There has been a lot of talk this week about the future of Kevin Love in Minnesota and Carmelo Anthony in New York. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions for next season. At that point, Anthony will either opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent or play one more season with the Knicks under new head coach Derek Fisher and team president Phil Jackson.
The clock is also ticking on Love. The Timberwolves All-Star power forward has expressed his frustration multiple times about never making the playoffs. Love is due to become a free agent in 2015, and the Wolves might trade him rather than lose him in free agency. The highest value Minnesota can get in return for Love figures to come on draft night. President and head coach Flip Saunders believes he can convince Love to stay in Minnesota, and the Timberwolves are hoping to replicate what happened with the Portland Trail Blazers and LaMarcus Aldridge. The big risk with that strategy is once the season starts, Love’s value on the trade market greatly decreases.
ESPN is reporting the Miami Heat are exploring their own scenario in which the Big Three would opt out and re-sign smaller deals in order to free up enough cap space to bring in Anthony. But the Bulls might be the more attractive option.
Here’s how the Bulls can potentially land both Love and Anthony to create their own super-team to rival the Heat.
Step 1: Trade Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, the rights to Nikola Mirotic and both 2014 first-round picks for Love. The Golden State Warriors could trump the Bulls' offer by including Klay Thompson in a trade package, but it’s unlikely that Golden State breaks up the Splash Brothers, according to reports from the Bay Area. Any potential Love deal then comes down to what Minnesota wants in return. If they want picks, then both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics could have better offers than the Bulls. But if Saunders wants a combination of starters and picks, the Bulls are the best trade partner.
Step 2: Amnesty Carlos Boozer. This will likely happen regardless of what Anthony or the Timberwolves do. The “Get It Jo!” Era is about to end in Chicago.
Step 3: Trade Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a contender for a second-round pick. This should be a pretty easy move to pull off. If the Bulls make all three moves, that would leave their roster with four players in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tony Snell and Love. Together they will make $48.3 million next season, and the NBA expects the salary cap to be around $63.2 million (the exact number won’t be announced until July). This leaves the Bulls with approximately $15 million in cap space to fill out the rest of the roster. It’s important to note, this does not mean the Bulls can sign Anthony for $15 million. The NBA has rules in place that require teams to have 12 players on their roster and charges teams a minimum salary for each unfilled roster spot. With seven spots to fill — not including Anthony — it means the Bulls would be charged about $3.5 million against the cap. That leaves $11.5 million for Anthony.
Step 4: Convince Anthony to give the Bulls a massive discount and sign for a salary of $11.5 million in his first year. This obviously would be the hardest — and most improbable — part of the plan. Anthony would have to believe that the Bulls give him the best chance to win a championship and that he’d be able to make up part of the difference in salary with endorsements that come from playing for the Bulls and winning a title. Choosing Chicago over Miami also allows Anthony to remain the primary scorer and guarantees him the 20 shots a game that he’s averaged in his career.
The Bulls also boast a younger team and give Anthony a window to win multiple championships. It’s easy to forget that Rose and Love are both 25-years-old and haven’t hit their prime yet. Noah is coming off the best season of his career and is a dominant force on defense and a unique playmaker on offense. Dwyane Wade is 32 with bad knees. Chris Bosh is 30 and has plateaued. However, LeBron James is still the best player in the game, and any team he plays on in the next five years will be a championship contender. The Heat could potentially offer Anthony slightly more money depending on what the Big Three do with their contracts.
It is very unlikely that the Bulls would be able to acquire both Love and Melo. Aggressive, bold moves like this would signal a change in philosophy for the front office, but June is the month in which NBA fans can dream. Reality can wait until July.