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Adding a star comes with its costs
Obviously, having a player like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love would be terrific and make the Bulls better, writes Sam Smith. But can a player like that make up for giving up some elements of the defense, size and depth?
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Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
This would be in tribute to the San Antonio Spurs and their French nationals, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. It’s a phrase that originated in 15th century France with the death of Charles VI: The king is dead; long live (the new) king.
Yes, the Miami Heat is dead; the new king is the San Antonio Spurs.
So how did they do it? In four seasons, the Big Three stars of the Miami Heat lost twice in the NBA Finals, and both times to teams without transcendent stars as much as high quality veteran players and depth. The Dallas Mavericks in 2011 defeated Miami with the bench presence of Jason Terry and J.J. Berea for a seven and sometimes eight strong unit with rebounding and defense. The Spurs did it earlier this month with a rotating group off the bench and starting that included Diaw, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills to go along with veterans, good rebounding, defense and intelligent play.
So is it wise to basically break up your team to add a star talent? Is that what’s necessary to get past Miami, which has to remain, even weakened, the best team in the Eastern Conference. After all, the closest the Indiana Pacers have to a star is Paul George, and he’s come up mostly small for a supposedly big one.
That’s the big question now facing the Bulls—among other teams—with Carmelo Anthony expected to exercise his option Monday to become a free agent. It was widely reported Sunday that it’s happening. Of course, it means nothing as it still gives the New York Knicks the right to make Anthony the largest offer of any team, a total package worth $30 million more than any other team.
There’s been considerable speculation and guesswork and information from sources of dubious credibility that Anthony may be interested in the Bulls or the Houston Rockets. Maybe the Lakers or the Heat with his buddy James. The Knicks have expressed interest as well.
The question is not so much if he’s worth it, but how much is he worth?
With Anthony you’d be getting a star offensive talent, but one with a pretty established reputation for selfish play and defensive indifference. But the NBA is skewing more toward offense now, and the Bulls need more of it than just about anyone. Would Anthony be worth it? Forget some sign-and-trade involving Carlos Boozer; the Knicks aren’t doing that. Plus, they want to maintain their salary cap room. So they wouldn’t take Taj Gibson if he were offered. The Bulls could create about $11 to $12 million in cap room by doing an amnesty with Boozer. Then they’d have to begin disposing of contracts to produce a contract that even approximates what Anthony would earn with the Knicks.
I’ve spoken with perhaps a dozen NBA executives about the Anthony conundrum and the majority—though not all—believe he will not walk away from that much money and will return to the Knicks. The Bulls likely would have to give away Gibson and/or Jimmy Butler or Mike Dunleavy and some draft picks to present Anthony a contract within $40 million of what the Knicks can pay.
Then you have Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Tony Snell and Butler or Dunleavy with Anthony. Is that enough? Didn’t the Spurs and Mavericks beat the star Heat—and the Spurs were exceptionally close in 2013—with defense and depth? That is what the Bulls likely would sacrifice taking on Anthony. You also lose the mid-level exception once you go under the salary cap. So the Bulls would have to hold off on Nikola Mirotic for another year and hope they can persuade D.J. Augustin or Kirk Hinrich to take a modest deal with an exception left worth about $2.7 million. Anthony’s teams with limited depth haven’t exactly done much in the last decade.
Another possibility for the Bulls among several other teams is said to be Kevin Love, who wants to be traded from Minnesota. There have been rumors the Bulls have talked to a number of teams in the bottom half of the lottery. The belief is they are trying to get one of those picks for a package to obtain Love. Minnesota is said to want a top 10 pick as part of any deal for Love. They are said to believe they could make a trade without that next trading deadline as well. So there’s no hurry. Love is clearly no Anthony. He doesn’t impact games nearly as much. He’s basically a stat stuffing stretch four who’ll help open the court and make three-pointers. But if you were to give up Gibson, Butler and your draft picks, perhaps the rights to Mirotic as well given he’d a top 10 draft talent, would you be that much better?
A Bulls team with Love probably would include Noah, Rose, Snell and Dunleavy. Maybe one of the point guards from last season. Is that enough? Is it necessary?
These are the difficult questions the Bulls—and other teams chasing All-Stars—will be asking themselves this week with the NBA draft Thursday. If it’s so important to have a multiple star team, then how come teams with defense, size and depth won two of the last four Finals and were within one free throw or rebound of winning a third?
There are a lot of rumors published, but few ever explain how things would happen, what it would take to get those kinds of players. Like the rumors over the weekend of perhaps Orlando’s Arron Afflalo to the Bulls. He’s a terrific shooting guard, an ideal addition for a team like the Bulls as he defends and makes threes. But the Magic no longer is in the long-term building mode. They know they have to make progress in the standings and now. They’re not hoarding more draft picks. Can the Bulls afford to give up someone like Gibson—who has the matching salary—and then sign Mirotic and start Mirotic? Especially since Mirotic is an offensive player, inexperienced regarding the NBA and actually not even playing much in the recent Spanish playoffs.
Maybe the Magic would take the rights to Mirotic and someone like Jimmy Butler and the Bulls could put together some of those Ronnie Brewer expiring deals to make a package to retain Gibson. Of course, the Magic used a lottery pick about 10 years ago on a Spanish power forward, Fran Vazquez, who elected to stay in Spain rather than come to Orlando and never did come to the NBA.
Actually, with the return of Rose, the Bulls are pretty good.
If the Bulls were to amnesty Boozer, they could put out a starting lineup of Rose, Butler, Gibson and Noah with enough money under the salary cap to bring in Mirotic and add a shooting guard like perhaps Rodney Stuckey, Avery Bradley, Jodie Meeks or Anthony Morrow. Then you have a bench with Mirotic, Mike Dunleavy, probably enough for D.J. Augustin, Snell and one of the No. 1 picks, which should get you a decent perimeter shooter who could get into this season’s rotation. Then you have defense, size, depth and a big time scorer with Rose.
Obviously, having a player like Anthony or Love would be terrific and make the team better. But can a player like that make up for giving up some elements of the defense, size and depth that enabled the Spurs and Mavericks to win two of the last four titles? It’s one thing if you are getting LeBron James or Kevin Durant. But Anthony and Love are essentially secondary stars, No. 2 players on a good team who excel playing with someone who is better. Is that Rose after his injuries?
But how much can you afford to give up? No one ever has won any titles with five regulars and the rest minimum salary players and rookies. Of course, the Bulls tried it the other way and came up short before Rose was injured. Time to take a big risk? Is it even possible? Is it smart basketball? Or is the star chase just to placate anxious fans and media who want something done and something different and a safety net by doing something? It should be a very interesting couple of weeks.
Il faut réfléchir avant d'agir.
What? Oh, it means to reflect before acting. You know, look before you leap.