As the NBA’s free agency period begins its second day, several teams have applied the full court press for superstar forward and scoring machine Carmelo Anthony.
Despite the draft pick laden and rich Phoenix Suns throwing their proverbial hat in the ring for the seven-time All-Star, the teams perceived as top suitors for Anthony’s services remain the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
Ever since the All-Star break in February, Bulls center Joakim Noah has bended Anthony’s ear about the Windy City’s wide window to capture a championship, which Anthony has said is the main reason he is considering other options besides the New York Knicks.
The Knicks main bargaining chip is the extra year and $30 million more they can offer Anthony, but the team as presently constructed isn’t expected to contend for a title until New York has more cap space in 2015 and can bring Anthony more reinforcements. Anthony will end his week of tours with New York making the final pitch.
Along with Noah, head coach Tom Thibodeau has turned the Bulls into one of the best defenses in the NBA, despite a lack of depth along the bench and former MVP point guard Derrick Rose sidelined for nearly two full seasons with serious knee injuries.
The only key missing to Chicago’s title hopes is scoring, which Anthony could certainly provide with his career 24.9 points per game scoring average. The 30-year-old also posted a career-high 40.9 percent from the three-point line last season.
Anthony reportedly visited the Bulls Tuesday and their pitch centered around how a core of Noah, Rose, Anthony and forward Taj Gibson could take down the weaker Eastern Conference in lieu to a championship.
Rose, who stated publicly that it wasn’t his job to recruit Anthony, actually participated in a private workout with Anthony present to show his knees are ready for next season.
The Bulls lone draw back is a lack of salary cap space. Chicago has only $41 million devoted to five players salaries next season, meaning Anthony would have to take a less than maximum deal starting at roughly $14 or $15 million a year rather than the $19 or $20 million he could receive, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times.
If Anthony did want a max-deal, the Bulls would have to consummate a sign-and-trade with the Knicks and it would likely involve Gibson, a Chicago fan favorite known for his hustle, rebounding and clutch scoring. Chicago could send forward Carlos Boozer to New York, but ESPN reported Tuesday that the Knicks would refuse such a deal.
Houston faces a similar predicament with no cap space and a small number of players that New York likely won’t take back in a trade. The Rockets could send former Knick guard Jeremy Lin, who counts for $14 million on the salary cap next season, but it’s unclear if the Knicks are open to the return of “Linsanity.”
Nevertheless, Rockets All-Star center Dwight Howard is reportedly desperate for Anthony to head South, according to ESPN. Howard, who last summer turned down a maximum deal with the Lakers to head to Houston, has been trying to reach Anthony and pitch him directly, and he and guard James Harden will be present when Houston makes its formal pitch Wednesday.
Anthony will then meet with the Mavericks, but their chances seem bleak at best. Dallas has plenty of salary cap space, but owner Mark Cuban has publicly stated he will not offer Anthony a maximum deal. Still the Mavericks do have a solid foundation of former Knick center Tyson Chandler and shooting guard Monta Ellis, and forward Dirk Nowitzki is likely to re-sign for less money to bring Anthony into the fold.
Then there’s the Lakers, blessed with oodles of salary cap space and willing to trade future Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash, but are likely two or three seasons away from contending for a title.
In a report from the L.A. Times, the Lakers still believe they can lure Anthony to Tinseltown based on their rich, championship history. The Lakers have won 16 titles, but are coming off a 27-55 season, by far their worst in decades.
Anthony does have a home already in L.A., which could make the move easier for him and his family. But the Lakers will need to fill out the roster while devoting nearly $40 million salary to Anthony and Kobe Bryant.