There was signage welcoming Carmelo Anthony to the United Center and a large electronic image of the seven-time all-star in a Bulls uniform. He was met by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and he entered the area by the iconic Michael Jordan statue.
And my first thought was if he noticed the large shadow it cast on this sunny afternoon in Chicago.
The first day of the Melo Mystery Tour involved a pitch by the Bulls, who invited an excitable Joakim Noah, a concerned Taj Gibson and an apathetic Derrick Rose to the proceedings. The Bulls want to appeal to Melo’s ambition to win a championship by promoting the idea of him being the Final Piece to their puzzle, which, on paper, would have Rose, Jimmy Butler, Melo, Gibson and Noah as their Awesome Fivesome.
The issue, of course, is the salary cap space available to the Bulls if they plan to keep Butler (a Thibodeau favorite) and Gibson (everyone’s favorite). According to the cap numbers, the most the Bulls could give Melo without dumping Gibson – even after waiving Carlos Boozer with the amnesty and jettisoning Mike Dunleavy for a draft pick – is a starting salary in the mid-teens ($15 million?).
Melo has said he would be willing to take less in exchange for winning, but that’s almost a $10 million haircut.
On Wednesday, Melo will travel to Texas and split the day between Houston and Dallas. Dwight Howard reportedly plans to sit in on the meeting with the Rockets to offer his take on leaving a big market and money on the table. Someone may want to also explain how Dwight expects to get his touches – which he complained about last season – with James Harden and Melo on the court.
The last scheduled meeting reportedly comes on Thursday in Los Angeles, where he will listen to a pitch from the Lakers, who don’t yet have a coach but they do have Kobe Bryant.
Then it’s the holiday weekend for Melo to consider his options and, perhaps, have one last sit-down with Phil Jackson, Steve Mills and Derek Fisher, before making what will be a major career decision.
"The average person just sees the opportunity to say that, 'Oh Melo should go here, Melo should go there. I think that he should do this, he should do that'," Melo said in an early-June interview with VICE Sports. "But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place, in that city? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation, in that city? All of that stuff comes into play.
"My son goes to school, loves it, you know, here [in New York]. To take him out and put him somewhere else, he'd have to learn that system all over again, he'd have to get new friends. And I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age. You know, having to work your way and try to make new friends and go extra to try to make new friends, and trying to fit in and trying to figure out the culture in that area. As far as this goes, basketball goes? It’s hard to just say, 'OK, I'm gonna go here and make this decision. I’m going to do that.' Because everybody’s affected by it.
"And the average person is looking at it like, next year, like it's just one year. Next year you'll win a championship if you just go here. We're looking at the big picture here right now. We're looking at the next six to eight years of your career, of the end of your career, at that. So, do you want to spend that much time in that place?"
Yes, he has a lot to think about.
KNICKS CAN MAKE AN EXCEPTION
Among the addition of a crafty point guard in Jose Calderon, an affordable defensive center in Sam Dalembert, a young prospect in Shane Larkin and two draft picks that produced a couple of intriguing talents, one very, very overlooked asset the Knicks acquired in the Chandler/Felton trade with Dallas is a $3.6 million trade exception.
And yes, that is something the Knicks can use to acquire a player this offseason regardless of their cap situation.
EARLY GLAD HE WENT LATE
Cleanthony Early admitted he wasn't much of a Knicks fan, despite his Bronx roots. His mother, Sandra Glover, is a die-hard fan who loved those '90s Knicks (Fun fact, Cle was born just weeks before Pat Riley was hired by the Knicks). Early rooted for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. "I was a player-fan when I was younger," he admitted.
But as he matured, as he began to treasure his New York roots, Early says he developed an affinity for the Knicks, even though some of the toughest years of his early teens.
"As I grew older, that passion just grew because I’m a New York City kid and I've been traveling and, you know, you always want to have your city's back in whatever you do,"he said. "So I always was like, even if things weren’t going too good, I was, you know, I would be happy if the Knicks won any game over the teams I once cheered for . . . Even more now."
Early, a versatile 6-8 forward standout on Wichita State's dominant team, was said to have first round potential, but he slipped to the second round, where the Knicks grabbed him at No. 34. And while the competitor inside him wants to prove he deserved to be a first rounder, he isn’t asking for any do-overs.
He found himself talking with Phil Jackson, the man who coached both of his idols: Jordan and Bryant.
"Phil Jackson is Phil Jackson," Early said. "It was just awesome to get to meet him and to have him know who I am and believe in my abilities and my approach to the game . . . He picked me for a reason, you know? Whatever that reason is, he seen something and I feel like I see it, too. I just have to continue to develop and get it to a level where it needs to be.
"It's Phil, man," he then concluded. "I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else doing this."
FREE AGENCY ROUND UP
Some teams came to terms with players on the first day, though contracts can not officially be signed until July 10. The first player to reach an agreement in principle was Jodie Meeks, who reportedly accepted a three-year, $19 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Other noteworthy names to reach agreements on Day 1 include former Nets guard Shaun Livingston (Golden State Warriors for a reported three years, $16 million) and center Marcin Gortat (re-signed with Wizards for a reported five years, $60 million). And you can trust the news of the Gortat deal because it came from a very reliable source. John Wall tweeted the breaking news, trumping all of the media.
SOURCES: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
A bizarre trend has emerged this year that should cause ambitious reporters – even the most plugged-in – to pump the breaks on a big story. What we’re seeing are bogus sources contacting reporters with false information, which leaves a lot of confusion and a lot of egg on the face of the reporter.
It started with Ric Bucher, formerly of ESPN and now with Comcast/NBC and 95.7 FM The Game in the Bay Area. Bucher tweeted the day before the NBA Draft that the Raptors were going to sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat for cash and future draft picks. He then added that to make room for Lowry, Chris Bosh would opt-out and return to Toronto. Wow, right? That report had the NBA buzzing.
Bucher followed the next day saying Norris Cole would be added in the sign-and-trade. Even more intrigue. But shortly afterward, Bucher tweeted an apology about what he eventually discovered to be a bogus source.
Next up was the usually-reliable and unquestionably connected Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, who also got caught in a Lowry scam. Spears tweeted that the Raptors planned to max-out Lowry at $14.5 million per to start at their meeting with the free agent at 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday. Now everyone who expected the Heat to make a push for Lowry – after everyone opted out, the Heat made headlines with the virtual cap space they created – figured he was now out of the game.
But Spears had to follow up with his own apology, saying he “received a scam text from someone posing as a Raptors front office member” and that the Raptors were not offering the max.
The Raptors have reportedly made an offer, but Lowry is said to be also considering an offer from the Houston Rockets (who, curiously, already have two point guards in Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin). The Heat is hoping to get a meeting with him, but so far nothing has been scheduled.
Another questionable source told a couple of reporters that the Heat already has agreements in principle with Dwyane Wade ($12 million per) and Chris Bosh ($11 million per) for hefty paycuts from their previous contracts. That created a stir about a potential $12 million in salary the Heat could offer another free agent if LeBron James signed for the max, as expected.
But Henry Thomas, the agent who represents Wade and Bosh, told TNT's David Aldridge of those reports, "all the B.S. you are reading is just that."
Confused? Welcome to NBA free agency.
In 2010, when I was at Newsday and covered one of the craziest free agency frenzies in NBA history, I had several reliable sources that I counted on, plus a collection of others I would talk to but never wholly trust. Many people have agendas in this business. You can never be too sure.
Just before that year’s free agency began, I received some great advice from a friend in the business and it’s something I say frequently to fans: "Don’t get played."
After this experience, it’s worth comparing this to the breakneck pace of the NHL free agency period, which has no moratorium period, therefore signings are made official in an instant.
NBA players have the time to visit, study and contemplate their options, but it creates a great deal of innuendo and false advertising. NHL players, however, deal with almost a Shotgun Wedding scenario.
So, which is the better process? Tweet me @alanhahn with your thoughts on it.
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