Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer are the pivot points in Bulls’ pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

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Derrick Rose, whose play varies from MVP-caliber to non-existent due to injury, is the Bulls’ most important player and biggest X-factor.

Carmelo Anthony knows this, which is why he wanted to see Rose in action. Assuming Melo is satisfied – if he’s not, likely none of this matters – Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer become essential to any negotiations between Melo, the Bulls and Knicks.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

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.

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

But the Knicks, according to sources, will not cooperate with any plan that involves them taking back Boozer.

It’s no wonder the Bulls and Melo, if he signs there, want to keep Gibson in Chicago. He’s a very good player – a top-shelf defender and rebounder and, at times, aggressive scorer. He makes his team better.

He also makes $8 million next season, a roadblock to Chicago creating enough cap room to sign Melo.

If they amnesty Boozer, waive the fully unguaranteed contracts of Ronnie Brewer, Mike James andLouis Amundson, renounce all their free agents and trade Mike Dunleavy, Anthony Randolph, Tony Snell and Greg Smith without receiving any salary in return – the Bulls could offer Melo a contract that starts at $16,284,762 and is worth $69,535,934 over four years based on the projected salary cap.

That’s far short of the max salary – $22,458,402 starting, $95,897,375 over four years – Melo could get signing outside New York, and it might be difficult to move some of those contracts (Randolph and maybe even Dunleavy) without offering a sweetener.

The bigger challenge would be convincing Melo to leave more than $26 million on the table – and that’s not even considering how much more the Knicks could offer him.

The Bulls could bump the offer to a max deal by also dealing Gibson without returning salary, but Melo might not want to play in a Gibson-less Chicago. If Melo is going to the Bulls to win now, he knows Gibson is a big part of that.

Chicago could bypass this issue by arranging a sign-and-trade with the Knicks. Of course, that requires convincing New York to agree.

If Phil Jackson wants to take a hardline stance against sign-and-trading Melo, I could understand that. As you can see, the Bulls would have a difficult time keeping their core together while making space for Melo. Another prominent Melo suitor, the Rockets, could strip their roster to just Dwight Howard and James Harden, and they still wouldn’t have enough room below the projected cap to offer Melo his full max starting salary. By refusing to entertain sign-and-trades, Jackson might significantly diminish the odds Melo leaves the Knicks.

But if Jackson is willing to conduct a sign-and-trade, refusing to take Boozer is asinine.

Neither the Knicks nor Bulls need to enter negotiations under any illusions about what Boozer is. He’s a player with negative value whose expiring contract would be used only to make the deal’s finances work.

A simple trade of Boozer and one of Brewer, James or Amundson for Melo would allow Melo to receive his max starting salary. New York would have no obligation to Brewer/James/Amundson beyond the trade and none to Boozer beyond next season. Considering the Knicks don’t project to have cap space until 2015 anyway, Boozer wouldn’t interfere much, if at all.

Of course, New York would never go for that.

Brewer/James/Amundson is a worthless piece, and like I said before, Boozer has negative value. It’s up to the Bulls to tweak the deal to include other positive assets – future draft picks, Nikola Mirotic, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott – that compensate the Knicks for both parting with Melo and accepting Boozer. Armed with all its own first rounders, a Kings’ first rounder if it falls outside the top 10 in the next three years and the right to swap picks with the Cavaliers outside the lottery next season, Chicago has the tools to create a tempting offer.

But to make the finances work – unless they include Gibson, whom Melo wants left on the team – the Bulls need to include Boozer in the trade.

Boozer is nothing more than a contract to make the deal work. Sure, he might give the Knicks a little interior and scoring and rebounding in the final year of his contract, but neither New York nor Chicago needs to value that when determining a fair trade. Boozer is a contract.

He’s also a contract who could be useful in another trade for the Bulls sometime before the trade deadline for the same reason he’s useful here. Expiring contracts grease the wheels of larger deals.

Why is Phil Jackson so opposed to this? Maybe he understands the situation and is just posturing. If so, it’s a little annoying, because it’s not necessary. The Bulls, who might just amnesty Boozer, understand his value.

If there’s more to this, and Jackson thinks Boozer’s mere presence would harm the Knicks, he could always tell Boozer not to report. That would still allow New York to trade Boozer later without risking him infecting the team with whatever Jackson believes Boozer carries. (That Boozer has fit in Chicago’s strong organizational culture suggests these fears are unwarranted.)

If Jackson is willing to discuss a sign-and-trade, he should listen to offers that include Boozer. The Bulls will surely add valuable assets in exchange.

But if Jackson flatly refuses and Melo still wants to sign in Chicago, he faces a dilemma – playing with with Gibson or making $26 million extra dollars over the next four years.

 

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.