The Chicago Bulls are at a proverbial fork in the road with their current roster.
On the one hand, the core of their team is the team that won the most games in the NBA's regular season in each of the last two seasons.
On the other hand, they have seen both their postseasons end badly. Two years ago they lost to the Heat in heartbreaking fashion, and last year they effectively saw two seasons go down the drain when Derrick Rose tore his ACL.
We're concerned about the future here,—not the past. But those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it, as the adage goes.
The Bulls must consider certain changes to take the next step and build a championship roster around Rose, and one aspect they need to consider is trading Luol Deng.
Don't think for a moment that I don't appreciate the things Luol Deng brings to the table. In fact, before it became popular to defend Deng nearly two years ago, I was defending him.
Deng brings a lot of things to the table that don't show up in the box scores. He brings tremendous defense, leadership and "glue." He's always where he needs to be, he makes sure other people are where they need to be and he does countless little things that make him an invaluable asset.
Even though he has great value to the Bulls, it would be foolish for the Bulls to not even entertain what they could get in return for Deng.
Would he be worth a straight-up trade for Tyreke Evans? How about James Harden? Whether he is or not is a factor to consider only after determining if he could. There is a pretty broad spectrum on what Deng's trade value is.
The Bulls or their fans might think so, but maybe the other teams wouldn't. It's also possible they would, and it's impossible to know without inquiring.
On the one hand, Deng is an All-Star and a leader. On the other hand, he's not a No. 1 option as far as scoring. What his value is all depends on who is doing the buying.
Forgive the tautological nature of this argument, but the best way to find out Deng's value is to find out what his value is.
Say, for the sake of argument, that the Bulls weren't able to obtain James Harden for Luol Deng, or even Tyreke Evans. However, let's say that someone like Harrison Barnes were offered up in return for him. Would you consider that?
Of course on the surface, it would seem insane to trade a current All-Star in return for a player that has never played a game, and whose "best case" scenario according to DraftExpress is Luol Deng.
So what would be the sense in doing that? Well, it saves money. Lots of it. In fact, it could free up millions of dollars in cap space.
The Bulls could trade Deng for Barnes and Biedrins, then either waive Biedrins or just buy him out. Depending on how that worked out it would save the Bulls somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million in cap space next year.
If they waive him they'd still have $3 million a year coming of their salary over the next two seasons, if they buy him out it would only be this year. Either way though it would be roughly $7 million saved for this summer, and at least that in the coming seasons.
When you couple that with the $15 million that would come off from potentially amnestying Boozer and another $4 million from not exercising the team option on Hamilton that leaves them a $26 million reduction in salary.
That would leave the Bulls enough cap space to bring in a max contract player and retain Taj Gibson.
It's not just the player that the Bulls would bring back, but the potential for economic freedom that makes a Deng move worth considering.
The NBA trade market is much like the stock market; the idea is to buy low and sell high.
Luol Deng's value, in spite of his wrist injury, may be at an all-time high.
He's already an All-Star; whether he'll continue to make the All-Star game is another story. For right now, though, he is an All-Star and not a "former All-Star." That makes his value just that much higher.
And since the Bulls will be without Derrick Rose for the start of the season, we'll see a bit of an inflation of Deng's numbers over the first few months of the season.
At only $13 million, Deng's contract is relatively modest for an All-Star, and he's got another year left on it. He's gotten a ton of good press lately, as he stuck with his home country and led Great Britain during the Olympics. He is exactly the kind of player contenders love to have on their team, as he's committed to defense and willing to do what it takes to win.
At the age of 27, Deng's next two or three years will likely be the best of his career.
The Bulls might never get for Deng what they could get for him this year if they look to trade him.
While the Bulls did gut their team to a large degree two seasons ago, the core of the team they left intact was obtained through the draft.
Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were all drafted by the Chicago Bulls, and all are a major part of the reason for their success.
Getting worse has one benefit: It gives the Bulls a better draft pick. There are some who point out that the Bulls have little-to-no chance at a title this year.
There is little chance, but there is a little. By the trade deadline, the Bulls should have a good idea of how little or how much.
If Rose comes back and the Bulls are still in the hunt for a top-four seed in the East, it's worth throwing the dice and seeing how far they can go in the playoffs. If Rose is, as speculated, coming back in the first game after the All-Star break, then he should be hitting stride right around the time the Bulls hit the playoffs.
On the other hand, if they're looking at a seventh or eighth seed, it makes more sense to sell Deng and worry more about the future than the present.
For the future, lottery balls would help a lot more than an early playoff exit.
When you look at how the Miami Heat won their title, they did it by planning years out what they were going to do to get there.
Likewise, the Oklahoma City Thunder built their team by several successive years of smart drafting.
The fact of the matter is that teams don't win titles by a single season of moves. It's a lot like chess—you have to see things two or three years in advance.
That is what the Bulls front office is doing right now, and it makes more sense than some give them credit for. Not this year (or even next year), but in 2015-16, the Bulls could be primed to take over the NBA and go on a title run.
Derrick Rose will be hitting his prime about then and will be fully recovered from his ACL. The Bulls will still have Joakim Noah and presumably Taj Gibson under contract. Marquis Teague should be blossoming into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
On top of all that, they'll have whomever they get after amnestying Boozer. Sharp-shooting power forward Nikola Mirotic is looking better and better as a prospect. The Spanish website ABC.es argues Mirotic be the leader of Real Madrid this year, as he scored 31 and 24 points in his two preseason "friendlies."
The Charlotte pick, if not used by then, will be due. The Bulls also will have whatever picks are available between now and then.
Instead of a having an upside-down team with their leaders being young, the Bulls will be right-side up. Their leadership will be maturing, and their youth will be under contract and explosive. The Bulls will be primed to win a title.
Deng has tremendous value now, but it may be that the best value he has is as a trade asset. If the Bulls can't get fair value for him, they shouldn't trade him, but right now, it makes sense for them to at least see what they could get in return.