What if he had signed with the Bulls? How good would Chicago be with Anthony and Derrick Rose? How happy would Anthony be winning games -- and presumably winning a lot -- alongside coach Tom Thibodeau?
Anthony won't allow himself to entertain the notion of what could have been.
"If I start doing that and saying what if to myself and second-guessing and questioning myself, it won't be right," Anthony said after practice Wednesday as the Knicks prepare for Thursday night's game at Chicago. "For me, mentally it won't be right, so I will not allow myself to sway toward asking myself what if with this situation or that situation."
Anthony visited Chicago in July and came away thinking that he could have been a Bull. In an MSG Network documentary on his free agency, he said at one point that he thought he would sign with the Bulls and that it was a "perfect fit for me in Chicago."
He said he was thoroughly impressed with the organization and Thibodeau. But after also visiting the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, Anthony opted to re-sign with the Knicks for $124 million over five years.
Noah, who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, initially sprained his right ankle on Dec. 2 in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks and then re-sprained it in a win over the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 3. He played 33 minutes in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 5, but has not played since.
"My knee feels good," Noah said. "This is more of my ankle. I think it was good just to get some lifts and just take care of my body during this time, let it heal, and I feel pretty good and I'm excited to be able to play tomorrow."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah went through all of practice and sounded hopeful Noah will be able to contribute against the Knicks.
ATLANTA -- Derrick Rose missed 15 of the 21 shots he took in Monday night's 93-86 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He turned the ball over six times. He was 0-for-7 from the 3-point line and made several poor decisions with the ball in his 31 minutes, 30 seconds of play.
But as a tired Bulls squad got dressed and made its way on to the bus awaiting outside Phillips Arena, Rose and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believe Monday's game was a positive development.
That's because Monday marked Rose's 11th consecutive game on the floor. It also marked just the second time all season he has started and finished back-to-back games. After watching Rose struggle to stay healthy throughout the first month of the season, Thibodeau seems relieved Rose is able to continue playing.
"There's a lot of things to the game that he can do to help us. Overall, I think he's doing well. It's not going to be perfect."
While Monday's game illustrated one of those times when things weren't perfect for Rose, he came into the game playing some of his best basketball since before he tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012. Since being pulled from a Nov. 25 loss against the Denver Nuggets, Rose came into Monday averaging almost three more points a game (18.1 compared to 15.7 before the move, according to ESPN Stats & Information). Over the three contests entering Monday's game, he was averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field.
Most importantly to Thibodeau and the Bulls, Rose came into this game playing with so much more confidence going to the rim. Through his first seven games, he averaged 4.6 shots in the paint. Since the Denver game, he came in averaging 7.4 shots in the paint, and he took eight against the Hawks on Monday.
On Monday, he struggled with his jumper and didn't go to the rim as much. The Hawks packed the paint, daring Rose to shoot from the outside. He didn't seem bothered by the looks, believing that they were the right play.
"Shots that I normally hit, tonight they were flat," said Rose, who had 14 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. "Just didn't have no lift to them. I guarantee you, next game, that won't happen."
But that's one of the other small differences. The pre-injury Rose would have seen that his shot wasn't working and driven it to the rim. He would have either gotten fouled at the basket or created more space for his teammates on the drive. Twenty-four games into this season, there is still some hesitancy.
"I want him attacking," Thibodeau said. "When he attacks, he's special. When he tries to pace himself, that's not going to work. He's got to be aggressive. As I said, it's not perfect. But over the course of the game, he's going to make a lot more good plays than he is bad, and that's all good for us. He can't be afraid to take a chance, he's got great instincts, he's got great ability. I want him to go. It didn't work out this time, but it will work out next time."
Thibodeau and Rose are taking the right course of action: continue pumping the positivity and hope that everything clicks again consistently for the former MVP. Whether it's fair or not, Rose was so good before the first injury and raised the expectations so high on his game that it's still tough for all involved to get used to seeing him find the way back into a rhythm.
Back in the pre-injury days, the Bulls knew what they were getting from Rose every game. There were nights like Monday night when he wouldn't shoot well or turned the ball over a lot, but everyone knew that when the game was on the line, Rose would be the one making the right plays. No one knows whether Rose will become that player again.
"It's all a read," Rose said of his aggressiveness. "If someone's going, I'm not going to try and affect the game with just shooting up crazy shots, or shooting up a shot that I have no business shooting up just because I haven't shot a shot. I'm going to feel the game, see how things are going to go and try to involve myself in the game at some point."
That is a distinct change from seasons past, and it remains to be seen whether that will work over the long haul. The Bulls have more offensive talent than they did in Rose's first few seasons. They aren't leaning on him as much as they used to, but to get to where they want to go they're going to have to turn back the clock.
"I think they can attack you in a lot of different ways," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Bulls. "They have more options and really talented offensive guys. I do think he's striking that balance. There probably have been times over the last three or four years where so much was expected from him. As a group, they have more ways to attack you offensively and maybe the burden isn't on him. That's a great thing for any player. I think he's finding that rhythm and balance of both. It's not good for the rest of us."
ATLANTA -- Al Horford scored 21 points, including a huge jumper with just under a minute remaining, and the streaking Atlanta Hawks won for the 10th time in 11 games with a 93-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
The Hawks led most of the way, but never by more than 10 points. After Taj Gibson's dunk with 1:13 remaining brought the Bulls to 87-84, Horford got loose for a 19-footer on the wing and knocked it down.
Pau Gasol followed his own miss to make it 89-86 with 23.7 seconds left, giving the Bulls one more chance. But the Hawks grabbed possession on a jump ball and sealed the victory at the foul line, ending Chicago's three-game winning streak.
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 22 points.
Thibodeau said the right ankle injury is of bigger concern to the Bulls right now. Noah initially sprained the ankle last week in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks and then sprained it again in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He played Dec. 13 against the Golden State Warriors but has not played again since.
Thibodeau was non-committal when asked if Noah would be able to return Thursday night against the New York Knicks.
"The ankle right now is the [bigger issue]," Thibodeau said. "He's got to get that where he's comfortable enough to get out there. He's working hard and we just got to be patient."
MIAMI -- Luol Deng made big plays and provided great moments throughout much of his 9½-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls, but it was one of his last decisions as a member of the Bulls that may provide the biggest dividends for the organization in the future. That's because when Deng decided to reject the Bulls' three-year, $30 million extension in January, Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson made the swift decision to deal Deng -- to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As much as the organization respects Deng, and as much he endeared himself to head coach Tom Thibodeau and his teammates, especially in the past few seasons, that was the right decision for Forman and Paxson to make. That was even clearer Sunday night as the Bulls faced off against Deng for just the second time, the first as a member of the Miami Heat, in a 93-75 win.
In the short term, the cap space money that was freed up in the Deng deal, which brought back Andrew Bynum's contract -- which was quickly waived -- took the Bulls out of the luxury tax. That's important given the fact that if they kept Deng they would have been over the luxury tax threshold for the second straight year and would have faced the punitive repeater tax moving forward.
From a broader perspective, the Deng deal, coupled with amnestying the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract, allowed the Bulls to chase hard after Carmelo Anthony, and ultimately, end up with Pau Gasol in the 2014 free-agent sweepstakes. Gasol has been arguably the Bulls' best all-around player over the first two months of the season, averaging a double-double and becoming a huge presence down low for Thibodeau. Deng was, and still is, a skilled offensive player, but Gasol gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket presence that Deng was never going to provide on the blocks.
Deng's decision also gave Jimmy Butler more of an opportunity to showcase what he can do. Butler has taken over Deng's role as Thibodeau's workhorse, racking up 21 points a game and taking the challenge of guarding the opposition's best perimeter player each night. After spending countless hours in the gym over the summer, Butler's game has reached a new level offensively. At 25 and in just his fourth year in the league, he doesn't have the mileage on his legs that Deng, 29, has piled up after 10 seasons in the league.
Deng's decision also helped pave the way for the Bulls to land two promising rookies. Nikola Mirotic still may have come over to Chicago on the mid-level exception, but the Bulls may not have chased as hard after Doug McDermott in a draft-day deal if they knew Deng was in the fold. While McDermott hasn't panned out up to this point, and is now expected to be out for 4-6 weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the Bulls are still confident he will contribute at some point.
Many fans voiced displeasure with the Deng move last season because they thought the Bulls, who got Bynum, one potential first-rounder from Sacramento and two future second-round picks, did not get enough in return for the former All-Star. But with Sacramento appearing to get a little better behind the play of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, that pick, which is top-10 protected for the next three seasons, looks a little bit better.
Deng said before Sunday's game that it wasn't difficult for him watching his former team, and said that he "had to move on," but it was clear from all parties involved that Sunday's affair was a little different because of the circumstances.
"I think it's always going to be strange for me facing the Bulls," Deng admitted. "Obviously because it's Chicago, but just the guys on the team. It's still really the same guys. You just got Boozer, Boozer's gone, now it's Gasol instead. But most of the guys it's still really the same faces. It's more than a game with those guys. So when I see them it's friends, it's family, it's guys that I've done a lot with. [They] know a lot about me, I know a lot about them."
The cold reality of the business of basketball is that Forman and Paxson knew that if Deng wasn't going to sign for their price, it was time to move on. They just didn't realize how lucky they got when Deng said no to their offer. The Duke alum is still a good player, and his presence is missed by his teammates, but he is on the downside of his career. With Gasol in the fold, and Butler growing into a star, the Bulls have a better chance of getting to their ultimate goal of winning a championship. Maybe that's why Thibodeau said it wasn't strange for him to coach against one of his all-time favorite players in Deng.
"I know the type of competitor he is," Thibodeau said. "We want to beat them, I know he wants to beat us. I think you guys know how I feel about him. I've got great respect for him, not only as a player, but as a person. His story is an incredible story and to be where he is, it's remarkable. Just the way he carries himself, he's a great guy."
But the Bulls had to take their personal feelings out of this decision, and they are better off for doing so. Deng's numbers have slid slightly in Miami as the Heat have struggled to string wins together. The Bulls, who have now won three straight games, appear poised to make a run towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
As much as the Bulls' players acknowledge how strange it is to face the man many considered to be like a brother, they understand the business of basketball. While nobody in the locker room wants to admit it, the Bulls are in a better place without Deng than they would be with him.
"Yeah, it's weird," Bulls guard Derrick Rose said of facing Deng, the first time he had done so in his career. "Especially with me and Lu and I think a couple of other guys on the team, we really have relationships with him off the court. Hanging around, going out to eat with one another, going to each other's house, stuff like that you tend to miss. But this is a business and you can do that in the offseason."
With a second-quarter free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan for third all-time on the NBA's scoring list.
The world, naturally, noticed.
Here's how star athletes and other celebrities reacted on Twitter:
And although MJ is not on the social media network, Jordan weighed in with his own statement to the Associated Press.
Heat leading scorer Chris Bosh (calf strain) missed a game for the first time this season, which left them without enough punch or size to challenge Chicago. Miami shot a season-low 35 percent, including 4 for 22 from 3-point range.
Dunleavy was shut out in the first half but scored 19 points on eight shots in the third quarter, when Chicago outscored Miami 33-16. Dunleavy finished 4 for 5 from 3-point range, while the Bulls shot 9 of 18 beyond the arc and 47 overall.
Jimmy Butler had 17 points for the Central Division-leading Bulls. They improved to 11-3 on the road, best in the Eastern Conference.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Golden State Warriors have begun the season 21-2 and are on a 16-game win streak, but first-year Warriors coach Steve Kerr is rejecting comparisons to the 1996 72-win Chicago Bulls team on which he played.
When asked if the Warriors could pull it off, Kerr responded, "Oh God, no. No!"
Kerr followed that exclamation with, "We had this guy named Michael Jordan on that team. That year, I think we were 41-3. So if we can go 21-1 the next 22 games, come talk to me."
Kerr explained why the Bulls' record will never be matched by chalking it up to Michael Jordan's personality.
"What I remember that year is there were about 10 games where Michael just decided, 'We're going to win,'" he said. "And every other team on Earth would have lost those 10 games. And Michael Jordan was ... there'll never be another one. Nobody has ever come close, and I don't think anybody ever will. He wanted to break that Lakers record of 69 wins, so he decided we would do it, so we did it. There's only one Michael."
The Warriors won their 16th straight with a 128-122 overtime victory over the Pelicans on Sunday night in New Orleans.
"The surgery went well. Now he has to begin the rehab," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before Sunday's game against the Miami Heat. "So just be patient. Let him work his way through it."
McDermott has not played in the two weeks since his knee swelled up after the Bulls' 15-day road trip in late November.
"It was something minor with the knee," Thibodeau said. "I don't know exactly what it was, and we were trying to see if we could handle it with just treatment, and it just seemed like the smart thing to do was just go in there and clean it up. So that's what we did, and I think it went well, and we'll go from there."
McDermott, whom the Bulls traded for on draft night, has struggled in his first NBA season. The Creighton product is averaging just 3.2 points a game this season and has had difficulty finding consistent minutes in Thibodeau's rotation. The veteran coach remains hopeful McDermott will be able to produce later in the year and is confident he will attack his rehab.
"He'll be great," Thibodeau said. "All our rookies, their mental approach has been terrific. Like any injury, there's initial disappointment. But he knows he's got to focus on the rehab, take it day by day, just concentrate on the improvement, keep learning. He's really engaged. He's a great kid. It will work out."
CHICAGO -- While the rest of the basketball world doubted whether Derrick Rose would ever be the same player he used to be before knee injuries changed the course of his career, the former MVP remained steadfast in the personal belief he had in himself. If he ever had doubts that he would return to being an elite level player, he never aired those out publicly. His game may have changed, his mindset may be different, but his public confidence never wavered. That's why the 26-year-old didn't seem surprised after dropping 31 points in 32 minutes in Friday's 115-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He always knew he would take -- and make -- big shots late in games again as he did on Friday.
"I always say that's what a player like myself is supposed to do," Rose said. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody else, I think. I'm my hardest critic. Just going down and being in that situation as a kid, those are the shots that you think about. As a player that wants to get to the highest potential that you possibly can, you want them shots. You want that on your résumé."
Aside from the fact that Rose went 14-for-24 from the field, what pleases his coaches and teammates most is that a majority of those shots came as he was driving to the rim. For the second straight game, Rose looked much more comfortable taking the ball to the hole, while creating more space for himself and his teammates.
"We all feel that he's going to be back to the same guy that he was," Thibodeau said. "He's going step by step. He's got to keep building, keep attacking; when he's aggressive like that there's no one like him."
That's what has to scare the rest of the league the most. Rose is only going to get better as he continues shaking the rust off his game. He's only going to gain more confidence once the minutes restrictions that have been imposed on him in the first part of the season are lifted by the front office. Rose is teaching himself how to dominate again.
He's re-learning what it takes to be great night after night. He's remembering what it feels like to get up for high-quality opponents night after night. Rose doesn't like to speak about personal one-on-one matchups, but he thrived off the competition against Blazers guard Damian Lillard. On Friday, his desire to drive was noticeable to most everyone in the United Center, including his teammates.
"From the get-go he was aggressive," veteran Pau Gasol said. "I think he scored 11 points in the first quarter. Being aggressive, getting to the lane, shooting those tough floaters outside the lane. So you could tell he was on tonight and he was on that go mode. That's always a great sign to see from anyone, but especially from Derrick."
The best sign for the Bulls late in this one was that Rose paired with backup Aaron Brooks and carried the team down the stretch. The guards sliced and diced through the Blazers' defense and seemed to enjoy playing off one another. It's a look that Thibodeau hasn't used much this season, but it's one that he would be wise to go back to when looking for an offensive boost.
"Our games are different," Brooks said. "Coming off the pick-and-roll and the bigs are seeing two different styles: Power and then I guess I would say finesse a little bit. It's like the two double running backs [system] they use in the NFL."
Whatever it is, it worked for the Bulls in this one. Rose looks more and more like his old self. He looks like the type of player who can put his team on his back and carry it for long stretches of the game offensively. Rose is starting to look more and more like his old self -- the way he always envisioned his comeback turning out.