[Update: Anthony will opt out of his contract with the Knicks on Monday.]
Throughout the end of last week, there have been a lot of reports about Carmelo Anthony angling to join the Bulls. Unfortunately they seemed to be universally coming from dopes with talk shows or internet folk I don't trust (not that being web-only gives you that designation, just for these particular ones), or Chris Broussard. So it wasn't so much fire-signaling 'smoke' as it has been a series of smelly turds in one big steamy pile. On the bright side, it's technically better than no pile at all.
Then late Friday night Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal posted a Melo update I could get behind:
"If he makes the choice to opt out, I think he's gone," said one person familiar with the matter.
That's because Anthony, for as much as he has talked about potentially taking a pay cut to help the Knicks build a winner around him, would actually be hindering the team by becoming a free agent.
The theory being that if Carmelo cared to stay with the Knicks at all, he'd do so by opting-in which would allow for potential flexibility in their #2015plan to do some re-signing/recruitment shenanigans then.
Herring then identified the Bulls as "the Knicks' biggest threat"
According to a league source, Anthony is intrigued by the idea of playing for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. During the season, Anthony sought out multiple ex-Chicago wing players—separate from the widely reported conversations he had with Bulls center Joakim Noah, the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year—about Thibodeau, according to the source.
Herring's report kind of loses steam however when talking about how the Bulls can actually acquire Anthony. Citing the Luol Deng trade as 'cap-clearing' (Deng was going to be a free agent, so it did nothing in that respect) and the Bulls having sign-and-trade assets was specious, as there's a huge difference to both sides if that outgoing player is Carlos Boozer or Taj Gibson.
The Sun-Times's Joe Cowley reported on the recruitment of Anthony from the Bulls perspective, which is encouraging:
That the Bulls are in full-court-press mode on Anthony comes as no surprise, considering center Joakim Noah courted him during All-Star Weekend in February and continued the recruitment throughout the second half of the season.
And it would seem Noah isn't alone. Point guard Derrick Rose reportedly has gotten involved, too, and Thibodeau has used back channels to let Anthony know his addition could mean big things for everyone involved.
Cowley went further in on Thibodeau's work researching Anthony, saying that he talked with one of Carmelo's former coaches. The two also share an agency (powerhouse CAA), so this kind of legal tampering probably isn't that difficult.
Once again though, the method of which how to actually acquire Anthony is a pretty major sticking point. Cowley calls using Boozer the 'favored' path, which...of course. That's the way the Bulls give up the least talent, while keeping Anthony happy with his salary. It's also the far less desirable option from the Knicks perspective, given that Boozer's game has deteriorated and his contract is not only expensive on its own but would put the Knicks in the luxury repeater tax. The Knicks have notoriously spent more for even less in the past, but even they have to have some limits, and some middling draft picks don't seem to be worth it.
And indeed, KC Johnson reported that the Knicks have 'no interest' in taking Boozer. And that Anthony wants a "a maximum or near-maximum offer". And that the Bulls (nor Anthony, according to his source) don't want to deal Gibson to free up cap space. Aggrey Sam reported something very similar, indicating while there is interest on both sides, Anthony isn't "fixated on coming to Chicago as his only option".
Overall, there is also sort of an impasse, here. The Bulls have to make themselves able to sign Anthony outright in order to leverage sign-and-trade talks with the Knicks. However, Anthony wants things on his terms too, 'playing for a winner' (whatever that means) be damned. Our wacky old uncle Mitch Lawrence figures this Bulls pursuit is all Anthony's way to get the Knicks to offer him more money, which would not be surprising.
[Lawrence also reports Derrick Rose prefers Kevin Love. And really, if you need to move Taj Gibson make other moves to free up the space to sign Melo to a huge contract, might as well try and focus all those efforts on Love too.]
The Bulls usually want everything on their terms, which maybe was why we just started hearing backup plans yesterday. Selling Anthony on not only playing in Chicago, but for a discount, seems very unlikely.