The Bulls have practically made a tradition of free-agent misses since the championship era ended and usually come out with a consolation prize.
• After missing on Tracy McGrady, Eddie Jones and Tim Thomas in 2000, the Bulls ended up with Ron Mercer and Brad Miller.
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• When the expected addition of Antonio Davis fell through in 2001, they inked Eddie Robinson.
• After that, they hit on a few targets -- Donyell Marshall in 2002, Scottie Pippen in '03, Andres Nocioni (from Spain) in '04, Ben Wallace in '06.
• Then came 2010, when they exited the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sweepstakes with Carlos Boozer and most of the "Bench Mob."
• Another miss arrived Saturday when the Bulls officially lost out on Carmelo Anthony and settled for power forward Pau Gasol from the Lakers. If it's any consolation, Gasol should be the most accomplished consolation prize of the last 15 years.
But the question remains, could the Bulls have closed the deal with Anthony or was he planning to take New York's maximum contract all along?
The Bulls originally felt they wouldn't have much chance of pulling Anthony away from the Knicks. It wasn't until Joakim Noah worked on Anthony at the All-Star Game and coach Tom Thibodeau checked with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim that it began to resemble a chase worth mounting. Team president Michael Reinsdorf finally gave the OK to go all-in on the high-scoring forward.
Chicago was Anthony's first visit on July 1 and by all accounts, the meeting went well. The Bulls played up the city, franchise and fans. Thibodeau could have talked about creating a lasting legacy for Anthony as a team player, capable defender and winner.
In the days after that meeting, one news report seemed easy to dismiss at first, but a league source confirmed the content. Anthony was disappointed with the Bulls' contract offer.
Obviously, the plan was to sell Anthony on the Bulls offering the best chance to compete for a championship right away. The best way to accomplish that goal, obviously, would be to surround Anthony with talent, such as Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and rookie Doug McDermott. It made no sense to gut the team to create more cap space.
So the Bulls told Anthony how much they could give him -- in the neighborhood of four years, $75 million -- and he moved on to meet with the Rockets, Mavs, Lakers and Knicks.
Thibodeau continued to work on Anthony and eventually, the Bulls talked about different contract possibilities. Two-year opt-out, three-year opt out, with the idea of signing a full maximum deal later. A sign and trade with New York, had it worked out, could have gotten Anthony $97 million over four years, the most he could receive from another team.
We all know how it ended. Anthony is returning to New York at a near-max contract. We'll never really know how the Bulls could have sealed the deal with Anthony. Maybe there was no chance he'd turn down $120 million from the Knicks.
Having more cap space might have helped. A clause in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement continues to haunt the Bulls. A new rule was added that year, allowing the Bulls to give Derrick Rose a full veterans maximum contract because he was named MVP early in his career.
There wasn't any reason to complain about it when Rose signed the extension. But he hasn't played much since and is getting paid around $2.5 million more per season than if the rule hadn't been changed in 2011.
Going back 15 years, it's not hard to identify where things have gone wrong for the Bulls in free agency. In 2000, players were wary of joining a 15-win team. In 2010, the Bulls were beaten out by Miami's three-star cap space and Wade's stellar recruiting.
This year? Maybe the Bulls didn't believe they had a realistic shot at Carmelo until it was too late.
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