The people who knew Carmelo Anthony best kept repeating the same line -- "There's no way he'll leave $50 million on the table."
Knicks president Phil Jackson, hired a few months ago, hasn't known Anthony for long but quickly got up to speed.
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While Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau went into detail about how he'd use Anthony offensively, help him defensively and try to create the championship legacy Anthony apparently craves, Jackson kept it simple.
You want to play in Chicago, take the Bulls' cap space.
Anthony could have told Jackson he wasn't coming back to New York. He could have said how much he'd appreciate a sign-and-trade but would sign with the Bulls either way.
That never happened. After dragging on for more than a week, Anthony finally ended the process by informing the Bulls he would be returning to the Knicks. Exact terms of his new deal were not known, but he's expected to get a five-year deal worth around $120 million from New York. Not quite the maximum, but close to it.
The Bulls seemed to gain momentum with Anthony this week, and yet it also feels like they never had a chance.
With Anthony out of reach, the Bulls did manage to secure their second choice. Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol announced his plans to join the Bulls through Twitter and on his website
The statement posted at paugasol.com read, "After much deliberation and soul searching, I've decided to join the Chicago Bulls. I'm excited about the opportunity to become a part of such a storied franchise and play with a contending team in front of some of the most passionate fans in sports."
It didn't quite match the emotions of the LeBron James "Return to Ohio" letter, but at least the Bulls won over someone.
After thanking the Lakers and city of Los Angeles, Gasol added: "As I move into the next chapter of my NBA career, I'm embracing the opportunity to play with the Chicago Bulls, and I'm looking forward to becoming an active member of the Chicago community."
As Anthony disappeared from view, no one can really blame him for maximizing his value. Maybe his earnings off the court would have soared through team success in Chicago, but the Bulls were looking at a realistic offer in the neighborhood of four years and $75 million.
The Bulls could have included an opt-out, setting the stage for a true max deal after year three -- James reportedly is signing with Cleveland for just two years -- but none of that was guaranteed. Anthony has a home in New York, and his wife grew up there. His choice made perfect sense.
What doesn't add up is why he took so long to decide. After saying last season winning is more important to him than money, then pondering his options for 10 days, Anthony chose the money and went back to New York, which most people expected him to do all along.
Maybe the indecision hampered the Bulls' summer plans, maybe not. As it stands, they'll have Gasol, who turned 34 last week but averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 points for the Lakers last season. One concern with Gasol is he missed 55 games due to injuries over the past two seasons.
He may not be an ideal fit, but he can give the Bulls a solid rotation of big men, joining Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Hopefully, sitting out in the fourth quarter is something Gasol is prepared to handle.
Terms of Gasol's deal still are pending. There was talk of a potential sign-and-trade with the Lakers, but that fell apart Saturday, according to numerous reports.
The next step is either moving Carlos Boozer to a team with cap space, which would surely cost a first-round draft pick or two, or using the amnesty clause on Boozer. By using the amnesty, the Bulls release Boozer, who is set to make $16.8 million this season. They still have to pay his salary, but it doesn't count against the salary cap or luxury tax.
Once either of those scenarios is complete, the Bulls would have about $12 million in cap room. They could increase that amount by trading guys such as Mike Dunleavy, Anthony Randolph or Tony Snell. Yahoo sports reported that forward Greg Smith, who makes slightly less than $1 million, will be sent to Dallas in the next few days.
Gasol is expected to get around $10 million per season. By moving other salaries, the Bulls should have enough cap space to also add 6-foot-10 Nikola Mirotic, a 2011 draft pick who is leaving Real Madrid for the NBA.
After that, the Bulls can use the "room" midlevel exception of $2.73 million to chase an additional player or two. There is no limit to adding players for the minimum salary.
The roster is relatively stocked, but the Bulls need more guards. Kirk Hinrich is likely to return, and the Bulls may shop around for another value free agent.
The expensive free agent got away.
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