Derrick Rose arrived first, entering the United Center shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday for a scheduled workout and rehabilitation session.
Joakim Noah was next, sauntering through a parking lot shortly after noon in baggy shorts.
A stretch luxury vehicle disgorged the esteemed guest shortly before 1 p.m. Electronic signage of his likeness in a No. 7 Bulls jersey festooned the United Center and greeted Carmelo Anthony, as did a smattering of fans milling around the Michael Jordan statue.
But perhaps the biggest moment of the Bulls' pitch for the six-time All-Star free agent came when Taj Gibson made his typically unassuming entrance at roughly 2:15 p.m.
When Tom Thibodeau said Monday that “our players will be available to talk” regarding free-agency pitches, the Bulls coach wasn't kidding. And Gibson's presence carries particular significance. Sources said both the Bulls and Anthony, should he choose Chicago, want to keep Gibson for a core that would significantly improve their chances for an Eastern Conference championship.
Barring the Knicks agreeing to engage in sign-and-trade talks, keeping Gibson and his $8million salary would limit Anthony's payday. Though sources have indicated the Bulls would be aggressive in making necessary moves if Anthony verbally committed, the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer and trade Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Randolph for a starting salary of $16.9million.
The Knicks, who will speak to Anthony last after his weeklong tour of four teams, can offer a first-year salary of $22.5 million.
This is why the Bulls' ideal scenario is for Anthony to commit and persuade Knicks President Phil Jackson to engage in sign-and-trade talks. Not only would that get Anthony closer to a maximum salary, it would allow the Bulls to remain over the salary cap and thus use exceptions to sign other players.
Like Gibson's, Rose's brief involvement carried significance given his reluctance to recruit players. This dislike stems from his quiet personality and an old-school mentality that current teammates never should be undermined.
Sources told the Tribune last week that Rose's camp had made clear to Anthony's camp that Rose would welcome an Anthony signing. Still, his speaking to Anthony for roughly 20 minutes inside the Bulls' locker room represented a departure for someone not comfortable in that role.
Rose left the United Center with assistant general manager Randy Brown shortly after 3 p.m. and didn't attend a dinner later.
After the two-hour meeting at the United Center, the Bulls contingent showed Anthony the new practice facility across the street that is scheduled to open in time for training camp.
According to a source present at the meeting, the Bulls sold what they always sell — a ready-to-win roster, the city, attendance that annually ranks first or second in the league, the championship tradition, facilities and strong ownership and organization.
That the Eastern Conference is eminently winnable also may have resonated with an 11-year veteran experiencing free agency for the first time. Especially since the rest of Anthony's week includes visits to the Rockets and Mavericks on Wednesday and the Lakers on Thursday in the rugged Western Conference.
The Bulls capped their presentation with a lengthy dinner at a downtown hotel in which Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf bonded with Anthony, sources said. Noah and Gibson also attended the dinner.
Anthony obviously represents the No. 1 target and demanded the bulk of time and focus Tuesday. But free agency is a game of musical chairs that doesn't stop, which is why the Bulls also continued to contact agents for backup plans.
Those included, but were not limited to, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Chandler Parsons, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. Yes, that Luol Deng.
When the Bulls traded Deng to the Cavaliers in January in an attempt to avoid the luxury tax in the wake of Rose's injury, that bridge appeared burned. But Deng told the Tribune the day after the trade that he wouldn't rule out a return. And while that remains a long shot, especially given the amount of interest Deng has drawn, the initial contact speaks to the fluidity of this Bulls offseason.
Everything starts with Anthony, though. The Bulls took the first, and their best, shot Tuesday. Now the waiting game for his decision — lowercase “d” — begins.
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