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With Carmelo Anthony Visiting Town, Bulls Counting Blessings For Pau Gasol

By Cody Westerlund-

(CBS) As top former top free agent target Carmelo Anthony and his Knicks come to Chicago for a Thursday night matchup, the Bulls were busy counting their blessings Wednesday for one player in particular.

Pau Gasol, the big man they signed with money that was available after Chicago lost out in the Anthony sweepstakes last July.

"I don't want to look backward," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It didn't work out (then), but it worked out for everybody in the end. That's just the way it is. We feel very good about having the opportunity to get Pau. It's worked out well for us."

With money that otherwise would've been dedicated to Anthony, the Bulls quickly moved onto Plan B in Gasol in the offseason by signing him to a three-year, $22-million deal. In hindsight, it has proved to be the right move for Chicago, as Gasol's been one of the NBA's top big men and filled a big need in the post with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson dealing with injuries.

Gasol's averaging 18.7 points (22nd in NBA), 11.9 rebounds (second) and 1.9 blocks (seventh) in 36.0 minutes per night (10th).

"We're very fortunate to have a guy of Pau's caliber playing on this team right now," Noah said. "He had a lot of options, and the fact that he picked here is big for us.

"He definitely brings a good attitude, a positive attitude to the team. He's just a good guy to have around, somebody who's seen it all, experience it all. It's good to have a new voice in the locker room."

If the Bulls had landed Anthony, they certainly would've missed out on Gasol. They also likely would've needed to trade Gibson and/or Mike Dunleavy and wouldn't have been able to sign Nikola Mirotic with cap space (the mid-level exception might've still been possible).

Perhaps it was Dunleavy who summed it all up best.

"Sometimes it's nice to have a Bentley, but a Honda Accord will get you there as well," Dunleavy said.

Anthony signed a five-year, $124-million deal to stay in New York. The most Chicago could've offered him was in the $73 million range over four years.

A major player in the recruitment of Anthony, Noah wasn't into playing the "what-if" game Wednesday and harbors no ill will toward his foe, saying, "You can't have any resentment for somebody making the right decision for himself -- he's happy in New York, and we're happy in Chicago."

But Noah did acknowledge how well it has worked out for Chiago, which has established itself as one of the East's top teams at 15-9 while Anthony and New York have bottomed out in a 5-22 start.

"I'm a live-in-the-moment kind of guy," Noah said. "I don't try to dwell on what could've happened. I'm really happy with what we have right now. We're a deep team, and we're striving for something pretty different than what they're striving for in terms of goals for the year."

After missing four straight games with a right ankle sprain, Noah said it's "likely" he returns Thursday, even as the team lists him as questionable.

"I'm feeling good," Noah said. "My ankle feels better."

Gibson (right ankle) is also listed as questionable to play. He's consistently been in the lineup of late even when tagged with that designation.

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