By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Gar Forman and John Paxson have done their jobs. What’s left today is mostly cosmetic and relatively unimportant.
Too many people like to imagine that these trumped-up meetings with NBA free agents are where the selling gets done, where charismatic personalities compel decisions via some kind of hypnosis, wowing the intended target with such a whirlwind of secret pleasures and delights that his eyes roll back in his head and his trembling hand brings pen to paper, unable to resist such powerful magic.
They would be disappointed to know what really occurs: the pragmatic, professional discussion that entails almost nothing not already known to anyone involved. This isn’t the collegiate-style recruiting of wide-eyed children looking for new toys – it’s big business.
Carmelo Anthony is 30 years old, has already been through contract negotiations and is too savvy to be swayed by silliness. He will listen as the Bulls explain how much money he can make via a straight signing or a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Knicks, as well as how each scenario would affect the composition of the roster he’d be joining. He may get a look at the new practice facility being constructed rapidly on the west side, and he’ll certainly see images of how it will appear when this state-of-the-art center — his primary day-to-day workplace — opens this fall.
Anthony has been in the league for 11 seasons and knows his potential teammates as well as anyone. He is also familiar with Tom Thibodeau, and the two are likely to talk specifics about the offensive and defensive systems for which Anthony has already expressed admiration.
The overtures to Anthony were initially made months ago and have been ongoing through various channels since. This is the final formality before he decides if the time is right for him to move his family for the chance to contend for a championship before his considerable talent begins to fade.
Despite misplaced, romantic notions, no team can make a free agent do something he doesn’t want to do. Most information needed for these decisions – salaries, lineups, winter weather forecasts, tax rates, real estate prices, schools and media/marketing platforms — is publicly available and has been for some time, with these meetings often serving to reinforce what has already been determined, one way or another.
And before you bring up the Heat four years ago, know how that actually went down. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had been discussing the possibility of teaming up long before they landed in Miami, and they did their high-profile due diligence before following through. Pat Riley would love for you to believe that his fabulousness and brilliance won their services, but the league snickers about him being more lucky than good.
The idea that James and/or Wade somehow “played” the Bulls is odd, considering that they ultimately signed for less money to join forces. Both had positive, constructive dealings with the Bulls’ contingent at the time, and both gave genuine consideration to what was an appealing opportunity that ultimately finished second.
Paxson and Forman may find themselves in that position again this time around, but they can be pleased with where they sit today. They have built a solid franchise that is respected across the NBA for sustaining a level of success under one of the league’s top coaches, even as moody star Derrick Rose has missed two seasons. They have had the vision to engineer flexibility relative to restrictive salary-cap and luxury-tax rules in preparation for this period, while concurrently drafting, signing and developing useful complementary players. When the 60,000-square-foot Advocate Center opens soon, it will set the new standard.
If the inability to force a superstar to choose a city is a fireable offense, then pretty much every NBA general manager needs to be fired. Only a handful of franchises work their way into a finalist’s spot in the first place.
All one can do is build a strong, attractive team that can present that critical player a real shot at winning a title, and then really mean what they say because it’s the truth.
The rest is up to him.