Carmelo Anthony turning down the Bulls was a blessing in disguise for Chicago

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CHICAGO—The first game at the United Center between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks should have been a spectacle. After the Bulls’ much-publicized pursuit of Carmelo Anthony this summer, here was an opportunity for the Chicago’s fans to make their feelings known.

But then, nothing happened. Anthony didn’t play, sitting out with a knee injury that has been bothering him for the past month. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose (who fell ill) and Taj Gibson (whose ankles flared up). But if anything, the anticlimactic game was the best thing that could have happened here: it was an opportunity to put the tired “superstar spurns fans” trope to bed.

Especially since, in this case, it worked out for everybody. Anthony lost the chance to contend for a championship, but his family was happy living in New York and he got his five-year, $122 million contract.

“I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of guy,” Joakim Noah said at practice on Wednesday. “He made the best decision for himself. I can’t be mad at it.”

Every other Bulls player who was asked echoed the same sentiment. And truthfully, they don’t have much reason to resent Anthony’s decision. For as enticing as it was to sign a player like him, missing out has arguably worked out better for this Bulls team.

The Bulls’ last several pursuits of star free agents have been much more damaging than this one. They suffered through years of early-decade mediocrity after failing to land Tracy McGrady in 2000. Attempts to trade for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett in 2007 fell short. They tried to get in on the LeBron James sweepstakes in 2010 and wound up paying $80 million to Carlos Boozer, who had to be amnestied to allow them to make moves this summer. But missing out on Anthony, on the other hand, has been a blessing in disguise.

Despite not landing Anthony, the Bulls are well positioned to compete for a title. Their fallback option in free agency, Pau Gasol, is rejuvenated and having his best year since 2010. Jimmy Butler’s career year wouldn’t have happened if Anthony was taking 25 shots a game. Promising rookie big man Nikola Mirotic may have had to be traded to bring in Anthony, and Chicago certainly wouldn’t have had the money to sign him. Paying Anthony upwards of $20 million per year well into his 30s is, in hindsight, less appealing than the shorter, cheaper contract they gave to Gasol with the flexibility to make more moves.

Make no mistake, the Bulls would have loved to sign Anthony. He would have given Chicago a second go-to scorer to take pressure off Derrick Rose as he returns from two major knee injuries. His defensive shortcomings could easily be hidden in Tom Thibodeau’s scheme, and his offense could be helped by being surrounded with teammates who know how to do their jobs, unlike the disastrous Knicks teams of recent years.

But Melo chose the money and the comfort, and it’s hard to blame him. He’s going to live with his decision, and the Bulls have moved on. Butler has become the go-to scorer they hoped to get when they pursued Anthony, and much younger and better defensively to boot. These Bulls have weapons, they have depth and they have versatility that they wouldn’t have had if they had ended up with Anthony.

That’s why the Bulls were uninterested in rehashing the summer’s free agency exploits. Melo turned them down and they moved on, arguably better off for it. And the Knicks team he re-signed with is a mess and not getting better any time soon. He’s considering shutting down for the year because of the knee injury, which would have been another in a never-ending list of health issues for the Bulls that was long enough as it is. He’s made his decision on how to spend the rest of his career, and he has to live with it. The Bulls certainly can.

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.