At the turn of the millennium a young rapper from St. Louis burst onto the scene with the hit single, Ride Wit Me. Nelly — who once flirted with his own professional baseball career1 — wrote a declarative in the chorus2 that professional athletes like Carmelo Anthony ultimately use to govern their free agency decisions. Championship rings, teaming with friends, franchise location, coaching quality and organizational integrity all play a part in what draws an NBA star to a team. But, as Nelly says, when it’s time to sign on the dotted line: “Hey Must Be the Money!”
Though he reportedly struggled with the decision, Carmelo Anthony chose to sign a 5 year, $124 million contract3 with the New York Knicks instead of leaving a lot of money on the table to win in Chicago. It wasn’t technically a max deal but it wasn’t the hometown discount Knicks President Phil Jackson hoped for. Professional athletes like Anthony talk about taking less cash to win. But — aside from some rare exceptions — money is the deciding factor in a player’s free agency decision. And the uninspired reality is that makes a lot of sense. Fans want to hear stories of players sacrificing money to bring a championship to the franchise and the city it represents. But Carmelo Anthony must maximize his earning potential in the short time he has left in the league because building generational wealth and being financially set for life beats a banner and a ring every time.
Let’s face facts. Melo will never win a championship in New York. With all the Phil Jackson hype, it’s unlikely the Zen Master will be around for the long haul. Jackson will build and improve the Knicks chances but he’ll be drawn back westward before he hosts another Larry O’Brien trophy. With Carmelo Anthony in the Bulls’ rear-view mirror it’s time to look forward and see how the holdovers and the new guys will fare in the 2014-15 season.
Is Pau Gasol the missing piece of the Bulls’ roster puzzle? The second legit scoring threat that Carlos Boozer never became? Not at thirty-four years old with injuries and thirteen years of professional NBA basketball behind him. Will 6’10” Nikola Mirotic be the most transformative European player to enter the NBA since Dirk Nowitzki? There have been far too many Euro busts to make that prediction. Can rookie Doug McDermott4 be as successful as recent eleventh overall selections Michael Carter-Williams and Klay Thompson? Or will he follow in the footsteps of most athletes chosen at that spot? Draftees like Meyers Leonard, Cole Aldrich, Terrence Williams, Jerryd Bayless and Acie Law5. That mediocre list I just started goes on and on making me much less confident in McDermott’s ceiling. The Bulls tried to add one huge piece in Carmelo Anthony this off-season to solve all its problems. But with the Bulls’ alternate 2014-15 reality it will be the collection of these moves coupled with — wait for it — a healthy Derrick Rose that will allow the Bulls to compete for a championship next year.
The Chicago Bulls are deeper than they’ve been in a long time. They easily go ten players deep — Rose, Noah, Gasol, Gibson, Butler, Dunleavy, Mirotic, McDermott, Hinrich and Snell. The good news is there is enough talent on that roster to make a run at the title, especially with the LeBron-less Heat, askew Pacers and youthful Cavs as their top competition. Gar Forman and John Paxson have assembled a team worthy of contention. It’s now up to Tom Thibodeau to distribute the minutes and let the whole team — not six or seven players — make an impact. And that’s really the crux of it all. Can the Bulls’ coach be more like Gregg Popovich instead of… well Tom Thibodeau? Past experience tells us it’s not likely. But the stubborn head coach will be under more pressure than ever to allow the entire team to contribute. He evolved as a coach without his superstar point guard. Will his evolution continue?
The Bulls may not have landed the big fish this off-season. But GarPax executed well on Plan B and, with Derrick Rose leading the charge, it’s time for Thibs, his coaching staff and the team to put its money where its mouth is.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com