An ESPN report saying that Bulls center Joakim Noah approached Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony, a potential free agent in the offseason, about playing in Chicago while the pair were in New Orleans during the NBA’s All-Star weekend last month is accurate, according to a league source.
But that same source told CSNChicago.com that Anthony himself engaged the likes of Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love, a potential free agent in 2015 and rumored New York target.
Given Anthony’s comments about being “frustrated” after last Sunday’s Knicks loss to the Bulls at the United Center, a defeat the All Star also called “embarrassing,” it’s understandable that speculation about the superstar coming to the Windy City has already kicked into high gear. But even in light of New York’s disastrous season, getting overly excited about the possibility so early reeks of 2010, when there were such high hopes for a free-agent class that featured LeBron James, among other superstar players.
(As an aside: Noah talking to Anthony should not bring back debates about why Derrick Rose chooses not to recruit stars to Chicago, as the two Bulls players obviously have different personalities and their decision to court or not court players simply reflects a difference in philosophy.)
The Bulls, albeit snake-bitten in the last few seasons, have won the respect of the entire league due to their style of play, coaching and blue-collar cast of characters, and Anthony would seemingly be the perfect fit as a dynamic scorer on a team that lacks that aspect of the game, even when Rose is at his best and healthiest. But expecting Anthony to take less money to come to Chicago is a leap of faith.
As has been pointed out, the Bulls would have to make a series of maneuvers, including amnestying Carlos Boozer, not bringing back either of the point-guard tandem of Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin, passing on signing 2011 first-round draft pick Nikola Mirotic and trading sixth man Taj Gibson for cap space, just to make Anthony an offer that would consist of him taking a massive pay cut and far less money than his current team could offer him. Trading Gibson, whose $8-million annual salary looks like a bargain in this, his career-best season, isn’t an easy proposition, and doing it without knowing for certain whether Anthony would sign sounds a lot like their 2010 trade of Hinrich to Washington, just with wider-reaching consequences.
Additionally, Anthony wants to win, but turning down approximately $30 million, which he would sacrifice by opting out of the final year of his current deal and signing outright with another team, doesn’t exactly make great business sense, particularly considering that this could be the final long-term maximum contract of his career when factoring in his age.
If a sign-and-trade scenario comes into play, the Knicks suddenly have some leverage, and assuming Noah himself wouldn’t be included in a deal, they would have options elsewhere, not to mention the general NBA rule of thumb that says teams would prefer to trade superstars out of their own divisions and conferences. Regardless, New York is a city that thrives on star power, and Madison Square Garden would need another main attraction if Anthony left. So as much as Noah and Gibson, both New York natives, are appreciated here, neither player would be much coveted of a centerpiece to a blockbuster deal.
Instead, in a move that would combine Anthony’s big-city leanings and the Knicks’ own needs, perhaps a more realistic proposal would involve the Clippers, who could look to make a power move if this postseason doesn’t result in the progress expected from Doc Rivers’ first year at the helm. All-Star point guard Chris Paul is a close friend of Anthony’s and could be the floor general he needs, and while young power forward Blake Griffin has made strides as a player this season, his best stretch came when Paul was out, putting the ball in his hands more as a playmaker, a role he’s not likely to be in during the playoffs.
Maybe it sounds farfetched, but no more so than the Knicks’ supposed plan of holding on to Anthony and waiting until 2015, with the hope of luring the likes of Love, Boston’s Rajon Rondo or Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge.
Perhaps the best thing to take from Noah and Anthony talking during the All-Star break is Noah relaying to Anthony what it’s like to play for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau’s summer job as an assistant for USA Basketball will allow the coach to do his own bit of de facto recruitment to NBA superstars, simply by his presence, but the fact that high-profile players are curious is a good sign for the future, even if it doesn’t result in Anthony coming to Chicago.
Of course, one could also view the All-Star encounter more ominously: Anthony could have been debriefing Noah because of his own hope that Thibodeau, as rumored, could come to New York next season and help rescue the Knicks from their misery. If that was the case, after their recent showing against the Bulls, he probably shouldn’t get his hopes up.
That’s a lesson that can also be applied elsewhere.