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.

 

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.