We have two losers today — one a group, the other a person.
The first is the Bulls, who, over the years, have proven themselves incapable of attracting the best free agents. It happened again Saturday, when Carmelo Anthony informed them he was re-signing with the Knicks. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf needs to take a hard look at why his team is the Washington Generals of free agency.
The other loser is Anthony, who doesn’t want to win. If he did, he would be a Bull today. Instead, he chose the huge money the Knicks were offering. Can’t blame anyone for taking a better deal. But when you say that winning a championship is your heart’s desire, as Melo did, and then opt for the team that has no chance of winning any time soon, you reveal your true colors: green for money, yellow for not wanting to strive to be the best.
If you look at it in a vacuum, it’s easy to see this as an example of another cash-hungry superstar looking out for himself. But the Bulls’ history of missing out on the NBA’s elite free agents is beyond a trend. It’s a stain. To borrow from baseball, when you swing for the fences time and again, you should hit something once in awhile. The Bulls swing and hit Carlos Boozer.
We have so many consolation prizes built up from past Bulls offseasons that we should have a charity raffle. Today’s is 34-year-old Pau Gasol, whom the Bulls believe will add some post scoring. Hurray.
When Boozer and Ben Wallace are the best you’ve been able to sign in terms of free agents, something is wrong. You can make all sorts of excuses: that LeBron James was never going anywhere but Miami in 2010, that Melo wasn’t going to turn down all that money from New York, etc. But the truth is that Reinsdorf, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have been unable to land the kind of free agent who could change everything for the Bulls.
Is it something about them? Their personalities? Their presentations to free agents? What they’re offering? The kind of team they’re building?
Is it something about the head coaches the Bulls hire?
Harsh Chicago weather? A lack of locker-room amenities? No ocean breeze?
These are some of the questions the Bulls have to ask themselves. The string of misses can’t simply be chalked up to players’ whims, salary-cap restrictions or bad luck. Tracy McGrady on Jerry Krause’s watch. Dwyane Wade. LeBron. Anthony.
Something is very wrong.
Stars take contract discounts to play in cities not named “Chicago.’’ Why is that?
Please don’t tell me that many so-called elite free agents have ended up being busts for other teams. The issue on the table is the ability to land the stars you pursue. It’s about succeeding in the moment. The Bulls have been hot on the trail of many players and have little to show for it. Time for some serious organizational self-analysis.
The Bulls will be a good team in 2014-15, especially if Derrick Rose stays healthy. Tom Thibodeau will make them better. Joakim Noah will power up everyone. Gasol will be an upgrade over Boozer. So would a tree stump. But being good isn’t the goal. It’s being great. If Gar-Pax had been able to sign Anthony, the Bulls would have been in prime position to get into the NBA Finals next season. Now we’re back to crossing fingers about Rose and extolling the team’s grittiness. That’s not going to win a championship.
I’ll take talent every time. For all his defensive shortcomings, Melo would have given Thibodeau the second scorer he doesn’t have. Instead, he gets Gasol. Plan B stands for Bulls.
Anthony talked so much about winning that some of us were silly enough to believe him. It’s easy for me to ask what the difference is between $73 million (what the Bulls could offer him) and $129 million (the Knicks’ maximum), which is why I will. How can Anthony’s life be better with New York’s money? How many luxury vehicles does a man need?
For our purposes, though, the bigger issue is the Bulls, who need to figure out why stars don’t want to come to a winning team and a winning city. We used to be able to blame Michael Jordan for bad-mouthing the town and scaring away free agents after he left. Now we can’t even do that.