Carmelo to Bulls? Rose would rather have Kevin Love

carmelo-anthony-knicksEverybody has their eye on Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love this summer. Anthony has chosen to opt out of the final year of his Knicks contract, meaning he can test the free agency waters. Love still has another year to go in Minnesota, but the Timberwolves are trying to trade him so they at least get something before he leaves through free agency next summer. Interestingly enough, these two stars are inadvertently crashing at one destination.

Anthony is very intrigued by the Chicago Bulls at this point, at least for appearances sake. New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence believes that opting out of a contract and making serious inquires about the Bulls could be smoke and mirrors to get the best deal possible in New York. Whether that proves to be the case or not remains to be seen. But by opting out of his final year with the Knicks, Melo has at least put the possibility out there that he could play in Chicago next year.

Not Every Bull is thrilled

One guy who’s been openly campaigning for Carmelo in the Windy City is the team’s center, Joakim Noah. He’s been calling the All-Star small forward in an effort to recruit him to Chicago. However, Anthony has yet to return any of these phone calls, possibly because he was still under contract up until this point.

derrick-rose-bullsIt’s obvious that Noah is doing his best to add another elite scorer to the Chicago lineup. However, if Melo doesn’t end up with the Bulls, Derrick Rose is one player who won’t be throwing in the towel. Here’s a look at what Lawrence wrote about Rose’s opinion regarding Melo:

Noah will be disappointed if it turns out that Anthony uses the Bulls merely to get Dolan to up the Knicks’ offer. But one of his teammates won’t be crushed. Derrick Rose hasn’t called Anthony once and isn’t expected to do any recruiting when the Bulls make their run at the Knicks’ top scorer in free agency.

According to sources close to Kevin Love, Rose’s preference is for the Bulls to work out a deal as soon as possible for Minnesota’s All-Star forward because he sees Love as more of a team player than Anthony. Chicago is in the mix with Golden State for Love, with Boston and Denver considered long shots. If it makes any difference to Melo, Rose has no plans to recruit Love, who is free next summer, either. But the Bulls already know whom he’d really prefer to play with in the future.

What would it take to get Love?

kevin-love-minnesotaThis is the first that we’ve heard of Kevin Love having any ties to the Chicago Bulls. So far, the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics have been pursuing him pretty hard through a trade, while several other teams have shown interest. Putting Love alongside Noah and Rose, who’s expected to finally be 100% next season, would be a pretty dangerous combination. But the Timberwolves certainly aren’t giving Love away without getting plenty in return.

So what would Chicago have to give up to get him? Any deal would begin with rising power forward Taj Gibson, who played well in the playoffs last year. The Bulls could also dangle Spanish power forward Nikola Mirotic, whom they have the NBA rights to. Mirotic has top-5 pick value, but the challenge would be convincing him to leave Real Madrid for the cold and foreign confines of Minnesota.

The Celtics and Warriors are also trying to put together enticing packages and land Love in a trade. Boston may not be willing to give up any immediate pieces as attractive as Gibson or Mirotic, but they do have a treasure trove of first-round draft picks, with nine coming in the next five years. GM Danny Ainge has reportedly been working out a scenario for using these picks to get Love. The Warriors have something that Minnesota might be interested in with Klay Thompson, David Lee and a first-round pick. However, Golden State has since had second thoughts about giving up Thompson.

One more team to watch in this frenzy is the Los Angeles Clippers, who Love would really like to play for. It’s hard to imagine who would be dealt in such an arrangement, but speculation has Blake Griffin and another player being swapped for Love and another T-Wolves member.

Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that none of these scenarios could happen, meaning Minnesota team president and head coach Flip Saunders keeps Love in Minnesota until the trade deadline. This would be awkward for both parties involved because the 6’10” power forward, who averaged 26.1 PPG and 12.5 RPG last season, definitely doesn’t want to be back in Minnesota. But on the other hand, Saunders certainly doesn’t want to get far below market value for a guy who’s quite possibly the NBA’s top power forward.

What’s next for the Chicago Bulls in 2015?

chicago-bulls-20152014 was an odd year for the Chicago Bulls, that’s for sure. They came into the season with championship expectations, but that took a hit when Derrick Rose suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee. They then seemed to be conceeding the season when they shipped Luol Deng to the Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks and cap space.

Interestingly enough, the Bulls actually played better after trading their star small forward and rose up to grab the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed. It was looking good too because they were facing a postseason-inexperienced Wizards squad. Then came a 4-1 series beating that leaves the Bulls with a first-round playoff exit and plenty of questions to answer.

Many of these questions start with Derrick Rose. After a 2011 season where the point guard won the MVP award, he’s since had three injury-plagued seasons in a row. There’s good news lately in that he’s recovered enough to play two-on-two games in practice. However, the Bulls must decide how much stock they can put into the 25-year-old’s knees moving forward.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau also presents another puzzling scenario for the Bulls. He’s definitely a good coach, but even the best have a difficult time dealing with the lofty year-in, year-out expectations put on Chicago. And there have been plenty of rumors that he’s unhappy with the front office and wants out, or the Bulls’ management wants him gone because of the friction. But then again, this team would have a difficult time replacing such a respected coach.

chicago-bulls-boozerOne guy who may not present any questions at all is Carlos Boozer. Although he equally split minutes with Taj Gibson during the regular season, Boozer was often benched in favor of Gibson in the playoff series against Washington. And for good reason too since Gibson averaged 18.2 PPG on 56.1% shooting while Boozer averaged 9.6 PPG on 42.6% shooting. Even worse is how poorly Boozer performed outside of the numbers, continually conceding offensive rebounds and easy buckets during the 4-1 series drubbing. Set to make $16.8 million in 2015, it seems like the Bulls may amnesty him to take $16 million off their salary cap.

Doing so would put Chicago in line to land Carmelo Anthony, one of the prized recruits of this summer’s free agent crop. In fact, many rumors have Anthony seriously considering the Bulls since they have the framework in place to be a championship contender. This team has strong inside players like Joakim Noah and Gibson as well as perimeter shooters like Jimmy Butler and Kirk Heinrich. They just need a go-to star like Anthony to make them a serious contender again.

Of course, the possibility of Rose once again emerging to be this player isn’t totally crazy. But Chicago can’t simply rely on this vision to come true, especially with three straight seasons marred by injury. Signing Anthony takes chance out of the equation and pairs him with an exceptional center in Noah.

carmelo-anthony-1The one roadblock that’s been discussed is money because, even after amnestying Boozer, Chicago would only be able to offer a $16 million starting deal. On the other hand, he opted out of his final year in New York, which would’ve paid $23.3 million, so he could test the market. But based on what he’s been saying lately, money isn’t the issue.

‘I’m going to make money. I have money,” Anthony said. “I’m good if I want to retire right now….As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern. My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.”

It’s pretty clear that Chicago will do what they can to remain as attractive as possible to Anthony. And if they can land him, they’ll no longer just be a middling East team with a very good center and solid role players.

Can Phil Jackson turn the Knicks around?

phil-jackson-new-york-turnaroundIf you’ve been making a lot of moneyline bets in favor of the New York Knicks this season, we feel sorry for you because your bankroll has taken quite a beating. Despite basically returning the same lineup from a 54-28 team that easily won the Atlantic Division, New York has struggled to a 27-40 record so far – and that’s WITH a recent 6-game winning streak.

Enter Phil Jackson, who was finally announced as the team’s president in a move that’s been rumored for weeks. Jackson is tasked with helping mold a team that hasn’t won a title in 41 years into a legitimate title contender. This won’t be easy, especially when you consider that New York finally won their first playoff series in 13 years last season.

But if there’s anybody who knows winning, it is Jackson. In lengthy stints with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, the Zen Master won a combined 11 NBA Championships. That’s exactly why Knicks owner James Dolan gave him a five-year contract worth at least $12 million. But can Jackson bring his winning ways to New York, despite not being on the sidelines?

We’ll definitely say that it’s going to be a far, far greater challenge than winning with Michael/Scottie in Chicago or Kobe/Shaq in Los Angeles. Sure, this statement isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation. However, it’s worth emphasizing because there are sure to be some Knicks fans who are already placing superhuman expectations on Jackson.

What was somewhat of a winning culture last year has turned to one of losing and confusion this year. Head coach Mike Woodson has dealt with rumors of being fired for much of the season while some of his players have also pointed fingers at Woodson/each other. At least for the immediate future, Woodson got a vote of confidence from the team’s new president. “I’ve had a conversation with Mike Woodson, supporting him and going forward to try to make the playoffs this year,” Jackson said. “The team has had a little run, and we’re anticipating that it’s going to be a good one, and that they’ll get into the playoffs.”

Whether or not this support runs into next season remains to be seen. Woodson could help his case by keeping New York on their hot streak long enough to overtake Atlanta for the eighth playoff seed. But they’ll likely face the Indiana Pacers in the first round, a team that already handled New York in last year’s conference semifinals without home court advantage.

carmelo-anthony-1In any case, it’s going to be up to Jackson and general manager Steve Mills to restore New York to the level of competitiveness that they haven’t had since the 90’s. And they could take a big step towards making this happen right now.

The first priority will deal with the Carmelo Anthony situation. The star power forward has an early termination clause in his contract that could allow him to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this summer. Anthony has indicated that he’d like to test the free agency waters, but also says that he wants to sit down with Jackson and talk about everything first. Odds are that this conversation will include Jackson asking Melo to take a paycut while rehashing all of the rings he’s won. Jackson has already given part of this spiel to the public by stating:

There’s no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league and maybe the best individual isolation player in the game – I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. I think there are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward, and I said – I think I was on record a year ago – that I think Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. Together, with the team we create, he can get there.

Besides convincing Melo to stay, Jackson will have his work cut out in trying to add talent for the 2014-15 season. Currently, New York is on the hook for $92 million in salary, giving them little room to work the free agent market. Furthermore, they have no first-round draft pick in 2015 or ’16 (due to the Anthony deal), and they won’t have a second-round pick until 2018 (due to the Andrea Bargnani trade).

phil-jackson-new-york-turnaround-1The summer of 2015 looks to be when Jackson and Mills will truly have some room to work as the eight-figure deals of Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all end. This will be a sweet time to have cap space and an iconic city like New York behind you since Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert will all be free agents. Miami will also have a trio of stars whose contracts are ending, with Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and, the man everybody will be trying to wine and dine, LeBron James all up for grabs.

It’s no secret that Jackson will be working all of this into his upcoming pitch to Anthony about surviving the next season-plus of mediocrity in New York before big things come. “(In 2015) I think we know that we need another solid contributor, someone that can score to help Carmelo go along, and contribute to this team and their winning experience,” Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’re not losing sight of the fact that we’re in a game-to-game basis in this business, that we want to provide a team that’s talented, that people want to come and watch, and a team that’s truly competitive.”

Given everything that COULD happen in New York in a couple of seasons, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that Jackson could turn this team into a serious contender. But there are a lot of pieces that need to be put in place before the Knicks can replicate the incredible success that Jackson has experienced at other stops in his career.

Knicks Likely to fire Mike Woodson during All-Star Break

mike-woodson-knicks-firedIt’s safe to say that this year hasn’t exactly gone how the New York Knicks had hoped it would. Following a season where they finished 54-28 and made the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Knicks are sitting at 20-30 with 32 games to go. They currently trail the Charlotte Bobcats by two games for the East’s eight playoff seed.

Given the huge drop-off that New York has experienced this year, somebody has to take the blame for this mess. And according to head coach Mike Woodson, that person could very well be him.

“This year has been, for me, it’s been kind of a disaster from a coaching standpoint in trying to get players to compete and play at a high level,” Woodson recently told ESPN radio. “That’s the frustrating part about it, because I know we’re better than what we’ve shown and we’ve still got a chance.”

Woodson went on to say that he thinks he and all of his assistants, except for Herb Williams, will be fired during the upcoming All-Star break. Assuming everything goes as he predicts, Williams will serve as the interim head coach, a role which he had after Lenny Wilkens resigned in 2005.

mike-woodson-knicks-fired-1The Knicks locker room seems divided on whether or not they want Woodson to remain the head coach. J.R. Smith is one player who has publicly given his support for the embattled head coach. However, other players are reportedly tired of Woodson’s criticism of the team’s effort.

After an 11-year career as a player, Mike Woodson served as an assistant coach for several teams from 1996-2004. He then landed the Atlanta Hawks head coaching job in 2004 and compiled a 206-286 record in six seasons there. In his last three years, Woodson guided the Hawks to three straight playoff bids. But after being swept by the Orlando Magic in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, his contract wasn’t renewed.

However, Woodson quickly found an assistant gig with the Knicks, under head coach Mike D’Antoni. When D’Antoni resigned, Woodson became the interim head coach and led New York to a 36-30 regular season record during his tenure. They would lose their first-round playoff series 4-1 to the Miami Heat.

The team got even better under him last season and tallied the aforementioned 54-28 record. Unfortunately, the Knicks seem to be regressing under Woodson in the 2013-14 season.

2014 NBA All-Star Game to feature 4 First-Time Starters

paul-george-pacersThere’s not normally a lot of turnover when it comes to NBA All-Star game starters. Fans usually vote big-name veterans in as starters, whether they’re injured or healthy. Case in point, Kobe Bryant has played all of six games this season, but he was still voted into the All-Star contest.

Speaking of which, Bryant had previously said that the game needs to feature some younger players. And he’ll get his wish because four first-time All-Stars were also voted in as starters too. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Stephen Curry all garnered enough fan votes to start in their first All-Star contest.

Many were surprised that Curry wasn’t selected as a starter or reserve last year. But he won’t have to worry about that this season after garnering lots of fan votes. Love is another interesting story because he passed Dwight Howard just before the voting closed. “Hey, I’m popular now,” Love said jokingly. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”

stephen-curryIt’s little surprise that George was voted in as a starter. He’s led Indiana to the league’s best record so far and is averaging 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 3.4 APG. Kyrie Irving has also put up some very solid numbers, with 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.0 RPG. Amidst a weak crop of Eastern Conference point guards, Irving definitely stands out, even with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.

The 2014 NBA All-Star reserves will be announced on January 30th, two weeks before the game takes place on February 16th in New Orleans. We’ll cover the entire All-Star game rosters when they’re released, but for now, here’s a look at the starters.

Eastern Conference

Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers – 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat – 18.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
Paul George, SF Indiana Pacers – 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
LeBron James, SF Miami Heat – 26.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG
Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks – 26.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Western Conference

Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors – 23.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG
Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG
Blake Griffin, PF Los Angeles Clippers – 22.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves – 25.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG

2014 NBA Futures: Lakers still gunning for Title Next Year

la-lakers-titleLast season, the Los Angeles Lakers featured a loaded roster that seemed perfectly capable of winning the NBA Championship. But even with a team of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, the Lakers struggled to a seventh place Western Conference finish and were promptly swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

Now the Lakers enter the 2013-14 season having lost the battle to re-sign Howard and with Bryant rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon. They also cut World Peace, who later signed with the New York Knicks. That leaves LA with the aging core of Gasol, Nash and Bryant – not exactly the chic pick to win it all next year.

Taking this into account, some people thought that the Lakers would be best served by bringing Kobe along slowly, clearing up cap space and waiting until the summer of 2014, when they could sign a big-time star like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. By tanking next season, the Lakers could also pick up a high pick in the talent-laden 2014 NBA Draft.

la-lakers-title-1But none of this seems to be in the cards for LA as they’ll be entering October with the same mindset as always: compete for an NBA Championship.

Bryant is rehabbing with plans to be ready for the preseason, the team signed big man Chris Kaman to a one-year, $3.2 million deal, and Nash is also healing from his injuries in hopes of playing a full season. As if these aren’t signs that LA is preparing for another shot at the title, general manager Mitch Kupchak recently said so himself.

“You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said, when asked about mailing in next season. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

“We have challenges. There’s no doubt. We don’t know when Kobe’s coming back, and we don’t know what level he’s going to come back at, although we’re optimistic. Everything’s good with Steve. Pau should be fine. We’ve added some athleticism. We’re hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.”

la-lakers-title-2No NBA general manager is going to flat-out admit that they hope to be non-competitive just to pick up a high lottery pick. But there’s sincerity in what Kupchak says because the Lakers fan base has come to expect winning, and throwing an entire season away just isn’t acceptable. Plus they have some stars left over in Bryant, Gasol and Nash, who would be pretty mad if they got another year older without another playoff run.

But do the Lakers truly have a shot at winning the NBA Championship? If you were making a 2014 NBA futures bet, odds are that you wouldn’t put your money on Kobe and company. But then again, with the chemistry disaster that we witnessed between Bryant, Howard and Gasol last year, perhaps playing without Howard can only improve the Lakers’ chances next season. And even if they have another difficult, injury-riddled season, well, at least Los Angeles still remains an attractive destination for big-name free agents next summer.

James, Anthony, John Wall, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrea Bargnani all hit the market in 2014. And while some of these players will re-sign with their team, it’s likely that LA could land at least one of them based on location and reputation alone.