Bulls fans were treated to vintage Carmelo Anthony on Monday night. Prior to Melo's 25-point performance against the Bulls, it would have been fair to think that the league had seen the last of vintage Melo. The Hall-of-Fame bound forward has not played since the Rockets released him ten games into the 2018-19 campaign. The league had seemed to forget about the third member of the famous Banana Boat Team. And until Monday, Bulls fans had too.
But watching the former Knicks and Nuggets star gash the Bulls all night, pouring in 25 while accounting for four more via assist, jogged some memories. It also left a feeling in the back of every Bulls fan's head. This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
Prior to the White Sox failed pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, the biggest free-agent letdown in Chicago history was perhaps Carmelo Anthony.
The summer of 2014 saw the Bulls make Melo, who at that time had led the league in scoring two years prior and finished second the year before, their top priority in free agency. A full-court press that included a picture of Carmelo next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy hung on the United Center almost brought the 29-year-old to Chicago.
It made sense. Anthony was frustrated in New York. The Knicks were coming off of two consecutive disappointing seasons. Their roster lacked any players of note outside of Anthony and was headed for a lengthy rebuild. The team was still a year away from drafting Kristaps Porzingis. As they often are for the Knicks, times were bleak.
The Bulls, meanwhile, offered Carmelo a promising opportunity to win the ring he had spent the past two seasons watching fellow banana-boater LeBron James get. The team had prime Joakim Noah and a young Jimmy Butler complementing a roster that featured fan-favorite Taj Gibson as well as Derrick Rose.
In retrospect, there are a number of reasons why Melo chose to stay in New York. The Knicks were able to offer him an extra year and more money than the Bulls, questions about Derrick Rose's knees were in play, and Melo had a family he didn't want to uproot. But in a recent interview, Anthony seemed to tell the truth about what kept him from Chicago in 2014.
"I was going to Chicago. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah. I was there, right? I was there. And then I started getting whispers behind the scenes. 'Yo, look, this person ain’t gonna be there. It ain’t really right. This and that.' And it was all of that started to come up in the midst of my decision-making. I wasn’t going to let anything cloud that."
Regardless of what swayed Melo's decision, looking back at the decision turns into one of the great what-ifs of Bulls history. The 2014-15 Bulls team made a run without Anthony, pushing Lebron James' Cavaliers to the brink of 3-1 series deficit due in part to one of Derrick Rose's greatest Bulls moments.
But alas, a controversial no-call in game four allowed LeBron to do what he does best in the playoffs — rip out the Bulls' hearts.
It was clear that the team was talented enough to beat LeBron and likely win the East. But it's hard not to wonder what could have been had Melo joined the Bulls in 2014. Would the Bulls have won the East? The Finals? Melo could have had his championship moment. Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose could have had theirs. Yeah, that's how it was supposed to be.
Not watching Melo, who never made the playoffs with the Knicks again, drop 29 against the Bulls. A team that in the past week has seen the closest thing they have to a star get in a public spat with his coach one night, and drop 49 the next (stay weird, Bulls).
Yes, Melo did eventually end up on the Bulls. From January 22nd to February 1st of 2019, Carmelo Anthony was a Bull. He never put on the uniform, but it was enough at the time to seem like a cruel joke from the Basketball gods. It was a snide reminder of what could have been both for Carmelo's legacy and the Bulls.
While short-lived, Melo's time with the Bulls was enough for Twitter to dub Monday's performance the "Melo Revenge" game. Why would Melo need revenge against the Bulls? After all, it was his decision that sent both parties down their current paths. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Monday's game served more as closure than a revenge game for both sides. The Bulls did not end up with the last laugh, as they fell to 6-12 on the season while still employing the same front office that created the toxic environment that steered Anthony away.
Carmelo, despite delivering a final blow to the Bulls, certainly did not receive the last laugh either. He will likely never win the ring he expected. Despite being one of the most feared scorers in the league during much of his career, Carmelo will never be held in the same regard as fellow banana-boaters LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Perhaps Carmelo himself said it best after the game.
“I think I will always be connected to Chicago some way, somehow. For years and years, my name has always been connected to the Chicago Bulls."
Connected, but never in the way it was supposed to be.
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