CHICAGO -- MeloMania has engulfed Chicago.
With the news Sunday that New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony has decided to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent, Bulls fans -- and executives -- are hoping that the All-Star swingman will decide to join forces with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Anthony has been at the top of the Bulls' summer wish list for months.
He would give the Bulls the one thing they've been missing throughout the Tom Thibodeau era, besides a healthy Rose -- a superstar scorer who can create his own shot when needed. Anthony has talked openly in the past about his affinity for Thibodeau and the Bulls. He appreciates how hard they play and he's smart enough to understand that he could be the missing piece in their quest for a title. ESPN New York reported, according to sources, that Anthony has talked to one high profile person about what it's like to be famous in Chicago.
The Bulls are clearly on his mind as he tries to figure out whether he wants to stay in New York and take the financial security that comes with that. Or, if he wants to chase a championship somewhere else.
As Anthony ponders his decision, the Bulls will continue to do what they can to make their dream a reality. Yahoo! Sports reported Saturday that the Bulls have discussed a potential trade with the Orlando Magic that would bring Arron Afflalo to Chicago. Afflalo is someone the Bulls have been intrigued by in the past and would fit in very well into Thibodeau's defensive-first system. He was also a teammate of Anthony's in Denver for about a year and a half before Anthony was dealt to the Knicks.
Grantland's Bill Simmons noted Sunday that it's possible the Bulls could send Carlos Boozer's expiring deal to the Magic along with their two first-round draft picks (16 and 19 in this Thursday's draft) in exchange for Afflalo and a couple expiring deals. Whether the Bulls were to acquire Afflalo or not, it wouldn't mean that they were suddenly out of the running to land Anthony.
The key in any discussion regarding Anthony, no matter if the Bulls signed him outright or if they worked out some kind of sign-and-trade with the Knicks, remains the same: How much money, if any, is he willing to leave on the table in order to come to Chicago?
That's the question the Bulls must find an answer to as they continue their pursuit of one of the best scorers in the game. If Anthony is serious about taking less money to chase a championship, then the Bulls are in great shape once teams have the ability to negotiate with free agents on July 1 at 12 ET. It would mean that the Bulls could keep a core of Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson in place to join forces with the perennial All-Star.
But if Anthony is intent on squeezing out a max, or near-max slot, then that means the Bulls would have to say goodbye to Gibson -- on top of Mike Dunleavy -- and possibly Jimmy Butler as well depending on how all the numbers shake out. It's a move they don't want to make, especially in regards to Gibson, but it's one they are willing to push through if it meant landing a star of Anthony's caliber.
The front office understands that for as solid a foundation as the Bulls have built under Thibodeau, they still don't have enough star power to go deep in the playoffs. That's why the pressure is so intense to land Anthony -- or Kevin Love -- this summer. The reality for the Bulls is that while their championship window isn't closed, it's closing much faster than they ever dreamed a few short years ago. Noah will be 30 this year and Gibson will be 29 on Tuesday. Rose will be 26 in October and hasn't played much at all in the last three years because of various injuries -- including two serious knee injuries.
The Bulls are going to do whatever they can to land Anthony, but so much of what happens over the next few weeks depends on how much money he requires. Is he willing to take a multi-million dollar pay cut to play in Chicago with Rose, Noah and Gibson? Is he willing to tie the rest of his professional prime to Rose and his surgically-repaired knees?
If he doesn't want to take a serious pay cut, are the Bulls confident they can contend with a team fronted by Rose, Noah, Anthony and little else? All these questions will be answered in due time, but for now the Bulls will take good news as it comes and try to live in the moment. Anthony's decision to opt out and become a free agent is the best news the Bulls could have gotten Sunday as the momentum for a potential franchise-altering summer continues one step at a time.