Carmelo Anthony is back in Denver waiting on a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the conclusion of the trade talks that will determine his future.
But it’s in Chicago where two touchstones to how to build a better team wait.
One speaks to Anthony’s likely future. The other to what could have been.
The first is LeBron James, in which his decision and the subsequent coming together of the Big Three showed the league, and stars like Anthony, just what building a contender can look like. This approach is centered on players building from without rather than organizations building from within.
The other is the Chicago Bulls, who face LeBron and the Heat on Saturday, and in this example is a team that provides proof that the old approach can still work.
Including, were Anthony so inclined, in a place like Denver.
Chicago has built a core strong enough to become a dark-horse team this year and a championship challenger in the years ahead the old-fashioned way: With luck (landing the No. 1 overall pick in 2008), strong draft-day decisions (taking Derrick Rose with that pick and Joakim Noah with the No. 9 pick in 2007), trades (Luol Deng on draft day 2004) and wise free-agent signings (Carlos Boozer this past summer).
Chicago is 26-13 after beating Indiana, 99-86, Friday night and, in a tough Eastern Conference, it’s staked out a claim as the fourth- or fifth-best team.
And that’s despite the fact Boozer and Noah have played fewer than 10 games together because of injuries.
When Noah returns from a thumb injury later this year, the Bulls can be even better.
All of this starts and ends with being able to build around Rose, a dynamic guard blossoming into a potential top-five league-wide talent in the years ahead.
This is the old approach: Get superstar, put pieces around him, grow into a contender.
That’s what Denver, were Anthony willing to stay, might have had a chance to build as well. The Nuggets beat the snot out of Miami Thursday night. They’re not that far removed from the Western Conference Finals and have intriguing pieces.
But Anthony seems to have made his choice — because of his wife, or because he’s tired of mountain life, or because he’s ready to be under brighter lights like his friend LeBron, or whatever the reason — and that means the Miami Heat way.
Which is the new approach: Sign as many ridiculously talented free-agents as you can, start mostly from scratch and see if you can do it in one year based solely on your free-agency haul.
Indeed, it’s the Heat that have defined for now how to — in one fell swoop — collect talent, pool resources and, most importantly, appease the needs of star players learning they have an extraordinary amount of leverage regarding what becomes of them and who they play with.
That’s one offshoot of The Decision: A reminder that the players hold the cards.
That if LeBron can command a live-television spot on ESPN, a player like Anthony can certainly try and dictate the terms of what becomes of him, and when.
Anthony’s situation is hardly The Decision II.
But it seems clear LeBron’s attention-grabbing way of announcing his decision to go to Miami resonated with him.
So did the fact Anthony’s former agent, Calvin Andrews, signed his client up for a four-year contract rather than negotiating a three-year out clause like the kind that freed Bosh, Wade and LeBron to join forces this summer.
Had Anthony done the same, he’d probably already be a New York Knick.
So we have a star watching his friends advance to the next stage of their careers in glorifying (and vilifying) fashion, a bad contract choice, a what-could-have-been hangover, a not-as-cool city and every indication he wants the hell out of dodge.
In the days to come, he may get his way. A three-team trade between Denver, New Jersey and Detroit has reportedly been in the works for a while.
If the particulars can be worked out, and Anthony then agrees to an extension, he may find himself in Jersey.
The irony is, once there, he may find himself on the Chicago end of trying to create something special: With a down-and-out team looking to rebuild the old-fashioned way.
The Big Three’s strategic alliance in Miami might have sparked Anthony’s desire to leave, but it’s Chicago he might want to look to in order to understand what it’s going to be like once he does.