According to Mike McGraw of The Daily Herald (via ESPN Insider) league sources have confirmed that the Chicago Bulls may trade small forward Luol Deng in the 2012 offseason to avoid luxury tax payments.
As far as salary considerations are concerned, Deng seems like the top candidate for a Bulls' trade. Deng, suffered a wrist injury in 2012 that limited his playing time (54 games in 2012) and effectiveness (he shot a career low 41 percent from the floor). He has another three million guaranteed on his contract worth $37 million.
Still, a better choice for salary-cap consideration trade bait would be Bulls center Joakim Noah.
When the Bulls signed Noah to a five-year, $60 million contract in 2011, it was under the assumption that Noah would be a premiere center in the NBA. However, Noah's rebounding and blocked shot output has seemed to peak at around 10 and 1.5 per game, respectively.
Noah is reputed as being a high energy player, and his effort on the court is impressive. However, his mercurial nature and flamboyant party lifestyle calls into question whether he will continue keep his focus on being a "high-energy" player for the next several years.
Deng is by far a rarer type of player than Noah, and is more essential to the Bulls' championship hopes.
In two seasons prior to 2012, Deng averaged 17.5 points on 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. When healthy, he is a consummate floor-spreader and an essential No. 2 scoring option to Derrick Rose.
Deng—a 2012 All-NBA 2nd Team defender—was also routinely assigned to defend opposing squads' best offensive players. Deng has adequately defended an offensively lethal small forward crop of NBA players (all untouchable on the trade market): Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Danny Granger.
Last year, the Bulls were the best defensive team in the NBA allowing only 88 points per game. In areas where Deng was the most responsible, the Bulls were ranked No. 1 in both field goals allowed (42 percent) and three-pointers allowed.
With Noah at center, the Bulls still suffered in offensive rebounding (17th) and blocked shots (20th).
If the Bulls decide to make a big offseason trade, dispensing with Noah could land them a much needed starting 2-guard (unless you trust that Rip Hamilton will remain healthy in 2013) and a mid to low first-round pick.
As far as replacing their center, the Bulls could sign free agents Spencer Hawes or JaVale McGree to a multi-year contract worth less than Noah's current contract.
While Hawes and McGee may not be as strong stretch defenders as Noah is, they are both strong in the rebounding department. Particularly in McGee's case, the Bulls would get much needed help in the shot-blocking department.
Trading Noah or Deng may be considered a "lesser of the two evils" scenario. However, a Noah trade is the lesser of which, and the Bulls may actually attain more value parting with Noah in the long-run.
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