How would Knicks, Bulls look if Carmelo had chosen Chicago?

Would the addition of Carmelo Anthony have hindered the development of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler? Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

It's early July 2014, and Carmelo Anthony has made up his mind. He's going to sign with the Chicago Bulls and turn down the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

Why Chicago?

The Bulls, he thinks, are a "perfect fit" for a few reasons. Among them: Chicago seems to be one scorer away from contending for a title, and Anthony believes he can fill that void. He also likes the team's culture and its no-nonsense approach to winning, spearheaded by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

In the days following his meeting with the Bulls, Anthony is torn between re-signing with New York and heading to Chicago.

Ultimately, of course, Carmelo signed a five-year, $124 million contract with the Knicks -- a deal worth $50 million more than the highest offer Chicago could have made, barring a sign-and-trade. Fast-forward to 2016, and it's clear things haven't worked out very well for the Bulls or Knicks since Anthony made his decision.

The two teams face off tonight in Chicago (8 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) with the Bulls clinging to a playoff position and New York on the verge of missing the postseason for the third straight year. It's only natural to wonder how things might have been different in Chicago and New York if Anthony had decided to sign with the Bulls in 2014.

Friedell: Addition of Melo makes Bulls an East power

The idea of what might have been is hard to shake almost two years later.

Carmelo Anthony steps off a bus in front of the United Center as the 2014 summer free-agency period begins to heat up. He's flanked by his agent and members of his inner circle, along with another member of the traveling party: Tom Thibodeau.

The now-former Bulls coach walks with Anthony past Michael Jordan's statue and into the building that Jordan made famous. Images bearing Anthony's name adorn the large building as the recruitment of one of basketball's most popular free agents kicks into high gear.

At the time, Thibodeau, along with many members of the Bulls' front office, believed they had a legitimate chance to land Anthony. They thought the All-Star forward could be the missing piece to pair with Derrick Rose and push the Bulls past LeBron James in the East playoffs. A meeting hours later at a swanky downtown hotel only raised hopes. The Bulls felt they had done everything they could to land Anthony. But they also understood that they could not offer him the five-year, max-money guarantee his team, the New York Knicks, could.

In the end, Anthony chose the guaranteed dollars, albeit a few million less than the full max, and the comfort he and his family felt in New York. But as the Bulls take on Anthony on Wednesday at the United Center, it's interesting to think about what might have been.

"All these questions will never get an answer. But here's what we do know almost two years later: Both the Bulls and Anthony will always wonder what might have been because neither party has found success since their basketball flirting began." Nick Friedell

First and foremost, if the Bulls had found a way to land Anthony, it's at least a safe bet that Thibodeau would still be in Chicago. The former coach was a huge fan of Anthony's, and the two seemed to share a genuine mutual respect. With Anthony in the fold, the Bulls would have found a different, dynamic scoring option to use when Rose wasn't in a rhythm or was out with injury.

But there are a lot of factors to consider for the Bulls -- pros and cons that could tip the scale in either direction. With Anthony in the lineup, Jimmy Butler likely doesn't get the opportunity to take the dramatic leap from a defensive-minded swingman to an All-Star and max-contract player. Are the Bulls better with Butler, at 26 years old, as a core piece or with Anthony, at 31, leading the way alongside Rose and his star-crossed knees?

While you ponder that question, this is a good time to remember that Anthony has his own knee problems. His 2014-15 campaign was cut short after persistent knee issues forced him to have surgery. Would he have been able to play through the pain for a Bulls team that went without Rose and Butler for long stretches?

Now that you're thinking about that question, consider that after missing out on Anthony, the Bulls made a hard push to sign Pau Gasol. The 35-year-old has revitalized his career in Chicago while giving the Bulls a solid offensive presence to lean on night after night. Although the Bulls could have found a creative way to do it all -- and rest assured, they thought they could make the Anthony-Gasol free-agency double work -- is it a sure thing that Gasol would have signed on the dotted line if Anthony and his hefty salary were also on the books?

Of course, the biggest what if of all is whether Anthony's presence would have made the Bulls good enough to get over the massive LeBron hump that has tripped this team up in postseason after postseason. Anthony would have made the Bulls better, but we'll never know how much better. Would he have created enough success to fix the tension between Thibodeau and Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson?

All these questions will never get an answer. But here's what we do know almost two years later: Both the Bulls and Anthony will always wonder what might have been because neither party has found success since their basketball flirting began.

Begley: Without Anthony, Knicks' rebuild takes shape

The easy answer here is the Knicks would be in a better position to rebuild today if Anthony had signed with Chicago. They'd have an opportunity to rebuild in earnest around rookie Kristaps Porzingis -- if the lottery ping-pong balls bounced their way -- and more cap space heading into a summer free-agency frenzy. Not a bad place to be, right?

Let's start with the summer of 2014: If Anthony doesn't re-sign with the Knicks, it doesn't change much financially. Anthony and his $22.5 million salary aren't on the books, but the Knicks still don't have much cap space because of big money owed to players such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani.

What about the summer of 2015? Let's assume that with or without Anthony, owner James Dolan hires Phil Jackson to run the team, and the Knicks draft Porzingis and Jerian Grant. If Anthony isn't on the books, the Knicks have at least $40 million in cap space to spend in the 2015 offseason. But would big-time free agents be willing to take a chance on a second-year coach (Derek Fisher) and two unknown rookies? Probably not.

One thing that might be different: Without Anthony, maybe the Knicks don't start the 2015-16 season at 22-22. The strong start raised expectations for Fisher and was one of the factors that led to his firing following a 1-9 skid a few weeks before the All-Star break.

Looking ahead to this summer, the Knicks would have a ton of cap space if Anthony weren't on the roster (it seems prudent to project New York's cap space as at least $30 million). But would the club be a destination for free agents? Not for any player who prioritizes winning.

Also, with or without Anthony, the Knicks don't have a draft pick in 2016. Had Anthony signed with the Bulls, the Knicks might have been in a better position financially, but it's hard to see how they could've added the talent they would've had the resources to acquire.

What's more, you can argue that Porzingis is in better position to develop, thanks to Anthony's guidance. Without Anthony, defenses might be able to key on Porzingis and take away the open shots he is currently afforded when the duo shares the floor. Would this hinder the rookie's progress? Maybe. If nothing else, Anthony's presence gives Porzingis a chance to mature without being the focal point of the opposing defense night in and night out.

There's one more factor to consider: the relationship Anthony and Porzingis have formed.

It would be hyperbolic to call it a brotherly bond, but Anthony has been answering Porzingis' questions and has been a leader to the rookie. There's no statistic to measure this, but it's certainly valuable.