<
>

Will Heat foil Bulls' big plans again?

6/12/2014
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Once again, it appears that the Miami Heat might beat the Chicago Bulls to the punch.

Four summers ago, Heat team president Pat Riley outsmarted everyone in the league by finding a way to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami to play alongside Dwyane Wade. Now, it's Carmelo Anthony the Heat have focused their recruiting sales pitch on heading into the summer, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein.

That news will be reverberating around Berto Center all day Thursday, given the Bulls were holding out hope that they could bring Anthony to Chicago during the next month. Now that Miami has entered the picture, the Bulls might be left in a familiar position: forever the bridesmaid of NBA superstar free agency.

Players like Chicago, appreciate the core of tough-minded players Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have put together, and they respect coach Tom Thibodeau. But in the end, they always find another place to land.

In this case, it appears more likely than ever that Anthony will either take a max contract to stay with his current team, the New York Knicks, or take less money to join up with his good friend James in Miami.

Why would he take less money to play for the Bulls if he could take less and play for the Heat, who have gone to four straight NBA Finals? Why would he come to Chicago and hitch the rest of his professional prime to Derrick Rose when he could play with the best player on the planet in James? Anthony could always decide to stay in New York, given the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team.

The whole scenario must feel a little like Groundhog Day to Forman and Paxson. They've been through this cycle. A superstar player talks openly about how much they respect the Bulls, only to sign elsewhere. As my colleague Tom Waddle likes to say: "You can't force a player to take a team's money." The Bulls have learned this lesson the hard way.

It's not for a lack of effort in trying to recruit the best players in the game; it's a lack of execution. The Bulls, like the rest of the NBA, can't compete with Miami's star power. And the Bulls can't compete with James. He has established himself as the world's best player and elevated his game to new levels. Even if Anthony doesn't land in Miami, James still poses the biggest roadblock for the Bulls' championship aspirations.

No matter what happens in the coming weeks, it seems the chances are smaller than ever that Anthony comes to Chicago next season.

So what do the Bulls do next?

If Anthony is truly out of the picture, they must focus all of their efforts on landing Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. While Love's presence wouldn't put the Bulls past the Heat on paper, it would give them the next best chance to contend for a title. As long as the Bulls don't have to give up Joakim Noah, every other player should be available to Minnesota for the taking.

But the issue for the Bulls in landing Love remains similar to that of Anthony. Nobody knows exactly what is on his mind. Only Love knows if he would be willing to sign an extension in Chicago -- a fact that is crucial in any potential deal. The Bulls, like many teams, won't give up many of their assets only to see Love walk in a year.

If Love doesn't land in Chicago, the Bulls are in even bigger trouble. Forman would likely push harder to land European star Nikola Mirotic, but Mirotic isn't the type of superstar talent who would push the balance of power like Anthony or Love would. The Bulls would try to sell fans on the fact that Rose is coming back and they can add two draft picks to a solid group of players, but fans will see straight through that.

The NBA has always been a players' league, a place where superstar talent wins out more often that not. The reality for the Bulls is that they still don't have enough of it to compete for a championship. Yet again, it appears that Miami might beat them in the high-stakes game of free agency, whether Anthony ends up playing with the Heat or not.