[UPDATE by your friendly BullsBlogger, 07/12/14 12:03 PM CDT: In a sort of convoluted way, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo just reported Carmelo Anthony is returning to the Knicks. To be made official 'in a matter of hours']
The Chicago Bulls' offseason hopes currently exist in a state of purgatory, trapped between the indecision of Carmelo Anthony and the need to lock down a sufficient contingency plan before the next-best options are off the market. Anthony is reportedly torn between the money he can make in New York and the on-court opportunities he'd have in Chicago, and there remains no deadline for a decision that was supposed to be settled by the end of Fourth of July weekend. While the Bulls continue to wait, it appears they have locked down Lakers free agent Pau Gasol.
The signing isn't official yet and there haven't any numbers floated around, but multiple reports are confirming that the Bulls should get a Gasol deal done later today. Gasol has drawn heavy interest as a free agent, reportedly turning down two separate lucrative offers from the Lakers as well as an $11 million annual salary from Atlanta. It seems likely the Bulls will be paying Gasol at least $8-9 million per season.
To get him here, they would love to ship off Carlos Boozer off in a sign-and-trade, but that would add significant complications to a potential sign-and-trade for Anthony. Another possibility for acquiring Gasol is sending the combination of Mike Dunleavy and the non-guaranteed contracts. Nate Duncan of BasketballInsiders.com did the math on these possibilities.
Maximum amounts trades of 1) Boozer 2) Dunleavy + nonguaranteeds could bring back for Bulls pic.twitter.com/Zq66HfVL82— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) July 12, 2014
Until Anthony makes his decision, he's going to hang over the Bulls like a storm cloud. Signing Gasol would make acquiring Anthony difficult, but it was never in the best interest of any of the three parties involved (the Bulls, the Knicks, Carmelo) for Anthony to sign with Chicago via cap space. Anthony wants all of the money he can get, and the only way to do it in Chicago is with a sign-and-trade. The Knicks are about as destitute as any roster in the league without Carmelo; tossing them Nikola Mirotic and draft picks might be enough of a sweetener for Phil Jackson to relent and mercifully accept one year of Carlos Boozer.
To fit in both Carmelo and Gasol, the Bulls could do two separate sign-and-trades, sending Mike Dunleavy and a host of non-guaranteed contracts to Los Angeles and then Carlos Boozer to New York. More likely, the Bulls would need a third team to help them out. Anthony was reportedly recruiting Gasol to New York earlier this week, so the idea that acquiring Pau makes Chicago more appealing to Melo is plausible. If it were to happen, Taj Gibson could be casualty just to make the numbers work.
If the Bulls are just adding Gasol instead of Carmelo, not in addition to him, it will feel to many like a disappointing offseason. That shouldn't belie the fact that Pau Gasol is still one of the most productive offensive frontcourt players in the NBA.
There's no substitute for size in this league, and pairing the 7-foot Gasol with Noah, Gibson and potentially Nikola Mirotic would give the Bulls some tantalizing combination options. Gibson, Gasol and Noah could each play center next to Mirotic or play next to each other. Gasol and Noah could help save each other from excessive playing time. The upgrade from Nazr Mohammed as backup center to Pau is immense. Just because Gasol turned 34 years old last week doesn't mean he's ineffective. Far from it.
Gasol clashed with Mike D'Antoni over the last two seasons, but he remains as skilled as any player in the league when operating out of the high post or low post. He averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. That's an impressive stat-line at any age. The problem with Gasol is two-fold: a) he's at the age where players start to drop off quickly, b) he doesn't address the Bulls' biggest weaknesses.
The Bulls need help on the wing, and if they sign Gasol, they're likely not going to get it. Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy (if he's not traded) will start at shooting guard and small forward, with Doug McDermott and Tony Snell backing them up. It sounds like a bad idea for a franchise that should be doing everything possible to alleviate a heavy offensive burden from Derrick Rose. Once again, the Bulls aren't going to have anyone else to break down a defense and create an easy look for a teammate. They'll have shooting, but the bigger problem is getting the shooters open and delivering them the ball.
Gasol's presence would also mean the Bulls will be largely operating with a two-post offense. Gasol and Noah are each gifted passers, but the idea of playing four-out with Mirotic at power forward is part of what makes next season so intriguing. Surround Rose with Dunleavy, McDermott and Mirotic, and he's going to have a lot of space to operate in the halfcourt.
At that point, defense might be an issue even with Noah or Gibson at center. Gasol himself is a bit of a liability on defense at this point, lacking the foot speed to effectively guard the pick-and-roll. Tom Thibodeau always seems to figure out that side of the ball, but it might not be easy if so many position downgrade on individual defenders at the same time.
Should the Bulls miss on Anthony, the offseason might stop at Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic. Each are limited athletically, but they're all known first and foremost for their offensive abilities. The Bulls needed to upgrade the offense desperately this offseason, and adding three talented offensive players would be a big step in that direction. It isn't ideal. It isn't a cause for celebration. At this point, though, you may as well talk yourself into the upside of it all.
Until then, pray for Carmelo. Prayers. It's all we have left.