Carmelo Anthony recently approached a former Chicago Bulls player and asked a loaded question that should make Phil Jackson a little nervous.

“What is it like to play for Thibs?” Anthony said.

Anthony’s interest in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can be taken one of several ways. Anthony, who lives and breathes basketball, is merely interested in learning something about one of the NBA’s top coaches. In fact, Anthony will be working with Thibodeau, who was named to USA Basketball’s coaching staff last June.

Of course, Anthony’s impromptu background check on Thibodeau could also be his idea of due diligence since the Bulls loom as an attractive option this summer for the free-agent-to-be.

The Bulls are emerging as one of several teams, along with the Lakers and Rockets, who are expected to pursue Anthony if and when he opts out of his contract on July 1. The Knicks can still offer Anthony the most money, and Jackson, the new Knicks president, is intent on re-signing the All-Star forward.

But with the Knicks getting eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night by virtue of Atlanta beating Miami, Anthony, now in his 11th season, is well-aware that the clock is ticking on his career. He won’t be in the playoffs for the first time and knows the Knicks won’t have cap space until next summer.

Anthony will have to decide if he wants to wait another year before Jackson can make a significant impact, or jump to a ready-made team such as Chicago or Houston.

The Bulls (47-32) are at the Garden on Sunday looking to secure the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s quite an accomplishment considering Derrick Rose played just 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Bulls’ front office, figuring it was a lost year, then traded small forward Luol Deng to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum. The deal was made simply to save money since Bynum was immediately released.

So despite losing two All-Stars, the Bulls under Thibodeau have excelled. Meanwhile, the Knicks have succumbed to injuries. Worse still, they willingly use injuries as an excuse for their woeful season even though the team’s best player, Anthony, has missed just three of 79 games.
When asked on Friday why the Bulls have survived losing key players while the Knicks haven’t, Anthony said: “I have no clue. Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system.

“You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.”

Anthony flirted with the idea of joining the Bulls before forcing a trade to New York, which was his top choice all along. But the chance to play with Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibodeau may be too appealing to pass up again.