Neither Bulls general manager Gar Forman nor Blackhawks counterpart Stan Bowman comes across as your typical autograph seeker.
They aren't 12-year-old boys or greedy adults looking to make a buck on eBay. They aren't asking anybody to sign a body part. They don't carry a Sharpie in their sock.
But in one way Forman and Bowman find themselves feeling much like Everyman lingering near so many locker rooms and parking lots, committed to waiting as long as necessary for signatures they believe will be worth something significant in the future — in both cases, a title. The suspense surrounding their respective waits differs, but ultimately the stakes do not.
If Carmelo Anthony signs on the dotted line to officially join the Bulls, he unofficially makes them worthy of unseating the Heat in the Eastern Conference. If Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane sign the same long-term contract extension at the same time — probably with the same pen — to make them the highest-paid players in NHL history, the Hawks can count on contending annually into the duo's 30s.
Chicago stands three autographs away from 1901 W. Madison St. guaranteeing 82 nights of its glitziest basketball-hockey marquee ever. Imagine how quickly winters on the West Side would heat up then, without global warming.
As the Bulls and Hawks relentlessly attacked the same objective once July arrived, they approached their top offseason priorities from slightly different vantage points.
For the Bulls, the dawn of free agency marks the most important week of 2014. For the Hawks, the Toews-Kane negotiations simply represent the top of the to-do list for a perennial Stanley Cup contender. The Hawks seek to maintain a championship standard by locking up Toews and Kane into hockey perpetuity, while the Bulls aim to create one by adding Anthony before somebody else does.
So far, the week has produced understandable optimism for both United Center tenants.
The Bulls spent nine hours Tuesday courting Carmelo, quality time punctuated by the presence of Derrick Rose at the UC and No. 7 Bulls jerseys on LED signs everywhere. The presentation included Taj Gibson, whom the Bulls value but more importantly Anthony considers part of any championship equation. And he is. Keeping Gibson and signing Anthony would require creative bookkeeping, but if the Bulls didn't know how to accomplish that, they never would have invited the power forward to join Rose and Joakim Noah.
The organization's orchestrated efforts could not have made Anthony feel more wanted without Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau showing up for dinner wearing red headbands. Like most Thibodeau game plans, this one reflected tireless preparation.
"Everything went well," said a source who was at the UC.
As for the Hawks, they not only came closer to hammering out Kane and Toews extensions likely to be announced after the Fourth of July weekend, but also addressed a weakness by signing veteran center Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract. Bowman perhaps stopped laughing at his peers overpaying free agents — 96 players signed $543 million worth of contracts on day one — to pull off a typically smart, understated deal.
Richards comes with a winning pedigree and an offensive prowess the Hawks lack on their second line. At 34, the former Ranger needs to prove he still possesses the speed necessary in the West, but he offers intangibles that fit a roster perhaps one bounce away from beating the Kings. Most importantly, Richards also eases any pressure to rush Teuvo Teravainen — the Kris Bryant of the Hawks system — before Teravainen's body catches up with his skill set.
Worry not about Bowman shedding $2 million to get under the salary cap. The Hawks stole a third-round pick from the Flames for Brandon Bollig and re-signed role players Ben Smith, Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin for just under $3 million, so if Bowman occasionally sounds as if he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room, consider he often might be. He has yet to express doubt about the Hawks meeting their offseason goals.
Will the Bulls?
As promising as the meeting went with Anthony, nobody can relax until he puts it in writing. Just ask former NBA player Kendall Gill, who knows from experience. Gill was a free agent in the summer of 2000, recruited heavily by Shaquille O'Neal to join the Lakers, when his phone rang in Los Angeles on the way to his introductory news conference. It was Gill's agent with a richer, 11th-hour offer from his old team, the Nets. He accepted.
"As much as I wanted to go to the Lakers, I had to make the sound business decision," Gill recalled on WGWG-FM 87.7.
Similarly, everybody knows the Knicks can offer Anthony much more money, yet some observers sense he will base his decision on basketball more than business.
All the Bulls want is a sign.