The Bulls can decorate all they want. They can Photoshop Carmelo Anthony in a red and white jersey next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy, line the building with his name and take him to five-star restaurants. They can offer him nearly $17 million per season with a couple of moves if he's signed with cap space. They can add a few million more onto that if the Knicks can be convinced to do a sign-and-trade. The one thing the Bulls can't do, though, is change the past, and that pesky bit of skepticism that's planted in all of us after so many failures to secure a player of Melo's caliber over the last 15 years.
By all accounts, the Bulls' pitch to Anthony on Wednesday, the first of his free agency tour, sounds like it went well. He was surrounded by team personnel for nine hours; even more impressive when you consider he's splitting his time today between the Mavericks and the Rockets. He got to meet with Derrick Rose even after so much consternation over his attitude towards recruiting. He got to hang with Taj Gibson, a teammate who would make his life much easier. He was able to speak with a former player he grew up watching in Scottie Pippen, and got to talk shop with a coach he surely respects in Tom Thibodeau.
There's nothing much the Bulls can do now but sit and wait. That goes for the fans, too. Melo is set to meet with Dallas and Houston today before visiting the Lakers on Thursday. At some point, he'll hear a pitch from the Knicks that likely will blow the Bulls' contract out of the water. The other free agent trips are going to generate positive reports, too. It's out of the Bulls' hands right now. They just have to sit back and wait for Carmelo to make a decision.
After so many swings and misses in free agency and failed opportunities to secure a star-level player in trades, I've taken a simple stance on the Bulls' pursuit of Melo: I'll believe it when I see it. That isn't a criticism so much as it is a way of staying level over the next 10 days or so when there will be a lot more misinformation than real information. I'm not getting too excited just yet, because I know how this story typically ends.
I do think there are a few legitimate reasons to believe this offseason might be different, though. If we're going to spend the next week or two sitting on pins and needles, we might as well go into it with a positive mindset rather than the type of existential dread the Bulls' front office usually emits.
Don't feel defeated. The Bulls have a real shot to make this different than 2010.
They really do give him the best chance to win this time
This is central to the Bulls' pitch, just as it was when the Bulls met with LeBron, Wade and Bosh in 2010. The problem then was that the Bulls didn't really give any of those guys the best chance to win. Miami did, and by going to four straight Finals and winning two titles, the decision of those three players was ultimately vindicated. This time, though, the Bulls won't have much competition for putting Melo in the best position to advance deep in the playoffs.
The Rockets are great. On paper, I objectively think they're better than the Bulls. But will Melo really want to slug it out in the tougher conference in his 30s when he couldn't even make the playoffs in the East last year? There's no shame in taking the easy way out, and that's essentially what a jump to Chicago would be. Melo has carried a huge burden his entire career. If he'd like some help now, and a clear path to advance far into the playoffs every season, the Bulls just make sense.
The Bulls got Melo to come to them
When the Bulls were courting LeBron in 2010, they never got a chance to show him around the city or the team. James made teams come to him, and listened to their pitches one after another. My favorite anecdote from those days:
Knowing James as well as they do, the Cavs, who were represented by owner Dan Gilbert, new coach Byron Scott, general manager Chris Grant and assistant GM Lance Blanks, tried to lighten things up by showing the 25-year-old a cartoon featuring him and his friends as characters.
The team had an animated video made in the style of "Family Guy" -- one of James' favorite TV shows -- that depicted some inside jokes and locker-room humor as the Cavaliers reminded James that he is indeed part of their extended family. James was joined in the meetings by business manager Maverick Carter, close friend Randy Mims and agent Leon Rose.
When the Bulls met with LeBron, it was Gar Forman, John Paxson, Jerry Reinsdorf and rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau doing the presenting. I can only imagine being in a room while those four old dudes talk for three hours is not the most exciting thing the world, especially when you're 25 years old like LeBron was at the time.
The way the Bulls made their sales pitch to Melo this time around had to be a lot more appealing. Part of that is because...
Thibs and Noah are assets now
No one knew anything about Thibodeau when the Bulls were pitching free agents in 2010. At this point, he's one of the most respected coaches to the league. It's easy to think that Thibodeau's trademark intensity and rather long history of overplaying his best players might make Melo think twice, but consider the situation he's coming from. The Knicks were terrible specifically because they lacked structure, particularly from ownership and coaching. Tom Thibodeau is not Mike Woodson, and that might be the best thing the Bulls have going for them right now.
Noah's ascent is huge, too. Even in 2010, no one considered him a future All-Star. Well, he's been an All-Star twice now, and reportedly started pitching Melo on the idea of coming to Chicago when they were both on the East squad this year in New Orleans.
So much is made about Rose's steadfast refusal to recruit, but isn't Noah really the best man for the job anyways? Rose was a great basketball player, but he isn't the most fun guy on the planet. Noah is a great teammate and, more than likely, a good guy to hang out with off the court, too. I would much rather have Noah recruiting Melo than Rose.
* * *
I doubt Carmelo knows what he wants to do yet, at least not before he hears from the Knicks. If he is leaning towards Chicago, though, the Bulls have to do whatever they can to make it happen. If that means taking back Pablo Prigoni and J.R. Smith in the sign-and-trade, so be it. Send more bad contracts for all I care. If that's the only thing holding back Melo from getting to the Bulls, it should be a no-brainer.
I'm feeling good about where the Bulls are at in this Carmelo pursuit. It seems like they played their hand well. They aren't offering as much money as other teams will, but they can always move Gibson if that's what it takes. So long as they're committed to going that far, it really does seem to me like they put their best sales pitch up. All we can do now is wait.