plenty of cap room in 2015, so there's a chance to put together a winning lineup, but that's a year away and the clock is ticking on Anthony's championship dreams.
Phil Jackson, new to the job, can give "The old regime failed you, but I'm building a winner" speech.
LeBron and Pat Riley might be ready to exploit all these doubts, but if the Bulls can win the pitch, they'll need to ...
2. Engage Knicks in trade talks
This could be a challenge because Jackson could simply say, "No, we won't do a sign-and-trade." But if Anthony wants to change uniforms, it would make sense for Jackson to asset-ize the situation.
Surprisingly, there is a scenario involving Carlos Boozer that could make sense for New York. Boozer makes an alarming $16.8 million next season and only the Bulls can use the amnesty clause on him. New York has an undesirable contract in shooting guard J.R. Smith, who is due $12.4 million over the next two years. Let's say Anthony gets a starting salary of $20 million and the Bulls agree to take back Smith. They could send Boozer, their three non-guaranteed contracts (Ronnie Brewer, Mike James and Lou Amundson), Mike Dunleavy and maybe Tony Snell to New York.
The Knicks get an expiring contract, three players they can waive and two guys who might have some trade value. Most important, they get Smith's $6.4 million off the books for 2015 free agency.
If that's not enough incentive, Anthony Randolph could go to the Knicks in a separate deal for Pablo Prigioni, which would remove another $1.7 million off their 2015 payroll.
New York would have only Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Shane Larkin on the books for free agency 2015. The Knicks could make a bold move even without Anthony.
A win-win? Maybe Jackson would see it that way.
In this scenario, the Bulls could keep Gibson, Butler, McDermott, avoid paying Boozer anything and have the full the midlevel exception to re-sign D.J. Augustin or bring Mirotic over from Spain.
It's also possible to do a sign-and-trade without Boozer. The Bulls would have to clear cap space and combine it with the non-guaranteed deals to give Anthony a more competitive salary. They might have to clear salaries anyway, because ...
3. Get prepared to shed talent
If the Knicks refuse to talk sign-and-trade, all is not lost. The Bulls could amnesty Boozer and then unload many other players for draft picks.
Even while keeping Rose, Noah, Gibson, Butler and power forward Greg Smith (signed late last season), the Bulls would have enough cap space to offer Anthony a starting salary of roughly $18 million. They'd have to unload McDermott, Dunleavy, Snell, and Randolph.
If Anthony wanted more money or would be OK with less, the Bulls could add or subtract players accordingly. Mostly, though, the ability to create cap space is incentive for the Knicks to agree to a sign-and-trade.
The key here is how much Anthony would be willing to be paid. If the Knicks offered him a maximum deal, his salary could grow to $29 million in its fifth year. Jackson has made it clear he's not interested in going that high for Anthony, but owner Jim Dolan might overrule.
If Anthony is looking to maximize his earning potential, he figures to stay in New York. If getting to the Finals is his primary goal, the Bulls would be a nice option, as long as LeBron stays out of it.
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