Bulls adjusting on the fly in free agency

Bulls adjusting on the fly in free agency
July 5, 2014, 12:30 pm

With Carmelo Anthony expected to make his free-agency decision by the end of the holiday weekend, the Bulls are still considered the superstar’s top option if he chooses to relocate from New York, though the early optimism about the scorer leaving the Knicks has diminished a bit.

But that has nothing to do with the level of Derrick Rose’s recruitment of Anthony, as a source confirmed to CSNChicago.com that the former league MVP did spend time with Anthony during Tuesday’s visit to Chicago. While the Bulls’ point guard wasn’t as directly involved as teammates Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, his daily workout routine was shifted from the Berto Center to the United Center for the express purpose of crossing paths with Anthony.

Rose’s workout wasn’t necessarily designed to prove his health to Anthony, so he didn’t fully interrupt his routine just to court the small forward — perhaps leading to ESPN.com’s depiction of Rose only exchanging a “brief hello” with Anthony, a report that has led to the rehashing of the Chicago native’s perceived anti-recruiting stance — but afterwards, Rose did spend time with Anthony in the Bulls’ locker room, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the situation. Maybe Rose, given his introverted personality, wasn’t as effusive as the more outgoing Noah and Gibson in expressing his desire for Anthony to sign with the Bulls, especially given Noah, in particular, building a relationship with the coveted free agent, but he certainly isn’t the type to go against the organization’s goal and he absolutely was made aware of the day’s proceedings.

[MORE: Report: Carmelo Anthony expected to return to Knicks]

In the end, Anthony’s decision won’t come down to how much personal attention he received from Rose, as he will faces a clear-cut choice between the familiarity of New York, the max contract the Knicks are likely to put forth and enduring at least a one-year rebuilding process under new team president Phil Jackson and first-year head coach Derek Fisher, and teams more equipped to contend in the short run, of which the Bulls are regarded as the best choice. Thursday’s visit to Los Angeles reportedly went well — the Lakers laid out the benefits of being in close proximity to Hollywood for Anthony and his wife, an entertainment personality — Wednesday’s Texas trip featured the Rockets wooing him with a talented roster in Houston and the Mavericks keeping it all business in Dallas, but Chicago, partly because of the perception of the Eastern Conference offering a much easier path to the NBA Finals, is seen as the most logical, if not financially lucrative landing spot.

Beyond the money, one can’t blame Anthony if he were to stay in New York, as the allure of playing at Madison Square Garden, not having to uproot his family and being a Knicks legend — neither Patrick Ewing nor Bernard King won championships, but are still hailed as heroes, and after a potential backlash for theoretically not being a winner subsides, it wouldn’t be surprising if Anthony is eventually praised for his loyalty and sticking with the process — are appealing. This common-sense reasoning, as well as some corners of the organization starting to believe that Anthony will stay put, is why the Bulls have started to work on contingency plans more earnestly.

While the Bulls could still pursue a trade with Minnesota for Kevin Love, it’s still unclear if the package of assets they could put together would be enough to convince the Timberwolves to part with the disgruntled All-Star power forward in comparison to what other interested parties could offer. Thursday’s visit to Los Angeles to meet with Pau Gasol demonstrated the Bulls’ efforts, though there’s plenty of competition for the veteran big man, as the likes of the Heat, Thunder, Knicks — Anthony reportedly discussed Gasol coming to New York, where he would reunite with his former coach, Jackson, be coached by his former teammate in Fisher and play alongside newly-acquired friend, countryman and Olympic teammate Jose Calderon — and Lakers are amongst his suitors, not to mention that he would likely have to take a significant pay cut to play in the majority of those destinations.

Another Spaniard, Nikola Mirotic, could also be in the Bulls’ plans in the near future, as reports indicate that to play in the NBA next season, the 23-year-old forward is willing to pay Real Madrid an approximately $3 million buyout, of which the Bulls are allowed to contribute $600,000. The 2011 first-round draft pick, viewed as one of the best players in Europe despite a disappointing end to the recently-completed campaign, could command a salary of upwards of $7 million per year, further limiting the Bulls’ financial flexibility.

[RELATED: Report: Nikola Mirotic set to join Bulls this summer]

Assuming neither Anthony nor Love ends up in Chicago and Mirotic comes to Chicago, with 2014 draft picks Doug McDermott and Cameron Bairstow both on the roster, the Bulls would have nine players under contract that fans can expect to see at the beginning of next season. That doesn’t include Carlos Boozer, who a source confirmed to CSNChicago.com, was informed that the Bulls are considering either trading him or using the amnesty clause, which could happen as soon as July 10.

Greg Smith, a big man acquired from Houston toward the end of last season, continues to rehabilitate a knee injury, and journeyman forward Anthony Randolph, who came to Chicago in the draft-night trade with Denver to get McDermott, aren’t seen as absolute locks to be wearing Bulls uniforms at the outset of the campaign. The veteran trio of Mike James, Ronnie Brewer and Lou Amundson, all of whom had previous stints with the Bulls prior to being signed at the end of last season, aren’t expected back, but could be used as trade filler.

Meanwhile, three free agents who had roles in the Bulls’ rotation last season are regarded as possibilities to return to Chicago, to various degrees. D.J. Augustin reportedly has interest from teams such as Dallas and could be in search of more long-term security, a bigger payday and a larger role than the Bulls could offer with Rose’s return, while fellow floor general Kirk Hinrich is probably a more feasible option to be the backup point guard and while the organization would prefer an upgrade from veteran Nazr Mohammed to spell Noah at center, his professionalism and mutual familiarity means he can’t be ruled out just yet.

With defensive-minded swingman Jimmy Butler coming off his first campaign as a full-time starter, veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr. providing a reliable threat in the final year of his affordable contract — a trade-friendly one, though the Bulls have no reason to trade him if they can’t acquire a major upgrade at the wing — Tony Snell entering his second NBA season and McDermott expected to be able to stretch NBA defenses, there’s a chance that the Bulls stand pat, as far as their wing rotation. Hinrich, Augustin and the likes of Ramon Sessions and Jameer Nelson are options to back up Rose, and Smith will be given every opportunity to prove his value as a reserve big man, though former Bulls draft pick Elton Brand and the underrated, but oft-injured Jason Smith could also be pursued to add depth behind Noah and Gibson.

Given the state of the East, with Miami in flux following its disappointing Finals loss, Indiana regrouping after its tailspin and teams like Washington, Toronto, Charlotte and Atlanta on the rise, but certainly not juggernauts yet, even if the Bulls don’t make a major offseason acquisition, they will still be in the mix and likely amongst the conference’s upper-echelon clubs, though, as always, that hinges on Rose’s health, not his recruiting.