LeBron James going to Cleveland would only help the Bulls land Carmelo Anthony

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Holding out hope until the very end.

[UPDATE by your friendly BullsBlogger, 07/09/14 7:19 PM CDT: Ricky is being silly with this, but let's make it the Free Agency thread for Wednesday night anyway. LeBron met with the Heat, but did not sign with them...yet. He reportedly doesn't even have a meeting yet with the Cavs.

As for Melo, I'm still waiting for some delicious post-mortems on that failure. Isola's rival Berman (of the Post) has reported since that the Knicks themselves expects Melo to decide to sign with them Thursday.]

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[Ed. note by Ricky: So, the vast majority of this was written before the Frank Isola report that Melo will sign with the Knicks on Thursday. Howard Beck, Ramona Shelburne and K.C. Johnson have each at least provided enough doubt that I decided to run with this anyway. Maybe Isola is right (it's likely that he is), but whatever.]

The holdup in Carmelo Anthony's free agency decision should have been obvious even before an ESPN report spelled it out this morning. Melo, like everyone else, is waiting for LeBron to decide what he wants to do before announcing his own intentions. This is why a decision that was supposed to be made by the end of Fourth of July weekend is reaching well into its second week without a deadline in sight.

The lack of activity over the first nine days of free agency would be jarring if each vague, loosely sourced report didn't feel so monotonous and irrelevant. Chances are LeBron and Melo don't even know what they want to do yet. They owe it to themselves to take their time with these massive decisions. If you're getting annoyed with the delay, maybe it's time to log off the Internet for a while and go outside. These dudes each have families, legacies and millions of dollars at stake. NBA basketball doesn't start until Halloween. They have time to weigh their options, and they may as well use it.

LeBron's own free agency is slowly starting to take shape as he hosts 30 top college players and 80 top high school players at his skills academy in Las Vegas this week. That's where Pat Riley is meeting with him today to discuss what he's done with the Heat -- namely, add Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Riley will present James with a blank contract and tell him to fill in the terms. It's widely assumed James wants a one or two-year deal, and that's where things really start to get interesting.

We know the Houston Rockets covet Chris Bosh and are only a few moves away from creating the max cap space that's required to get him. Let's say, hypothetically, that James verbally agrees to a one-year maximum contract with the Heat. Would Bosh really want to sign a five-year deal with Miami knowing James might only be his teammate for one? The Heat didn't do much to improve the roster, and two things with James have been clear for a while: a) he only wants to win titles, b) he doesn't mind leaving one franchise to go to another that gives him a better chance at getting a ring.

Should Bosh decide he would rather go to Houston, the door would be open for James to then bring Anthony to Miami. Does that really make the Heat better? In my opinion, absolutely not. Bosh is probably a superior player to Anthony outright, and he's certainly a better fit next to LeBron. Even if Anthony-James-Wade lead the Heat next season, they won't have enough big men to matchup against a talented Western Conference opponent like San Antonio, Oklahoma City or the Clippers.

The best chance for the Bulls to corral Carmelo, then, is if LeBron goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The wheels are already in motion on that, with Cleveland dealing Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev and Tyler Zeller in a three-team trade to create max space for LeBron this afternoon. It still seems unlikely to me that LeBron actually returns to Cleveland, but the insane local media in that town and the palpable smoke signals coming from James' agent Rich Paul is certainly adding an unhealthy amount of pressure to the mix. It's getting to the point where if James chooses Miami instead of the Cavs, he'll be ripping the heart out of Cleveland once again. Can he really afford to do that?

I've maintained for years that LeBron may one day end up in Cleveland, I just don't see what the rush is right now. Kyrie Irving is 22. Andrew Wiggins is 19. Dion Waiters is 22. Anthony Bennett is 21. James turns 30 in December and, even if he has a ton of miles on his body, still projects to be the best (or one of the best) players in the world four or five years from now. He should wait for those players to develop before committing to Cleveland, but it looks like he's at least considering the Cavs as an option right now.

Let's say it happens, that LeBron goes to Cleveland. At that point, I think Carmelo might really come to Chicago. The East would be wide-open with James surrounded a supporting cast so young and with the Cavs only an Anderson Varejao injury away from being in big trouble in the front court. A basketball team is nothing with an interior defensive anchor, and James knows it. I think the Bulls, with Carmelo, would have a very good shot at taking the Cavs down, even with LeBron.

At Grantland, Andrew Sharp wrote a great post on why Anthony to the Bulls makes sense from Anthony's perspective. Basically: Melo has always been the recipient of bad timing that has helped create a hard luck reputation. With the infrastructure the Bulls could surround him with acting as the perfect shield to Melo's deficiencies, Anthony could finally just enjoy being a basketball player on a good team without having to worry about the rest of the bullshit media and fans stir up. It's obvious, but it doesn't make it any less true.

If you're for hope in the constant dystopia of the Chicago Bulls free agency plans, send some wishes skyward for LeBron to go back to Cleveland. At that point, Anthony would have to choose between a definite contender vs. a team that will be lucky to finish .500. I'm not going to blame Anthony for staying in New York -- not with so much more money and so many other factors in play -- but the Bulls only make more sense as LeBron waffles.

For the good of his career, and for our own emotional tranquility, let's hope Melo does what's best for him from a basketball perspective. Everything else will take care of itself.

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