Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng is coming off his first year as an NBA All Star, and at 27 years old he's likely in the prime of his career—which is exactly why the Bulls need to re-ignite trade talks around Deng.
Deng, an eight-year veteran who has spent his whole career in Chicago, averaged 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds for Chicago last season. The Bulls were regarded as one of the elite teams in the East, but when they lost superstar point guard Derrick Rose in the first game of the 2012 Playoffs, they couldn't even get out of the first round. The Rose-less Bulls, the top seed in the East, fell to the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
Rumors that Deng was on his way out sprouted during the NBA Draft, with the Daily Herald's Mike McGraw reporting the Bulls needed to trade Deng for fiscal reasons. The Chicago Sun-Times also reported that the Bulls were looking to trade Deng for a lottery selection in the draft.
And yet Deng remains a Bull and will likely remain a Bull when training camp opens in the fall. Chicago can no longer afford to wait. They need to at the very least keep up trade talks surrounding the All-Star forward.
Let's check out seven reasons why the Bulls need to continue to shop Deng.
The Bulls have four big contracts on their payroll (all contract information is credited to hoopsworld.com). One is to Derrick Rose, who deserves his five-year max deal. Carlos Boozer commands $47.1 million over three years, while Joakim Noah is the cheapest of the four at $48 million over the next four.
Boozer's contract makes him impossible to trade and the only option would be for Chicago to use the amnesty clause on him, although they can't do that until next July. Noah may look expensive, but considering the going rates for quality big men nowadays, he's on a fair deal—Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert got bigger max contracts, while JaVale McGee, a far less efficient big man, got a very similar deal to Noah.
That leaves Deng, who has two years left and is due to be paid slightly over $27.5 million during that span. If one of the three players needs to go, it won't be Boozer (no one will take him) and it shouldn't be Noah (a much fairer deal that Deng's)—which leaves Luol as the odd man out.
Chicago's checkbook cannot handle the status quo. Combined, the four players add up to about $56 million dollars.
On the flip side, Chicago could sit in mediocrity for a season until Rose returns, then focus on trading Deng next offseason while also wiping Carlos Boozer's contract off the books with the amnesty clause. But even if that is Chicago's goal, it does no good to keep Deng off the trading block for now. Continued negotiations for a player you expect to trade next offseason can never hurt.
With Rose out in the final five games of the Philadelphia series, the Bulls turned to their second options, Boozer and Deng.
You'd think that the Bulls, the top seed in the East, would have the offensive capability to beat the lowest seed in the division. Even the loss of a superstar shouldn't stop the top seed from getting out of the first round...right?
Wrong. Deng's most efficient game was Game 1 of the series, when he was 8-of-14 for 17 points. The rest of the series, he averaged 13.4 points on 43 percent shooting. It was the biggest proof yet that Deng is not the true second option the Bulls need.
A true second option can carry the offensive load when the first option goes out—at least to some extent. Deng is a very solid offensive player and a truly great defensive one, but the Bulls need a more talented scorer than Deng.
Which leads to my next point...
Derrick Rose is a slasher point guard. He greatly improved his jump shot over the past two years and even became a respectable three point shooter, but he's still at his best in transition and cutting to the basket.
Alongside the basket-loving Rose, the Bulls need their second option to be a real outside threat. Deng is good as a spot up shooter—statistically, according to Synergy Sports Technology, 29 percent of Deng’s shots were spot up shots, and he made 39.9 percent of those shots—but as a long ball shooter, he's only slightly-above-average.
He shot 36.7 percent from downtown last season, the second highest of his career. But he's not a three-point shooter, and only 28.5 percent of his shots were from downtown. Next to Rose, that isn’t good enough.
The Bulls looked for years for a long-ball scorer. Kyle Kover was a good option, but he was never more than a role player. Richard Hamilton couldn't stay healthy. Chicago tried to acquire Ray Allen last year according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, but that also fell apart.
Deng is a very solid shooter with nice NBA range. But that isn't what the Bulls need alongside Rose. They need a real outside shooter, and that should be at the top of their wish list during their Deng trade talks.
Chicago's depth, which has been solid in the past few years, was properly gutted in the span of a few days. With Rose, Deng, Noah and Boozer all on the books for $56 million this season (again, salaries are all credit to hoopsworld.com) the Bulls just don't have the space to sign or even keep much talent.
The Bulls need to trade someone, and that someone should be Deng. With his above-average value, he could bring a pretty penny in return...but preferably, a pretty penny who fits better with Rose and perhaps some more serviceable depth.
Chicago kept Deng and chose to sacrifice their depth. Not that any of the players who left the Bulls are worth Deng, but they can't keep their salaries as they are, not when they can't afford to sign/pay significant bench players.
Let's say the Bulls keep Deng and the remainder of their roster intact. Rose comes back in April, the Bulls secure the sixth-seventh seed in the East, and they fight valiantly but again fall short of the championship.
In the 2013-14 season, with Rose again 100 percent and a lineup of Rose, Hamilton, Deng, Boozer and Noah, Chicago goes for it all.
There's already a problem with that theory. First off, Taj Gibson, their only bench big left, is a free agent next year and will cost the Bulls far more than the $3.1 million qualifying offer. They could cut Hamilton thanks to a non-guaranteed year, but that would just leave the Bulls with even less depth on the wing.
But pretend they keep Hamilton and go above the salary cap to re-sign Gibson. The whole team is intact for a run in 2013-14. The Bulls compete in the East, run for the finals and win the 2014 Championship.
Then...what? Deng is a free agent, and do you truly expect that he'd sign for less money than he was already making (set to earn $14.27 million next season)? The Bulls couldn't even afford to keep that championship team together.
Deng will sooner or later leave, unless the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer next year. Even if that is the road they want to go, they need to be looking at other options, and that means trading Deng.
Deng is coming off his first career All-Star game. He's 27 years old, which is considered "NBA Prime". He's known as an elite positional defender and has never had any issues of note that would make teams worry about him.
Simply put, the Bulls won't find a better time trade Deng, especially when he's likely to struggle this season.
Without Rose, the brunt of the offense will have to go through Deng and Boozer. Deng is a solid player, but he's no star, and if the Bulls try to make him the focal point of the offense his field goal numbers will probably drop.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Deng was most used in spot up situations (29 percent of his shots) and made 39.9 percent of those shots. The second most common Deng offensive possession was in transition, which occurred 14.1 percent of the time and ended in a basket 46.9 percent of the time.
Decent numbers to be certain, but now he'll be playing a full season without Derrick Rose. The Bulls signed Kirk Hinrich to serve as a replacement until Rose returns. Will Deng get as many good spot up looks without Rose as the major offensive threat for defenders to worry about? Will the Bulls be even close to as effective in transition without Rose? My bet on both of them is no.
According to Synergy, only 7.3 percent of Deng's offensive possessions were isolation plays, but he made just 33.9 percent of those shots. In total, he shot just 41.6 percent last season. I expect that number could easily be worse this season, especially if the Bulls try and make him the focus of their offensive game.
The Bulls won't find a better time to trade Deng, so they can't just wait till next season and assume his value will still be this high.
I mentioned in the fiscal constraints slide that the Bulls could, indeed, wait this out. They could keep Deng on the roster, make no significant moves and stay the course all season.
With Deng, Boozer and Noah leading the way, Chicago would be a contender for a mid-to-late playoff seed until March or April, when Rose could possibly return. With a hopefully healthy Rose, the Bulls could return to their elite form and challenge the Miami Heat for the title.
This, in fact, seems to be the Bulls thinking, according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Bulls’ brain trust doesn’t think the team’s situation is as bleak as many in the sky-is-falling crowd insist. They believe they have a team that — when healthy — can compete with and defeat the newly minted NBA champion Miami Heat.
The problem with waiting a year is it comes with a ton of risks. Can the Bulls get a late seed without Rose? Can Rose return healthy? If the Bulls are in the hunt, would that press Rose to return too soon? Would Rose be close enough to 100 percent to really, REALLY challenge the Heat?
The one thing the Bulls should wait on is Rose. They can't press Rose to return too quickly, even if it sacrifices this season. But they can't afford to wait till next offseason to make any moves and assume everything will go right for them.
They signaled they would stay the course when they didn't amnesty Carlos Boozer this offseason. Even if they want to wait it out until Rose returns, they shouldn't shelve the Deng talks. They should strike while his value is high.