Bulls brass does its job in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

Star free agent has 59 million more reasons to re-sign with Knicks

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors

Carmelo Anthony during a game against the Golden State Warriors. (Cary Edmondson / USA TODAY Sports / March 30, 2014)

Once the Knicks and team President Phil Jackson removed doubt by offering Carmelo Anthony a maximum deal, the Bulls' summer focus shifted from getting Melo to getting real.

Eventually, that means getting Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic, too, but more on those tricky European details later. The Fourth of July weekend's big-picture development for the Bulls involved Anthony, who by the end of his cross-country ego trip appeared ready to return to where it all began in New York.

The Bulls held out hope Saturday that they still had a shot at Anthony, but multiple reports say the free agent liked what he heard in his fifth and final meeting about the direction of the Knicks — assuming he heard anything after Jackson uttered the words "max contract.'' Not everybody in the NBA was sure Jackson would show Anthony such love, but by doing so, the man who helped deliver Chicago six NBA titles complicated the Bulls' plans to compete for a seventh.

Forget trying to attack Anthony's integrity if he signs with the Knicks for $129 million over five years — nearly $59 million more than the Bulls could tempt him with over four years due to salary-cap restrictions. Any professional thinking of family and security would do the same thing if he liked his working environment as much as Anthony claims.

Perhaps Anthony overstated that money meant less than winning, but he wouldn't be the first professional athlete to say what he thinks fans wanted to hear at a news conference. Anthony sounded more conflicted than committed when he spoke to VICE Sports of uprooting his 7-year-old son, Kiyan. Signing with the Knicks would confirm his ambivalence.

If the financial packages were comparable, Anthony might favor the Bulls' first-class presentation. In the end, he had 59 million more reasons to prefer the Knicks. If Anthony chooses the Lakers — whose max deal was worth $26 million more than the Bulls — then fire away with criticism of a greedy player. But blame the collective bargaining agreement more than anything if Carmelo remains a Knick.

Save your scorn, Bulls fans, for Derrick Rose, but only for allowing the gulf between him and management to widen after another clumsy PR move. Either Rose's handlers leaked an ESPN story Friday saying he only coincidentally met Anthony during Tuesday's visit to the United Center or they failed to refute it effectively. Either way, the fallout only deepened the perception that Rose is increasingly aloof and unaware of things that matter. In reality, a person involved in recruiting Anthony called the report "100 percent false.'' Rose needs to realize how much damage his reputation has suffered playing only 49 games in three seasons and reinvent his image by being less mercurial.

Understand Rose could have driven the luxury bus that picked up Anthony, dressed up as Benny the Bull and hung out with Melo till 5 a.m. at The Underground. But after the Knicks offered a max deal, it wouldn't have made a difference. Rose's recruiting role always was overstated, media-driven insignificance. But, for appearances' sake, if the Bulls asked Rose weeks ago to show up July 1 — and the front office did — then he not only shirked his responsibility leaving after 20 minutes but was disingenuous in telling Yahoo it wasn't his job to recruit. Technically, it isn't, but somebody should tell Rose to stop reminding us because it only makes him sound like a petty prima donna.

It all becomes moot if Rose returns an All-Star caliber player with or without Anthony — the Bulls' top priority for 2014-15. A popular Plan B involves trading for Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, a scenario promoted more around the city than inside the Berto Center. Any Love deal would have to involve Taj Gibson, whom the Bulls just presented as a potential "Big Four" member. More likely, moving on without Anthony would involve Mirotic — though a source chalked up premature reports of a buyout to rumors. Negotiations continue for a skilled 6-10 perimeter scorer who would stretch the floor and complement Rose, much like rookie shooter Doug McDermott.

Without Anthony, the Bulls would need more than Mirotic and McDermott to consider this offseason a success. But it remains early and unfair to conclude executives Gar Forman and John Paxson failed because Anthony followed the money. To evaluate Forman and Paxson now would be like reviewing a play after its second act. What if Pau Gasol or another free agent they courted in Los Angeles commits? What if LeBron James goes to the Suns or Lakers and changes the balance of power in the Eastern Conference?

In time, the Bulls still can assemble a better, deeper roster capable of competing in the East and surprising people if Rose stays healthy. Losing Anthony for valid reasons would be disappointing. It need not be devastating.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter@DavidHaugh

PHOTO GALLERIES

NBA VIDEOS