The Chicago Bulls would have been NBA championship favorites had they been able to lure free agent Carmelo Anthony to the Windy City. Anthony chose to stay with the Knicks, however, so what does that mean for Chicago's NBA futures odds?
Money Talks For Melo
The Bulls actually did think they had a great shot at getting Anthony, and if Melo cared about winning first and foremost he should have gone there as the Bulls would have been a super-team -- presuming Derrick Rose can stay healthy -- like Miami was when LeBron James and Chris Bosh went to South Beach in 2010. Hard to blame Anthony in re-signing with the Knicks considering they could pay him some $50 million more than the Bulls could have. I don't know about you, but I'm taking a job that pays me $5,000 more than another does, much more so for $50 million.
The Bulls did have a Plan B when Melo informed them of his decision. That was adding Lakers free agent Pau Gasol and finalizing a deal to bring over the top player in Europe, Nikola Mirotic. Now Chicago has perhaps the best frontcourt in the NBA in those two along with Joakim Noah, a 2013-14 first-team All-NBA player and Defensive Player of the Year, and Taj Gibson. Gasol should be a major upgrade offensively on Carlos Boozer, who was also so bad defensively that Tom Thibodeau wouldn't play him in the fourth quarter of most games. The Bulls will use the amnesty clause on Boozer this week unless some team swoops in and offers to take his $16.8 million salary for next season. Chicago would certainly have to include a future first-round pick to make that happen, but it's not likely anyone wants Boozer at that price.
Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Lakers last season. The main question about him is injury. The 34-year-old has missed chunks of the past two regular seasons. He should serve as a nice mentor to Mirotic, a fellow Spaniard. The Bulls are hoping Mirotic will be this generation's Toni Kukoc.
Also don't forget that the Bulls traded their two first-round picks in June's draft to Denver for No. 11 overall pick Doug McDermott, last year's national scoring champion at Creighton. Dougie McBuckets already has a great nickname and he apparently might have the game to go with it (just think he could have been called Dougie McNuggets if Denver had kept him). In summer league action on Sunday, McDermott scored 31 points on just 12 shots against Denver. In addition, last year's first-round pick, Tony Snell, has been lighting up summer league and appears ready to make a big impact after mostly irrelevant rookie season. He led all scorers in Las Vegas after the first three games. Jimmy Butler blossomed in his second season with the Bulls after not being used much by Thibs as a rookie and perhaps Snell will too.
The Bulls were one of the NBA's worst offensive teams last season but adding a healthy Rose to McDermott, Mirotic and an improved Snell, and all of a sudden they have scoring. It will be interesting to see how Thibodeau uses McDermott and Mirotic, however, because he generally doesn't like playing rookies. Assuming he does, this team might be 10 players deep in the rotation with the return of Kirk Hinrich as well. McDermott is a +2200 basketball betting pick to win NBA Rookie of the Year. There is no price on Mirotic yet but that should change.
Chicago is a +320 second favorite on NBA odds to Cleveland (+135) to win the Eastern Conference and a +1000 fourth-favorite to win the NBA title behind the Cavaliers (+400), Spurs (+450) and Thunder (+600).
NBA free picks: I think Chicago is the Eastern Conference's best team as things stand. The Cavaliers won't be ready to win yet, barring a trade for Kevin Love. The Pacers are probably going to lose Lance Stephenson and may trade Roy Hibbert. Obviously Miami will take a step back. Ditto the Nets. The Wizards downgraded by swapping out Paul Pierce (at this stage in his career) for Trevor Ariza. The Raptors haven't made any big moves other than re-signing Kyle Lowry. I wouldn't pick the Bulls to beat the Western Conference foe in the Finals (my betting pick now: Clippers), but they will get there if Rose and Gasol can stay on the court.