The Bulls always knew they were going to have to get past LeBron James in order to win a championship. Now they'll just have to do it by going through Cleveland the next few years.
If the Bulls don't land Anthony they are looking at the very real possibility of heading into next season as the third-best team in their own division. James' signing makes the Cavaliers the new favorite in the Central. The Indiana Pacers, despite all their dysfunction at the end of the year, still have Paul George and a core that has been to the Eastern Conference finals the last couple seasons.
If Lance Stephenson decides to sign elsewhere, that will change the dynamic within the division, but it won't change the fact that James' presence in Cleveland remains the biggest roadblock facing the Bulls.
James' decision has other ramifications on the Bulls as well. Namely, the backup plan of trying to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves is in question now as well. A sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Love is "intrigued" by the possibility of playing with James and would be open to signing a long-term deal with the Cavs.
If the Bulls didn't land Anthony, the next best option was to continue calling Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders to see if they could work a deal to bring Love to Chicago.
The Bulls' offer figured to include Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and/or Nikola Mirotic along with a future draft pick or two. If the Cavaliers offer up Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in this year's draft, along with a few other assets, will that be too good of a deal to pass up? Gibson and Butler are great defenders and solid players, but they don't have the potential star power of Wiggins.
No matter what happens in the coming days in free agency, the Bulls know that James remains in their path more than ever. Like it did in Miami during the first season, it's going to take him some time to learn the intricacies of playing with new teammates like Kyrie Irving and company, but James is the type of player who makes everyone around him better.
The Bulls have the same kind of talent in Derrick Rose -- a player who opens up space for everyone else on the floor -- but Rose has only played 49 games over the past three seasons because of various injuries. James' move doesn't change much in that regard for Rose and the Bulls. The former MVP must continue to work on his game and hope his body can withstand the grind of a long NBA season. Until he can prove that he is healthy -- and playing at the same level -- it's foolish to believe the Bulls are a serious contender to win a championship. Even if Anthony signs in Chicago, the Bulls still need an elite-level Rose to be a serious title contender.
The key for the Bulls becomes simple in the immediate aftermath of James' decision. They must hope that Anthony has a last minute change of heart signs with Chicago. If Anthony were to sign, it would give the Bulls the superstar scorer they've been missing throughout the Tom Thibodeau era.
Anthony's presence would take a lot of pressure off Rose and the rest of his teammates and would be an antidote for the intense defense James plays on Rose in the past. The Bulls have to hope that Anthony remembers what their pitch was -- that Chicago offers him the best chance to win right away.
The Knicks' can offer the most money, but they are still selling hope. Anthony must buy into the notion that the Knicks' new kingpin Phil Jackson can turn around the roster next summer when he'll be working with a lot more cap space. In the short-term, the Bulls have to hold onto the belief that Anthony knows that the best way to get through Cleveland is to join forces with Rose and Noah.
The Bulls and Anthony both understand that they are going to have to go through Cleveland in order to get the championship that they want. The reality for both is that they are much better equipped to do that together, not apart.
Knicks president Phil Jackson said Thursday that he hadn't heard from Anthony in recent days but remained confident the All-Star forward would re-sign with the Knicks.
Jackson said the Knicks have made five different contract offers to Anthony, one of which is believed to be a maximum deal of $129 million over five years.
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon that his client "hasn't made a decision yet."
Special to ESPN.com
The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.
Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.
Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.
Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.
Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.
Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.
Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.
Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.
Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.
Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.
Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.
Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.
Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.
Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.
James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.
Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.
Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.
Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.
New York Knicks
Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.
Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.
Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.
Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.
Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.
Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.
Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.
Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.
Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.
Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.
Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.
D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said Thursday that he hasn't heard from free agent Carmelo Anthony in recent days but remained confident that the All-Star forward would re-sign with the Knicks.
Jackson's optimism stems in part from the rapport he's established with Anthony through the Knicks' meetings with the free agent forward.
"I felt really good about my conversation with Melo," Jackson said. "We really struck a chord. The two of us, I think, feel really passionately about what we're trying to get accomplished. It's his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner. There's no instantaneous winner that we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we're going to be a lot better."
Jackson said the Knicks have made five different contract offers to Anthony, one of which is believed to be a maximum deal of $129 million over five years.
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon that his client "hasn't made a decision yet."
"No decision yet," another source said. "Still up in air."
In the case of Derrick Rose, the change in public perception of the Chicago Bulls star has been drastic.
"I want to be that guy," Rose told ESPNChicago.com at the time. "I want to be the reason why the Bulls are back to what they were 10, 12 years ago or something like that."
Rose took pride in the fact that he was becoming the new face of the organization. He believed in himself and his new teammates. He was confident that the Bulls would come together, and he didn't worry much about whether he should have better recruited James to Chicago. He and James texted a few times, and Rose figured that was enough. He figured his team and his city were enough to sell anyone on joining the Bulls.
"If anyone knows me, especially in my hometown, they know that I don't like being in the public like that or getting all the attention like that," he said. "To me I think it was a no-brainer, [but] he made the decision."
Rose was praised for that us-against-the-world attitude. Four years later, Rose is being crushed by many fans who used to love him. He's being second-guessed in his hometown. Once universally beloved in Chicago, Rose has found himself at the center of much public scorn.
How does the most popular athlete in town lose the benefit of the doubt in his own city? Several factors are in play here, but the biggest is, of course, that he was injured.
A torn ACL in his left knee in the 2012 playoffs went from devastating to frustrating for Bulls fans as Rose elected to sit out the entire 2012-13 season, even though the organization expected to have him back in the second half of the year. Between the ACL injury and a torn meniscus in his right knee that kept him out of all but 10 games last season, Rose, his camp and the Bulls have been plagued by PR missteps. His brother Reggie openly criticized the organization for failing to put better players around Rose.
The organization has kept its most important star mostly cloaked in secrecy throughout the past few years during his rehab phases. What has exacerbated the issues is that Rose has shown the same reluctance and indifference toward recruiting free agents while teammate Joakim Noah has emerged as a salesman, doing his best to persuade Carmelo Anthony to come to Chicago. Instead of receiving a pass from most fans because of the attitude, Rose is being questioned yet again.
Times have changed for Rose and the league. It's one thing to maintain that stance when you're producing at an MVP level, but it's another to keep that feeling when you've played only 49 games in the past three seasons.
To win back the fans' trust, Rose must play and perform at a high level. But it goes deeper than that for Rose and the Bulls.
As it pertains to the recruiting, players want to be wanted. They want to hear what stars in the NBA have to say about their team. Rose hasn't played much in three years, but players still respect his game and what he has already accomplished. He's still a star, and they want to hear from him.
Whether it's a member of his inner-circle or a member of the Bulls organization, somebody has to get through to him that he is best served by playing the PR game, even if it's uncomfortable for him. The more Rose shows publicly that he is willing to be part of these pitches, the more he will start to win back some fans.
Rose can't do anything about the fact that he was injured. It happens to almost all athletes at some point in their career, and Rose has had more bad luck than most. His contract doesn't require him to recruit players, he's just required to perform on the floor. Since he hasn't been able to do that for much of the past three seasons, Rose has to take it upon himself to find other ways to help.
Rose is the same person he was before -- shy, introverted, cautious -- he's just not the same player. Nobody knows if Rose will look like his old self when he hits the floor again this season, and nobody knows if his body will be able to hold him if and when he does. The only way to win back that trust is to play again -- and play at a high level for an extended amount of time. He doesn't want to recruit, but he still badly wants to win. It's up to those closest to Rose to make sure he understands this as he heads into the season.
It's also important to understand that Rose still wants to be the player who delivers a championship to his city.
"It makes me feel a little bit better that they really believe in me and have trust in me about decisions that they make," Rose said on that July day in 2010, in regards to the faith the Bulls organization had placed upon him. "It just means a lot, man. A little guy coming from the South Side of Chicago got his own team. It shows that just hard work and dedication really pays off."
Rose never wanted to leave Chicago. But now a portion of Chicago seems to want to turn its back on him. It's crazy how quickly things can change.
It's up to Rose to make the decisions to turn things in a positive direction once again.
I know what you're asking: Doolittle, who will you be watching during the Las Vegas Summer League?
In general, the answer is that I'll be watching the same guys as everyone else. But there are some situations I'm more anxious to check out than others. So here's a guide to what's happening on the court during the next couple of weeks. That is, if the big free agents make up their minds and allow us to veer our attention away from Twitter and the newswire.
First look: The Rookies
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz: Perhaps no player in Vegas will garner as much interest as Exum, the Australian mystery kid who skipped college ball and spent the past year preparing for the draft. We've seen sparse video of Exum, and what exists is hard to judge, given the caliber of competition. He sparkled in international events, but that was against fellow kids. Now Exum will be exposed to a few bona fide NBA players for the first time, and we'll get a feel for how he compares athletically. Fellow Jazz guard Trey Burke is also on the summer league roster for Utah, so we should get our first taste of them working in tandem.
A number of rival teams increasingly believe that New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony plans to hold off on announcing any decision about his future until LeBron James reveals where he'll be playing next season, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony, whose decision was widely expected before a resolution to James' situation when free agency began, has kept the Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and other suitors waiting at least in part to see where James goes and whether there would be any option to join his close friend.
Sources say that the Knicks thought they'd know by Monday if Anthony was prepared to commit to new team president Phil Jackson for the long term or sign with the Lakers instead. The Knicks can offer Anthony a five-year maximum deal valued at $129 million, with the Lakers' max offer topping out at $96 million over four years.
The Lakers' pitch to Anthony included a conversation with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, according to ESPN. Johnson called from his European vacation because, as one source put it, "He will always be a Laker. If he was in town, he'd have been in the meeting."
Los Angeles is determined to wait on James and Anthony before moving on in its pursuit of other free agents. James and Anthony are the Lakers' main targets, but with each passing day, the franchise gets antsy about potentially missing on other free-agent targets such as Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza.
Anthony has gone as silent as James with free agency now more than a week old, sparking the belief that he's waiting to see if there is a viable opportunity for the two stars to team up.
"He wants to see what LeBron does," one source with knowledge of Anthony's thinking told ESPN. "But he can't wait forever."
The Knicks have tried to maintain their long-held confidence that Anthony will stay in New York, sources said, but the delay has definitely frayed some nerves, with no indication as of Wednesday morning when either Anthony or James plan to make their decisions known.
Anthony held meetings last week with Chicago, Houston, Dallas and the Lakers before granting last word to the Knicks on his interview tour. But there's been a strong belief over the past few days that the 30-year-old is likely to choose between New York and Los Angeles, both cities in which his family is very comfortable.
Anthony's hope of going where James goes, meanwhile, would appear to depend on Chris Bosh
One of Carmelo Anthony's goals in free agency is to put himself in position to compete for an NBA championship.
That would appear to be one knock against the New York Knicks' pursuit of Anthony. The Knicks won just 37 games with Anthony last season.
But Knicks head coach Derek Fisher said Tuesday that he has assured Anthony that the Knicks will be "a better basketball team" than they were last season, according to published reports.
Fisher, team president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills met with Anthony and his representatives in Los Angeles last Thursday to offer their sales pitch to the free agent.
Fisher, speaking in Las Vegas at the team's summer league practice on Tuesday, said he gathered during the meeting that one of Anthony's top priorities is to put himself in a winning situation. And the first-year coach made it clear to Anthony that he felt the Knicks could turn things around in 2014-15.
"He wants to win, wants to be successful," Fisher told reporters of Anthony. "The time I had the visit with him I just shared with him we'll be a better basketball team because we'll play the game a better way, play as a team, play with a system and format to allow the game to be easier for him for him and his teammates.
"I'm not sure if it hit home,'' Fisher added. "I guess we'll find out. Hopefully we'll find out soon."
The Bulls' summer league roster was announced Tuesday and includes last year's first-round pick Tony Snell and this year's second-round selection Cameron Bairstow. Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin will be the head coach with assistants Andy Greer, Ed Pinckney, Mike Wilhelm and Coby Karl.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said on draft night that he expected Derrick Rose to practice with the summer league team, but he wouldn't play. The Bulls open the summer league slate on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
If Carmelo Anthony does not sign in Chicago, the Bulls are going to have a lot of choices to make in a short amount of time. Like many teams, the Bulls have money to spend but there is a lot of competition to land second- and third-tier free agents. Once the first big dominoes of free agency fall when LeBron James and Anthony make their decisions, everything else will come down quickly.
The Bulls have several contingency plans in order and they must act decisively if they are left at the alter by Anthony.
With that in mind, here are a few of the options Gar Forman and John Paxson will have to consider if Anthony passes on the Bulls:
Chandler Parsons, SF
It always seemed like Houston would end up matching whatever offer materialized for the restricted free agent. But if the Rockets end up landing Chris Bosh, maybe the game changes for a team like the Bulls. At 25, Parsons is sure to have many suitors -- the interesting aspect of his deal, as my colleague Tim MacMahon from ESPNDallas.com noted, is that any team that signs Parsons to an offer sheet may then have to wait three full days to see if the Rockets would match the offer.
If James still hasn't made his decision in a few days and Bosh is waiting to see what happens, would a team like the Mavericks or Bulls be willing to gamble on signing Parsons to the offer sheet, in the event that Anthony picks a team?
Parsons would fill a huge need for the Bulls in the form of outside shooting, but would the Bulls be willing to create enough cap space to land him? According to ESPN capologist Larry Coon, the Bulls would have about $13 million in available cap space if they use the amnesty provision to eliminate the final year of Carlos Boozer's deal and trade Mike Dunleavy. With Nikola Mirotic's arrival looming on the horizon, the Bulls wouldn't even come close to offering Parsons a competitive offer if Mirotic wants somewhere between $6 million and $8 million.
As Coon noted, the Bulls can't offer Parsons the same kind of "poison pill" contract the Rockets offered former Bull Omer Asik because Parsons has already been in the league for three years and is not bound to the same contract restrictions. Plus, if the Mavericks, or another team swoop in to sign Parsons to a big offer sheet, then the Bulls are out of contention anyway. Parsons is a close friend of Bulls center and fellow Florida product Joakim Noah, but that tight bond probably isn't going to be enough to bring him to Chicago.
Pau Gasol, C
Gasol's name has been on the Bulls' radar for a while. The front office flew out to meet with Gasol last week in Los Angeles and he seems to be at the forefront of any non-Anthony contingency plan. As with Parsons, there are a lot of teams contending for his services. The Bulls don't figure to offer Gasol nearly as much as the Lakers will, but they can sell playing on a team that believes it has a legitimate chance to contend next season in the much weaker Eastern Conference. Still, landing Gasol is going to be tough because of the quality of suitors in the hunt for him.
Lance Stephenson, SG
The mercurial 23-year-old Pacers swingman has already turned down a five-year, $44 million deal from Indiana and ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported Monday that the two sides are still "far apart on a deal." I still don't believe the Bulls will make a serious run at Stephenson because of his documented ability to upset a locker room, but if they whiff on other names, he remains a possibility, especially if the Pacers can't come to terms with him.
Luol Deng, SF
Don't hold your breath for a Deng reunion with the Bulls. Deng already turned down a three-year, $30 million deal last season. He and his camp were not happy with how the Bulls approached the contract process and there are still lingering feelings on both sides. Plus, adding Deng after potentially missing out on Anthony & Co. would not satisfy a fan base that already knows what kind of team the Bulls are with Deng in the fold.
Trevor Ariza, SF
The Washington Wizards swingman would fit into the Bulls' system on many levels. He is a solid defender and can knock down open jumpers -- as evidenced by some of his performances in the Wizards' first-round playoff win over the Bulls. Washington would still like to re-sign him, but he could be an answer if the Bulls are willing to splurge a little.
As the Bulls' front office tries to filter through all the scenarios, the big problem they have is the same one every team is dealing with. Many organizations have a lot of money to spend this summer.
As the Bulls learned in the past with Carlos Boozer, and others, teams usually have to overpay in free agency. That's why it's more imperative than ever for the Bulls to target one big free agent and lock him up right away if Anthony isn't ready to come to Chicago. The Bulls aren't going to have time to wait and see what happens in a crowded marketplace.
"I think he would have been the guy like we said with Jabari Parker, he's the most ready to play in an NBA game right now," Fraschilla said on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Monday. "And we might have even made the statement Andrew Wiggins may have the most upside, but I honestly think he would have been in the top [few picks]. Let's assume a healthy [Joel] Embiid, you're definitely talking about [Mirotic being] a top-four pick."
Mirotic, who was picked up by the Chicago Bulls in a draft day deal in 2011, has worked out a buyout to get out of his deal with Real Madrid, according to reports out of Europe. As the Bulls wait for Carmelo Anthony to make a decision as to where he will play next season, they're also trying to figure out just how much it will take to land Mirotic, who is not bound to the rookie scale because he was drafted three years ago.
When asked for an NBA comparison, Fraschilla compared Mirotic to a young Hedo Turkoglu, a player who can space the floor for Derrick Rose and knock down jumpers. But he also noted that fans should not expect too much too quickly.
"I think the Bulls are getting a really solid player here," Fraschilla said. "But they're not getting Dirk Nowitzki, certainly not at this stage of his career."
Fraschilla used a baseball reference to illustrate his point.
"Playing at the level he has for the last four years, he's hitting .330 in Triple-A," Fraschilla said. "And now you're bringing him up to the big leagues. If you're the Chicago Bulls, for example, you're hoping he's going to be a .290 hitter right off the bat."
More bets have been placed on the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2015 NBA title than on any other team at the Las Vegas Superbook.
"They are our biggest liability right now," said MGM VP of Race and Sports Jay Rood. "We took a dime ($1,000) on them at 40-1."
The Cavs are currently down to 10-1 at the MGM.
The story's the same all over Vegas, as reports surfaced about LeBron James' potential interest in returning to Cleveland. Las Vegas Superbook assistant manager and head NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman told ESPN.com that none of the bets on the Cavs have been "significant" in size, but, altogether, the wagers were enough to cut Cleveland's odds in half, from 60-1 to 30-1.
The defending champion San Antonio Spurs (9-2) and the Chicago Bulls (7-1) are the only teams that have attracted more money than the Cavaliers, but no team has received more overall bets (28) than Cleveland since odds went up on June 9. In comparison, the Miami Heat, the favorite at 5-2, had attracted only one bet at the Superbook.
Signs of Anthony wearing a No. 7 Bulls jersey alongside the Larry O'Brien Trophy dotted the sides of the building. As Forman got into his car, he had a lot to feel good about. He and assistant GM Randy Brown were among several members of the organization headed over to continue speaking with Anthony at a downtown hotel. Optimism was the prevailing theme of the day as Forman left that day.
Six days later, all that optimism has been replaced by reality.
Anthony is now expected to decide between taking a five-year max contract with the New York Knicks for about $129 million or a four-year max contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for $96 million. The Bulls' offer would have started at only about $17 million next year, given that the organization would like to keep its core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and rookie Doug McDermott intact.
According to one source with knowledge of the discussion, it was a strategy that Anthony seemed to be on board with, especially when it came to keeping Gibson. He knew the Knicks had to gut their roster when they made the original deal to acquire him from the Denver Nuggets during the 2010-11 season. He didn't want to have to endure that again if he landed in Chicago.
So does that mean Forman and executive vice president John Paxson should be criticized because it appears Anthony is going to take max money, even when he went on record earlier in the year saying that money wouldn't be the most important factor in his decision?
No, but a large portion of the Bulls' fan base will anyway.
That's because of the cumulative letdown of big-time free agency over the past four years. Forman and Paxson did not land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Some fans still haven't gotten over that and never will. Now that it appears Anthony is headed elsewhere, all those old feelings are resurfacing.
The larger issue with Forman and Paxson is what happened in the days since Anthony's meeting. That's when ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported that, according to sources, Rose wasn't actually part of the formal recruiting pitch to Anthony and was "shocked" to see Anthony there. On the surface, that's hard to believe considering last Tuesday marked the first time since the Game 5 playoff loss to the Washington Wizards on April 29 that the basketball floor at the United Center was down, according to several sources.
But the perception remains that the division between the Bulls' front office and Rose's camp seems only to be growing over time. It started just before the All-Star break last season, when Rose admitted that he was still a long way from returning to the floor, even though many within the organization believed he was just a few weeks away from making his return from an ACL injury he suffered in April 2012. The disconnect grew deeper a couple of weeks later, when Rose's brother, Reggie, voiced his displeasure to ESPNChicago.com regarding the lack of movement from the front office to put better players around his brother.
It's the job of Forman and Paxson to form a united front within the organization. But between the Rose drama and the on-again, off-again drama surrounding Thibodeau's future in Chicago, the Bulls have looked anything but unified at various points in the past two seasons.
Forman and Paxson aren't alone in the blame game. Rose, once the most universally beloved athlete in town, is now one of the most questioned. He has only played 49 games in the past three years and has repeatedly said he didn't want to recruit players. Bulls officials have played coy from the beginning about what Rose's actual involvement was last Tuesday, but they would much rather their star swallow his pride and sell some of the league's brightest stars, like Anthony, on the virtues of playing in Chicago.
Whether Rose went out of his way to speak to Anthony for hours may not have made much of a difference in the end, especially if Anthony was just going to head to the biggest payday all along, but the perception is that Rose and his camp aren't on the same page with the front office. It's a perception that all involved can't shake and one that reflects poorly on the entire group.
Rose still believes he is the best player in basketball. It's that inner confidence that allowed him to become the league's youngest MVP in 2010-11, and it's that belief that elevated the Bulls to new heights in the post-Jordan era. But now that confidence -- and stubbornness -- seems to be hurting the Bulls more than helping them, which is why Rose is facing more criticism than ever from a fan base that misses watching him play at the highest level.
Passing out blame is usually one of the stages of grief fans go through when their team and city is jilted in free agency. They need a scapegoat and an outlet for the feelings of sadness. The reality for the Bulls is that maybe the blame in this situation should be chalked up more to bad luck than anything, or anyone, else.
If Rose hadn't been hurt, it wouldn't have changed the entire course of the organization. Maybe they would have been able to claw past LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011-12 the way many within the organization still believe. Maybe Anthony would, in fact, sign in Chicago for less knowing that Rose is still one of the top players in the league, not a question mark coming off his second major knee surgery in two years.
Several people deserve at least some blame for the fact that Anthony doesn't appear to be heading to Chicago, but none of them could have overcome the one thing that has hovered over the Bulls since Rose went down with his first knee injury: bad luck.
In a surprising twist, the Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as the team that most worries the New York Knicks in their attempt to re-sign superstar free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
While the Knicks remain confident in their chances to convince Anthony to return to the Big Apple, the Lakers' pitch -- of teaming Anthony with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and prized rookie Julius Randle on a team with no long-term salary obligations -- made what one source described as a "strong impression" on Anthony, who is living and training in Los Angeles this summer, and has made his decision over the holiday weekend "tough," according to another source close to the situation.
There was a growing sense circulating through the league Sunday that Anthony is likely to choose between the Knicks and the Lakers, who are the only two teams that can offer him max money without needing to make roster moves first. New York can offer him a five-year deal worth $129 million, while Los Angeles can offer a four-year deal valued at $97 million.
But sources close to the situation told ESPN.com's Marc Stein said that, as of 6 p.m. Sunday, Anthony had not formally notified any of his suitors that they are out of contention. The 30-year-old had sitdowns this week with Chicago, Houston and Dallas before meetings with both the Lakers and Knicks on Thursday in L.A. Anthony then retreated from the spotlight to take the holiday weekend to make his decision.