Phil Jackson won five more NBA championships after leaving the Bulls in 1998.
But during Jackson's successful run of coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, he was never a serious rival. The Lakers played out West and the Bulls were far from title contenders in those days.
Now, though, Jackson and the Bulls are going head-to-head, 1-on-1 for the services of high-scoring forward Carmelo Anthony. The process continued without resolution Friday.
The Bulls have been closing fast on Anthony in recent days but need to figure out a way to seal the deal. Their best-case scenario would be a sign-and-trade with the Knicks, and that requires Jackson's cooperation. He was hired as New York's president of basketball operations a few months ago.
No doubt, Jackson is well aware that his best leverage at the moment is to dare Anthony to take the $77 million or so the Bulls can offer by clearing cap space. He doesn't have to agree to any trade.
The burden is on the Bulls' front office, Gar Forman and John Paxson, along with Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, to make something work. The Bulls have plenty of assets they could send to New York as incentive to work out a trade.
Since the NBA's free-agent period began July 1, the Knicks held an advantage no other team could match. New York could give Anthony a five-year maximum deal worth $129 million. Jackson told reporters Thursday the Knicks have five different contract offers on the table.
If Anthony joins the Bulls or any other team, the most he could receive is $97 million over four years. To open that much cap space, the Bulls would have to use the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer and trade several players, including Taj Gibson.
With the right sign-and-trade, the Bulls would be able to give Anthony the full $97 million and keep most of their assets.
What the Bulls would like to see happen is Anthony tell Jackson he's headed to the Bulls regardless. If there's no trade, he will take whatever cap space is available and allow the Bulls to keep Gibson. If Anthony's exit is inevitable, Jackson might choose to get something in return.
The Bulls also are trying to find a way to bring Lakers free-agent forward Pau Gasol to Chicago. Gasol reportedly turned down a two-year offer from the Lakers. San Antonio and Oklahoma City have offered the midlevel exception, worth $5.3 million, according to numerous reports.
If the Bulls miss out on Anthony, Gasol is clearly their backup plan, and they could easily outbid the Spurs and Thunder.
A few days ago, some national outlets were calling the Anthony saga a two-team race between and Knicks and Lakers. The Lakers made some other moves Friday -- re-signing Nick Young and Jordan Hill, as well as agreeing to take Houston's Jeremy Lin in a trade -- and are all but out of the Anthony chase.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has kept Anthony interested in Chicago, according to a league source. The content of their conversations is unknown, but Thibodeau could have played up his history of bringing out the best in veteran players.
Joakim Noah finished fourth in MVP voting this season. Derrick Rose won MVP in 2011. When Thibodeau was the lead assistant in Boston, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett won their first NBA titles.
During 11 seasons in the NBA, Anthony has finished in the top five in MVP voting just once, in 2012-13.
The summer's biggest free agent, LeBron James, finally made his plans known Friday (going back to Cleveland, if you haven't heard). Anthony's decision had little to do with James, but the high-scoring forward continues to wait.
In other news, the Bulls will open play in the Las Vegas summer league Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Clippers. Rookie Doug McDermott is expected to make his debut.
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