The Minnesota Timberwolves recently swung for the fences and offered Portland's restricted free-agent small forward Nicolas Batum a $46 million contract over four years. To no real surprise, the Trail Blazers decided to match his offer sheet and retain the young Frenchman.
The question now becomes whether Minnesota offered Batum such a large contract because they coveted him as a player or whether they offered him an above-market deal because the team actually coveted acquiring a premier small forward to solidify the starting five.
If the answer is the former, then Minnesota is unlikely to make any trades as it still has former number two overall pick Derrick Williams and recently acquired Chase Budinger at the small forward position.
If the answer is the latter, then maybe Luol Deng could be the solution.
Would the addition of Deng give the Timberwolves the type of player and the all-around skill set that the team was seeking by adding Batum?
If Chicago was actually shopping Deng prior to this year's draft for a chance to move into the lottery, then would the Bulls be interested in moving Deng for a former lottery pick?
The answer to both questions should be yes.
Deng is a very similar player to Batum except that he is older and costs a little more per year. (Surprisingly, Deng only costs around $3 million more next season and around $4 million more the following year than Batum would have under the offer sheet Minnesota gave him.)
Both players are long, above-average defenders and solid offensive contributes. Though neither player is a shot-creator and both are more complementary players, either small forward would plug in beautifully next to Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
The only thing we know for certain is that Batum will never be an option because Portland believes he is one of the team's building blocks and is unwilling to trade him to Minnesota.
Would Williams be enough compensation to convince Chicago to trade its all-star small forward?
The answer should be yes (although I am sure most fans would like to see Chicago receive a draft pick as well).
Chicago is looking to save money and build around a core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. This trade would save the team around $8.5 million this year and around $9 million next year.
That savings could be used to re-sign Taj Gibson (whose current contract expires at the end of next season), or it could be used to go after the elusive "shooting guard of the future" that Bulls fans so eagerly await.
Although Williams has not lived up to the hype surrounding a number two overall draft pick, he still possess all of the physical gifts and raw tools necessary to become an all-star one day. It just might take a couple of years for him to realize that potential—which is something Minnesota might not have.
For Chicago, it is worth the gamble of trading a proven all-star for a potential future star in order to shed salary and ensure the team has financial flexibility over the next few seasons.
Additionally, since next year is more of a do-over year for the Bulls anyway (as evidenced by Chicago's lack of interest this offseason in acquiring free agents or making moves for other players), the smartest move at this point is for the front office to begin rebuilding for the future now.
For Minnesota, the clock is ticking to make some noise in the Western Conference playoffs since the face of the franchise, Kevin Love, recently vocalized displeasure with the Timberwolves' lack of competitiveness.
Love's public statements have put Minnesota's management on notice that it must make immediate changes to improve the team, find a way to turn the Timberwolves into an actual threat in the Western Conference and keep Love happy.
Deng fulfills this need.
He is a proven commodity, a great character guy and only has two years remaining on his contract. Simply put, Deng could play an essential role in whether the Timberwolves manage to keep Love happy and in a Minnesota uniform for years to come.
A swap of Deng for Williams would be a solid move for both teams and would help both franchises take positive steps towards their respective long-term goals.
Due to the large salary discrepancy between Deng and Williams, Chicago and Minnesota would need to find another team willing to help facilitate the trade and take on some salary from Minnesota.
I propose that team could be the Cleveland Cavilers.
Why? Because the only assets Minnesota could move to help clear salary would be one of the team's point guards and because Cleveland is in the market for a backup point guard.
The Cavaliers currently have star point guard Kyrie Irving as the cornerstone of the franchise. However, the team still needs to add depth at the point, considering the fact that Kyrie just had surgery on his broken hand. While Irving is expected back for the start of the season, the Cavaliers must add another veteran point guard as insurance.
That player can be Minnesota's Luke Ridnour. He is a savvy veteran and is a great outside shooter (something Cleveland desperately needs on its bench). Ridnour could step in on day one and run the point if necessary, or he could operate as Irving's mentor and primary backup.
A trade of Deng to Minnesota, Ridnour to Cleveland and Williams to Chicago works out salary-wise for all three teams.
While Minnesota would probably need to send Chicago some sort of draft-pick compensation along with Williams to acquire Deng and while Cleveland would probably require some sore of draft pick compensation from either Chicago or Minnesota to take Ridnour off Minnesota's hands, the proposed trade still does not become overcomplicated even considering those potential additions.