As the buzzer sounded on the Bulls' season, I, sitting up in the rafters of the United Center, immediately went for my phone and tweeted out this:
Just get Melo. Do whatever it takes.— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) April 30, 2014
Now, that was obviously some heat of the moment emotion coming from yours truly. The Bulls' season had just ended in eye-bleeding fashion, as they scored just 69 points in the Game 5 loss to the Wizards. When a season ends like that, after a year of offensive ineptitude, it's pretty easy to immediately think "JUST GET ME THE BEST DAMN SCORER ON THE MARKET NOW NOW NOW!"
But while I might not necessarily do "whatever it takes" to acquire Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls must do their due diligence and at least put forth an honest effort. The org. has been talking about the #2014Plan for years, and the time is now to make a bold move. Anthony certainly has his warts, and one can argue whether it would be better to acquire him or Kevin Love, but that's a story for another time, and even if Love was more preferable it shouldn't preclude them from going after Anthony.
So, Melo. He's expected to opt out of the last year of his current contract with the Knicks and test the free-agent market. He made about $21.4 million this year, and if he re-signed in New York to the full max after opting out, he would make $129 million over five years (the most any other team could offer Anthony is a four-year, $96 million deal). That's a lot of freaking money, especially for a guy who will turn 30 in a week and who's on a team that needs a serious makeover.
Anthony has said he'd be willing to take a pay cut, and Phil Jackson wants him to take one to give the Knicks a better chance of building a more complete team. But Anthony could get a wandering eye, and it has been said that the Bulls would be one of his preferred destinations if he were to leave The Big Apple.
Anthony reportedly has a lot of respect for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, and K.C. Johnson reported that Thibs is a proponent of making a run at Melo. Joe Cowley says Joakim Noah has been recruiting Anthony since the two were seen talking at the All-Star Game, but there's no word if Derrick Rose has given up his no recruiting stance. I would guess not.
Now, it's easy to identify Anthony as a top target to go after in the offseason. It's much trickier business to actually pull off the acquisition. There are several routes the Bulls could take to try and nab Anthony, and I wanted to take a look at a few of them while examining the ramifications for the rest of the roster.
Acquire Melo by Trade
The pre-July trade
Eric Pincus over at Basketball Insiders offered up the suggestion of the Bulls and Knicks consummating a deal before free agency even begins.
This type of deal would only be possible if Anthony opted in to his $23.3 million contract for next season. After opting in, Anthony could negotiate an extend-and-trade with the Bulls that would tack on another two years at close to $50 million. Another option is waiting six months after the trade and then signing a three-year, $79 million extension. Both of those deals would be pretty pricey for the Bulls, and I'm not sure they'd want to pay Anthony that much.
And how would the pre-July trade look?:
Carlos Boozer's $15.3 million would be the primary player going from Chicago to New York. The Bulls never go under the cap this summer and avoid paying Boozer $16.8 million not to play (via amnesty); the Knicks add a player whose contract expires before 2015.
None of the late-signed players on Chicago's roster are eligible to be traded until July (Ronnie Brewer, Mike James, Greg Smith and Lou Amundson). Still $1.7 million short of a workable deal with the Knicks, the Bulls would have to include either Mike Dunleavy ($3.2 million) or both Jimmy Butler ($1.1 million) and Tony Snell ($1.4 million).
Dunleavy is set to earn $3.3 million next season, his contract also ending prior to 2015.
A package of Boozer, Dunleavy, two 2014 first-round picks (16 and 19) and perhaps a future first should be a workable package for both the Knicks and Bulls.
It's also debatable whether the Knicks would take that haul for Anthony. Boozer has negative value, but his contract does expire in time for the Knicks' #2015Plan, and the draft picks would be nice. However, the Knicks could also just decide that the picks aren't worth paying Boozer and what would likely be a ton of luxury tax. Maybe the Knicks would ask for Nikola Mirotic to add more value to their return, although the Bulls would likely try and avoid dealing Mirotic.
A positive of this kind of deal for the Bulls is they would stay over the cap and retain the full mid-level exception ($5.305 million) as well as the bi-annual exception ($2.077 million). Perhaps the MLE could be used on Mirotic [unlikely, given he can take that same contract next year and not have to pay his buyout then -yfbb] and the BAE on D.J. Augustin? Actually, what am I thinking, that BAE would definitely go to Kirk Hinrich. Silly me.
One issue is the Bulls would go into the tax if they made this deal and then also used both exceptions. The tax line is expected to raise to about $77 million next year, and in this scenario, the Bulls' payroll would be around $78-79 million (Noah and Taj Gibson bonus money is still yet to be determined). There would also be the hard cap of $81 million to consider.
The S+T involving Boozer
In this scenario, free agency has hit and Anthony has opted-out. Anthony would ideally take less than the maximum 4/$96m (a first-year salary of $22.5m) from another team as he has claimed he would, but one can never assume such things.
The Bulls' offer to the Knicks here would be similar to the first scenario, with at least Boozer and the two first-rounders (possibly including the ones that were just drafted), and possibly Mirotic, going out.
Depending on how much Melo wants, Boozer's contract alone could be enough to send to the Knicks for salary matching purposes. Boozer is owed $16.8 million, and as the Bulls likely wouldn't be a tax team after the trade, they can bring back $21.8 million in salary. Even if Anthony wanted the full max, it wouldn't take much more salary to reach it. Signed draft picks would count, but they couldn't be traded until 30 days after signing. This is where the non-guaranteed contracts of Mike James, Lou Amundson or Ronnie Brewer could become useful.
Again, executing a deal like this keeps the Bulls above the cap and gives them access to the MLE and BAE. By acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, the hard cap comes into effect, but it would have come into effect with the use of the MLE and/or BAE anyway.
The S+T involving Gibson
The Bulls would certainly prefer to keep Gibson around considering how valuable he is playing in Thibs' system next to Noah. But if the Knicks wanted no part of Boozer and instead asked for Gibson (or Gibson was part of a 3-team deal that netted an expiring contract and more assets to NY), maybe the Bulls relent.
Because Gibson will make less than half as much as Boozer next year, the Bulls would have to send out a bit more salary in a trade. Dunleavy would almost certainly would be gone, and this would be a good time to use all those non-guaranteed contracts. Gibson (with bonus), Dunleavy and the three non-guaranteed deals would get the Bulls to about $15.6 million in outgoing salary, and if more is needed, maybe Snell is thrown in there.
In this scenario, Boozer would still get amnestied, but the Bulls stay above the cap by not renouncing exceptions and free agents (thank you, Sports2, for reminding me about this possibility). So although Gibson would be gone, the Bulls could still potentially use the MLE. And even after using the MLE and BAE, the Bulls wouldn't be all that close to the tax line. Maybe they'd even try and use their larger trade exception that's a shade over $2 million!
Acquire Melo with Cap Space
The trade-everything-but-the-starters route
Maybe the Knicks have no interest in engaging in sign-and-trade discussions. That means the Bulls would have to try and sign Anthony outright using cap space. To reiterate, the max Anthony can get from another team is four years, $96 million, with a max first-year salary of $22.5 million.
In this first scenario, the Bulls would basically be clearing the decks. Boozer would be amnestied, all the free agents and exceptions would be renounced, and Dunleavy, Snell, Smith and the first-rounders would be dumped. The Bulls would also agree with Mirotic to delay coming over for another year. This would leave the Bulls with a roster of only Rose, Noah, Gibson and Butler. When factoring in Rip Hamilton's cap charge and the rest of the incomplete roster charges, the Bulls would have $17 million in cap space (with bonuses met).
The Bulls would have one of the best starting lineups in the league if Anthony were to agree to take that pay cut, but the depth would be close to non-existent. To fill out the roster, the Bulls would have the Room Exception available, and that has a maximum first-year salary of $2.732 million with a maximum length of two years. After that, it would be all minimums and then maybe the second-round pick.
The trade Gibson route
The Bulls could open up a good chunk of cap space by simply using the amnesty on Boozer and trading Gibson to a team with cap space for a future pick. If they did this, kept Mirotic overseas and renounced everything else, the Bulls would have about $18.8 million in cap space (with bonuses met).
Losing Gibson would hurt, but if Melo were to accept a deal for that cap space the Bulls would keep a pretty deep team. Dunleavy, Snell and Smith would still be around, as would the two first-rounders. There would be a hole at the power forward spot, but the Bulls would have the room exception to sign someone serviceable, or draft a guy like Adreian Payne to slot right into that position. There would also be the option of playing Anthony at the 4. He has had quite a lot of success there in New York, however, I'm not sure the Bulls would want to commit to that full-time.
Even if the Bulls were worried about the power forward position, it would theoretically only be a one-year "hole" anyway. Because the idea here would be to bring Mirotic over in 2015 and potentially slot him right into the starting lineup. Moving forward with a starting lineup of Rose, Butler, Melo, Mirotic and Noah with solid depth wouldn't be a bad way to go.
If merely trading Gibson wasn't enough cap space, the Bulls could dump a bit more salary if they wanted to get to a number Anthony wanted. Just moving Dunleavy would get the Bulls close to Anthony's max.
There are obviously plenty more ways the potential acquisition of Anthony could go down. These are simply some of the most basic ones. If the Knicks agreed to sign-and-trade Anthony, they could look to pawn off guys like Raymond Felton or J.R. Smith on the Bulls. There's also any combination of multi-team deals. This stuff can have the tendency to get a bit wacky.
The most ideal scenarios involve shipping out Boozer, keeping Gibson and maintaining the MLE. The Bulls will certainly try and go that route first, but I'm not sure if the Knicks would be willing to bite. A lot could depend on Anthony and his desires. If he basically forces the Knicks to accept a trade, the Bulls may be able to pull it off.
Ultimately, I still view getting Anthony as a huge long shot. I'm guessing the Bulls would be stubborn with Gibson, and if the Knicks weren't willing to do the Boozer trade, I have serious doubts about Chicago going the extra mile by dealing Taj to get the deal done. Perhaps the Bulls open up a bit more cap space by dumping Dunleavy and a pick or two, and then they offer Anthony a starting salary in the $14-15 million range. That's a deal I wouldn't expect Anthony to take, and then we'd probably get to hear Cowley blast Melo for not "living up to his word."
Personally, I'm still not really sure if I'd actually want them to trade Gibson, but if you put a gun to my head and told me the move simply hinged on trading Taj, I'd probably say yes.