Two rows behind the Knicks bench Sunday at the United Center, a Bulls fan sent Carmelo Anthony a heartfelt, homemade message on poster board hopefully like the one stuck on a Post-it somewhere in John Paxson’s office.
“MELO TO CHICAGO,” it screamed.
“I saw a couple of those,” Anthony said after the Bulls blew out his Knicks, 109-90. “It was a good sign.”
Anthony quickly clarified that he meant as artwork, not necessarily as an indicator of his free-agency plans.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Anthony said at his locker.
Nothing now – but Anthony saying yes to the Bulls in July could make them legitimate NBA title contenders again.
Polite applause greeted Anthony as his name was announced before the Bulls pummeled his pathetic team. If the basketball dominoes fall favorably for the Bulls this summer, one day the introduction of No. 7 from Syracuse will bring the home crowd to its feet.
“I can’t even see next year,” Anthony said. “[Shoot], I can’t even see tomorrow. It’s hard for me to focus on that going through the journey right now.”
Free-agency rules allow the Knicks to pay Anthony nearly $30 million more than any other team, but the Bulls can add more value to his career.
The combination of coach Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago market, and the Bulls roster makes Anthony a natural fit he’s unlikely to find elsewhere.
Anthony turns 30 in May, and his next contract likely represents the last one he will sign as the franchise player. If Anthony cares about winning as much as he claims, he will realize why the Bulls give him a better chance to enhance his NBA legacy than, say, the team he felt embarrassed to represent Sunday.
“It’s hard to keep coming up with excuses,” Anthony said, questioning his team’s attitude and approach. “At this point there’s really no answers, and as a team, we have to have some sense of pride just to compete. It’s frustrating.”
These are things Anthony never would say on a team coached by Thibodeau, and not just because they share an agency, CAA.
Playing for Thibodeau alongside Derrick Rose, Anthony would provide the second star required to overtake the Heat and Pacers in the East. Eventually, the styles of Rose and Anthony would complement each other as they shared a scoring burden too heavy for either one to carry alone to the NBA Finals.
Rose might not possess a strong enough personality to put Anthony in his place when necessary – but Joakim Noah does. Assemble a trio of Rose, Anthony and Noah, and suddenly the best Big Three in the league no longer plays in Miami.
The Bulls need Anthony as much as Anthony needs the Bulls if they want to re-open a championship window slammed shut by Rose’s knee injuries. Anthony’s reputation as a divisive, egomaniacal ball hog precedes him, but then he never has played for an NBA coach as structured as Thibodeau.
It’s time to Melo out, Chicago. Players conform for Thibodeau, who has coached more games without Rose than with him. Any Carmelo-drama wouldn’t last more than a couple acts under Thibodeau’s direction.
Why do you think the Knicks reportedly want Thibs so badly?
The Knicks did an excellent job of showing why rumors persist that they need the type of coaching Thibodeau offers. They didn’t score a field goal for the first 4:25 and gave up 37 points in the first quarter. At halftime, Knicks owner James Dolan probably offered Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf the next two Knicks drafts, Tyson Chandler and a piece of Madison Square Garden for the rights to Thibodeau.
Perhaps Thibodeau’s finest work has come in 2014, when the Bulls have won more games than any NBA team.
When Deng was traded Jan. 7, Paxson cautioned anyone who counted the Bulls out, and Thibodeau’s preparedness made those words prescient. Their ninth win in the last 10 games came on a day they committed only three turnovers, a team record. The Bulls routinely outwork and outsmart opponents. They have at least four contributors – Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin – playing as well as they ever have. Especially Noah, who Gibson said was playing “MVP basketball” – and nobody scoffed.
Amusingly, after the game, more TV cameras surrounded newly signed Jimmer Fredette, whose celebrity stretches even further than his shooting range. Fredette buried his first jumper in 3 garbage minutes, and fans roared.
But the most fascinating player in the building Sunday wasn’t an undersized shooting guard from BYU. The man who captured the imagination most ducked into the Bulls family room on his way to the Knicks team bus for a quick exchange with Noah.
Anthony exited smiling widely.
Good signs were everywhere for the Bulls.