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Bulls getting Carmelo Anthony hinges on Taj Gibson

NEW YORK NY - DECEMBER 21:  Carmelo Anthony #7 New York Knicks is blocked by Joakim Noah #13 Chicago

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks is blocked by Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on December 21, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Updated: August 3, 2014 6:25AM

There were electronic signs and images of Carmelo Anthony in Bulls whites, and even Derrick Rose made an appearance for the courting of the seven-time All-Star on Tuesday at the United Center, but the most important person in the welcoming committee didn’t arrive until after 2 p.m.

That’s when forward Taj Gibson strolled in.

So why all the hype about a career backup who finished second in this year’s Sixth Man of the Year voting? Because the selling of the Bulls to Anthony includes Rose, coach Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah, but Gibson’s role should not be overlooked.

A source said Gibson would be prominent in the talks with Anthony because the Bulls are trying to sell the idea of a “Big Four’’ in the Eastern Conference.

Since Noah started recruiting Anthony at the All-Star break, his sales pitch included Gibson as part of the package to play alongside Anthony.

But here’s the rub: If the Bulls can’t get the Knicks to do a sign-and trade for Anthony, Gibson’s presence would mean that Anthony only can be offered $14 million to $15 million for the first year of the deal instead of $19 million to $20 million.

Then again, if Anthony is a man of his word, it’s not a big deal.

“I’m going to make money. I have money. I’m good if I want to retire right now,’’ Anthony said in an ESPN interview in February. “As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern.

“My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, in this last stretch of my career.’’

While details of the meeting with Anthony, as well as the tour of the United Center and the new practice facility across the street, were cloudy, a source said that one of the points hammered throughout the day was that the Eastern Conference is there for the taking.

Even with the Heat’s Big Three — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — opting out, the news from Miami is that James might want a max deal, and the Heat could be in pursuit of point guard Kyle Lowry over Anthony anyway.

Anthony is scheduled to head to Texas on Wednesday to visit with the Rockets and Mavericks. He will visit the Lakers on Thursday.

The Mavericks are not championship-ready, especially in the West, and the Rockets, like the Bulls, have pieces to move just to get to the $14 million range for the first year of Anthony’s deal.

And the Lakers just picked in the lottery last Thursday, so they’re obviously years away from competing again.

Mike Dunleavy would be the odd man out if the Bulls land Anthony through free agency for a reasonable price.

There was a reason the Bulls traded two picks last week to move up and draft Doug McDermott. Dunleavy is a proven catch-and-shoot veteran, but the hope is McDermott’s ability to score from all over the floor will make Dunleavy’s departure a bit easier to handle, especially considering both are penciled in as bench players.

Either way, the Bulls did their part Tuesday, and the decision rests with Anthony.


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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