Mirotic recently worked out a buyout with Real Madrid, and the Bulls sound ready to find a way to make it all work. After finalizing the deal for Pau Gasol, their focus will turn back to Mirotic so that he will be ready to come over for the upcoming season.
"[Executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have been in contact with him for a long time because we have his draft rights," Thibodeau said before the Bulls' first summer league game on Saturday night. "Hopefully, something will be worked out. At some point, he will hopefully come, then we'll see where he is."
Thibs happy for James: Thibodeau didn't mention Carmelo Anthony by name on Saturday after being spurned at the altar in free agency, but the veteran coach did sound happy for Anthony's good friend and Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James about his return to Cleveland.
"It's good," Thibodeau said of James' decision. "That's what he felt was best. The one thing about LeBron, he's always stayed true to himself. So it's good."
Was he surprised by James' choice?
"I didn't really think about it, to be honest with you," he said. "He's a great player. He's been great for the league. It's a great story. [We will] just get ready for next season."
The Chicago Bulls coach spent a few minutes with the media before his team's opener in the Las Vegas Summer League, and it was like talking to him before a regular-season game in Milwaukee in March.
The basketball lifer was obviously disappointed by the fact that Carmelo Anthony decided to stay with the New York Knicks -- Thibodeau and the Bulls invested a lot of time and effort into their recruiting pitch to Anthony -- but he didn't show his frustration. He didn't even mention Anthony by name.
"At this time of the year, [executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have talked to a number of players," Thibodeau said. "You make your presentation, we think we have a lot to offer. We feel we have some good options, and we're looking forward to the challenge of next year."
That's as deep as Thibodeau will go. Anybody who has followed the Bulls over the past four seasons knows to read the tea leaves with the veteran coach, though. His refrain will always remain the same: Whether Anthony landed in Chicago or not, Thibodeau was always going to be of the belief that the Bulls have more than enough to win. It's a mantra that has defined his coaching career and his tenure with the Bulls.
But there's no doubt Thibodeau will motivate his players next season by reminding them that, in the end, Anthony spurned Chicago. Anthony turned his back on Thibodeau and what was widely believed to be the best situation to win a title right away. Even if Thibodeau understands how much Anthony fought with the decision and how much money he would have left on the table, Thibodeau will use Anthony's choice as yet another motivational ploy in firing up his team. He thrives on the "us against the world" mentality and will remember that in the future when the Bulls face the Knicks.
Rose, who has played just 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries -- including two serious knee injuries -- practiced with the Bulls' summer league team as it prepared for to leave for Las Vegas over the past week.
"He had a very productive week," Thibodeau said. "That was the next step. So he'll continue to work, and then the next phase will be with Team USA. He's going step by step, doing great and he's looking forward to it."
Rose put doubt into his Team USA plans in an interview with Yahoo! Sports late last month, saying he would make the decision to play after conferring with his agent, and former Bull, B.J. Armstrong.
"I still don't know yet," Rose told Yahoo! "If I'm feeling right and the time is [right], for sure I will go out there. My body is responding good, but you never know.
"Right now, I haven't really thought about that. I am just worrying about just trying to get back every day, and I'm really taking rehab one day at a time instead of trying to think about competing."
Rose's words came as a surprise to many within the organization, given that Thibodeau, Bulls GM Gar Forman and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski all were hopeful that he would participate. Thibodeau will be able to keep a close eye on Rose if he does participate in the camp -- he is an assistant on Team USA's staff.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Smith averaged 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game over the last three seasons with the Houston Rockets. The Bulls signed him through next season after Houston waived him in April.
According to the source, the Mavs are giving up "nothing" in the deal, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports. The Bulls are simply dumping a little bit of salary to help them make another move.
Smith, who will make $948,163 in 2014-15, fills the Mavs' need for a low-priced banger off the bench, the role filled by DeJuan Blair last season. The Mavs are also likely to re-sign Bernard James to a minimum-salary deal, a source said.
The Chicago Bulls just never seem to get their man. That's a strange observation to make about a franchise with six NBA titles, but it's true when it comes to the history of Chicago's free agent pursuits. It's been that way since Michael Jordan left the team in 1998, and continued Saturday when Carmelo Anthony pledged to return to the New York Knicks.
In Chicago at least, nice guys finish second, and they end up with players like Pau Gasol. The problem with Chicago's recurring Plan B is that while it keeps the Bulls relevant, they remain on the perimeter of the title chase, rather than in the middle of it. To get off that second-tier, the Bulls needed a bold move. If Anthony had chosen the Bulls, that would have certainly qualified. But by rushing into the Gasol acquisition, they leave themselves in the same spot they've been too many times: an also-ran.
Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but he also just turned 34 years old and missed chunks of the past two seasons because of injuries. His ability to create space on the floor because of his passing and vision should mesh well with Joakim Noah. Gasol also gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket scorer, something they thought they were getting when they signed Boozer four summers ago.
Gasol is absolutely a better all-around player than Boozer, but he has never been known for playing consistent, high-level defense. Like Boozer, there's a solid chance Gasol could end up sitting late in the fourth quarter of games as coach Tom Thibodeau decides to go with one of the best defensive combos in the league in Noah and Taj Gibson. While Gasol isn't as defensively challenged as Boozer, he isn't the best option to close down games on this roster.
The larger issue with the Gasol deal is the same one it was going to be with any player the Bulls landed who wasn't Anthony: Does Gasol -- and Nikola Mirotic, assuming the Bulls finally hammer out a deal with the European star -- put the Bulls that much closer to a title? The Bulls would be a better, deeper team with Gasol and Mirotic in the fold, but the issue for them is the same: Who scores late baskets for them in the playoffs? Derrick Rose is expected to come back in fine form to start the season and has looked great in summer league practices, according to several people who have seen him play, but the Bulls have seen before how this story ends.
The interesting wrinkle about the Gasol news is that it likely pushes the Bulls out of the conversation for a potential deal with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love for now. With Gasol, Noah, Gibson and Mirotic likely headed to the NBA, the Bulls are loaded with big men and will still try to add a backup center in free agency.
Still, even if Rose stays healthy -- which is a huge "if" given he's played only 49 games the past three seasons because of various injuries -- Gasol isn't the type of "create your own shot" player the Bulls have been lacking. He's a skilled offensive big man who is past his prime. The Bulls still have a chance to contend in the weak Eastern Conference -- but the goal is to find ways to win championships. Gasol's addition puts them closer to that goal, but not by much.
A day after LeBron James surprised many by returning to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony shocked exactly no one by spurning Chicago and negotiating to stay in New York.
If I had a dollar for every time the Bulls came up second in a chance to land a great NBA player, I’d have enough to self-publish my book, “The 50 Greatest Deals the Bulls Almost Made.”
Here’s what the Bulls get for finishing second for Anthony: Pau Gasol, who tweeted that he was joining the Bulls on Saturday afternoon, likely Nikola Mirotic, probably Kirk Hinrich, again, and a swingman to be named sooner rather than later.
Good thing the Bulls saved all that cash on the Luol Deng exile last year. They can use it to pay Carlos Boozer's salary after he’s amnestied. No sign and trade for you, Mr. Reinsdorf!
Expectations for the Bulls? Well, it’s been title or bust since the 2010-11 Bulls won the No. 1 seed.
Four years after the Bulls went from 8-seed to championship contender behind Tom Thibodeau and the remaining core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the Bulls find themselves still contending, but with no clear prediction on how they match up with other contenders, let alone the Western Conference.
Anthony would have provided some clarity. His addition would have made the Bulls clear favorites in the East, as James tries to meld with his new young team and the Washington Wizards try to build off last season. (I’m not high on Indiana or Miami.)
With James’ move home, the East is wide open. The Bulls join Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and sure, the Knicks, as the frontrunners to get mopped up by a Western Conference team.
I like the Bulls’ chances, provided, of course, Rose stays healthy. Anthony would've been the perfect addition for an offensively challenged team, but Rose with a team full of “floor spacers” isn’t bad. Now they just need one other guy who can create his own shot late in games.
Rose is due for some good fortune, right? Ever since he’s got his money, Rose has dealt with bad knees and worse press, but I have a sneaking suspicion his return will be almost as electrifying as James’ in Ohio.
Gasol isn’t a bad consolation prize, given the Bulls are looking for an immediate title shot, and he’s not getting Carlos Boozer money.
Gasol announced that he had chosen the Bulls on his Twitter feed Saturday.
It hasn't been easy. After meditating it a lot I've chosen to play with the Chicago Bulls. Looking forward to this new chapter of my career
- Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 12, 2014
Discussions between Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers on a sign-and-trade deal for Gasol broke down, so the four-time All-Star will sign directly with the Bulls, sources told ESPN.com.
Chicago currently does not have salary-cap space, so it will have to make roster moves to free room to add Gasol.
If the Bulls are unable to work a last-minute trade of Carlos Boozer, it likely means they will have to release him via the amnesty provision and clear the forward's $16.8 million off their salary cap to make room for Gasol. The deadline for such a move is Wednesday.
Boozer then would be placed on waivers and teams with cap space could bid to pick up a portion of his contract. The team with the highest bid would get his services. With so many teams currently owning cap space, it is doubtful Boozer would pass through and become an unrestricted free agent.
The Bulls are also hoping to create additional cap space to sign 2011 first-round draft pick Nikola Mirotic, who reached a buyout agreement with his Spanish team last week with the intention of coming to the NBA. The 6-foot-10 power forward has been seen as an offseason priority for the Bulls as they look to bolster a strong front line that already includes Joakim Noah
A source close to Anthony told ESPNNewYork.com that an announcement of a Knicks deal could come from the seven-time All-Star as soon as Sunday.
The contract will be for more than $122 million but less than the five-year, $129 million max figure, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
Knicks president Phil Jackson indicated Saturday night to reporters that he was taking a patient approach.
"We don't have anything yet to stack up so rather than talk about it, I won't," Jackson said. "We'll wait. We'll be there."
Anthony has said that he'd be open to accepting a contract that was worth less than the maximum allowed. Doing so wouldn't give the Knicks any extra money to offer free agents this summer, as they are over the salary cap. But if Anthony took a pay cut, it could provide more money for the Knicks to offer free agents in the summer of 2015, when they are expected to have at least $20 million available.
"It's exciting to hear that it's still possible and that at least it's close to being real," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. "But I've been around a long time, so until it's done and it's real, we can't assume that it's a definite thing."
Fisher said he hasn't spoken to Anthony since Saturday's reports about the two sides closing in on a deal surfaced. Now, he's waiting to hear from the men up top.
"Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] will know more than me in terms of the timing and if it's going to happen really soon," Fisher said of the team's president and general manger, respectively. "But I'm definitely encouraged by what I'm hearing. It sounds a lot more positive."
The Bulls had moved Anthony down on their priority list as recently as Friday, as sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that they were prioritizing their pursuit of free-agent forward Pau Gasol
The Spanish newspaper Marca first reported late Friday that the Bulls were closing in on a deal with Gasol despite the absence of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sources close to the situation told Shelburne late Friday that a sign-and-trade arrangement had not been struck, with the Lakers still looking for draft compensation -- as they received in Friday's earlier trade with the Houston Rockets to take back the contract of Jeremy Lin -- as the primary return for Gasol.
ESPN.com reported earlier Friday that the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs had emerged as the two leading candidates to land Gasol, with San Antonio poised to land the Spaniard if the Bulls and Lakers could not finalize a sign-and-trade deal.
Sources told ESPN.com late Friday that the Bulls were prioritizing their pursuit of Gasol even ahead of their long-running efforts to sign Carmelo Anthony, fearing that Anthony is likely to stay with the New York Knicks.
Here’s a brief look at the factors facing Anthony as he nears his decision.
Money: The Knicks have offered Anthony a max contract worth $129 million over five years. Phil Jackson told reporters in Las Vegas that he has five different offers to Anthony. Some of those offers presumably include options for Anthony to accept less than maximum money.
The Bulls can offer Anthony a four-year, $73 million deal. Chicago can offer Anthony more if it acquires him in a sign-and-trade. Anthony would have to tell the Knicks that he is not going to return to New York before they would consider a sign-and-trade. The most Anthony can sign for in a sign-and-trade is a four-year, $96 million deal, that might strip Chicago of valuable assets.
Jose Calderon. Anthony is said to be in favor of the move but is it enough to convince him to re-sign? If Anthony signs a maximum contract, the Knicks could still have approximately $20 million in cap space to pursue free agents in the summer of 2015. The Knicks also have a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, which gives Jackson a chance to build around Anthony.
Carmelo has stated that he wants to put himself in position to contend for an NBA championship. So it’s easy to see why he would be enamored with Chicago’s roster. If he ends up in Chicago, Carmelo could be among a starting five of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.
Rose's health, though, is unknown. The 25-year-old has played in just 49 games over the past three years because of injury.
Coaches: Tom Thibodeau is widely considered one of the top coaches in the NBA. He specializes at coaching defense, an area in which Anthony is most often criticized. Thibodeau could either hide Anthony’s flaws on that end of the floor or scheme well enough to cover them up.
Derek Fisher is a first-year head coach who will be closely aligned with Jackson. Anthony has said that he’s in favor of Jackson hiring Fisher. But there is an inherent risk in joining a team with a first-year head coach.
What about Pau: Pau Gasol seems to be on the verge of joining the Bulls. ESPN sources say he is deciding between the Bulls and Spurs.
If the Bulls ink Gasol as a free agent, it would cut into the cap space they have to offer Anthony. If they receive him in a sign-and-trade, it would take away some pieces they have to offer the Knicks in a sign-and-trade for Anthony. So a Gasol signing seems to make it more difficult for Chicago to obtain Anthony, but it wouldn’t totally eliminate the Bulls from contention.
The Knicks appear to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Gasol. Jackson tried to trade Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani's contracts in trades to create cap space with the hope of making a more competitive offer for Gasol, but it seems the Knicks are long-shots in the Gasol pursuit at this point.
Question: If you were Carmelo, would you go with the Knicks or the Bulls?
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Sources told ESPN.com that Gasol is giving strong consideration to signing with defending champion San Antonio -- despite the Spurs' limited financial resources with such a deep roster -- in the event that the Bulls can't strike a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Lakers for Gasol.
The Bulls are making Carlos Boozer widely available in trade discussions, but sources say the Lakers have shown a reluctance in talks with Chicago to take on Boozer's contract unless they also receive a young asset back from the Bulls as well.
Oklahoma City has been pursuing Gasol as hard as anyone, but sources indicated Friday that the Spurs have joined the Bulls ahead of the Thunder in Gasol's pecking order.
The Thunder have a $6.5 million trade exception that expires Friday night at 11:59 p.m., that they hoped to use in their own sign-and-trade with L.A.
The Lakers, meanwhile, appear resigned to seeing Gasol exit after successful six seasons together. Prior to Friday, the Lakers offered Gasol two deals: two years worth $23 million, and three years worth $29 million, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin. Gasol turned down both offers, according to the source.
All wins are equal, he says.
So he probably won't admit that the Chicago Bulls have to build their team in reaction to LeBron James' league-shaking announcement that he's returning to Cleveland.
With James going back to the Central Division, the Bulls have to combat James' presence only four times a year. But those four games will be epic and could very well decide important playoff seeding.
Joakim Noah is getting excited for those playoff trips to Cleveland already.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. The Cavs are a much younger, unproven team than the past four Heat teams, but with a few veteran additions (Mike Miller, maybe Ray Allen), they should be the favorites in the East. David Blatt is a strong coach and Kyrie Irving should be an All-Star second banana. If the Cavs get, say, Kevin Love, as the rumor du jour hints, well, the Bulls are in serious trouble.
So how do the Bulls combat this new threat?
Well, first they're waiting on Carmelo Anthony. By the time you read this, we might know his choice, which is reportedly down to New York and Chicago, a factoid we knew all along.
I know the popular response to James' decision is to say Anthony should sign with the Bulls, because his arrival would leapfrog Miami in the all-important preseason buzz race.
But I'm thinking this decision spurs Anthony to make the decision he's been leaning toward all along: Stay in New York. After all, if James is essentially going at it alone (in terms of veteran SuperFriends) in a place he feels most comfortable, why can't Anthony do the same and hope Phil Jackson draws some All-Star talent in the coming year?
So back to my question: What do the Bulls do? Does adding the Spanish Armada in Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic make the Bulls good, or tough enough to handle the new Cavs? Or do the Bulls need to add more brawn? Thibs would probably say "both." He wants scoring and toughness, and about 80-82 wins.
So who's out there?
Does Lance Stephenson, too wild for Gar Forman's and John Paxson's usual tastes, become a serious target? The blowing-in-LeBron's-ear kerfuffle made Stephenson look like an idiot, but I love the spirit behind it. He's not afraid of anyone, and his arrival -- combined with Noah's popularity in Cleveland -- would ratchet up the rivalry.
Stephenson fits the Bulls, as a player, and as Jeff Van Gundy said on ESPN Chicago 1000's "Waddle & Silvy" show Friday, "Tom Thibodeau would play a serial killer if it meant he could win games."
I've resisted touting Lance as an option, because I just don't see the BoringBulls front office going for him, and he'll take up most of their salary-cap space, but maybe now they should get aggressive and mix it up. Taj Gibson and Noah, fellow New Yorkers, could mentor him. Thibs would love Stephenson's defense.
Or how about good ol' Luol Deng? I haven't given his "return" much credence, after being disrespected (in his eyes) by the Bulls' take-it-or-leave-it offer last season. But he's had experience, and some success, going shoulder-to-shoulder with James.
People will talk about Dwyane Wade having a homecoming, but I don't see it. If he needs another full-season maintenance program, it's not worth it.
Is backup center a luxury anymore for the Bulls? The Cavs don't have much size as currently constituted, and the Bulls need to plan for their weaknesses. Hey, maybe the wild Aussie rookie Cameron Bairstow really will play this season!
One thing is for sure, LeBron James in Cleveland changes the complexion of the league and gives the Bulls a lot to think about in the coming days, weeks, months and years.
It's good to have you back in the Midwest, LeBron.