As the Chicago Bulls consider their offseason options, one thing that has to be considered is trading their most attractive asset, Luol Deng.
Deng is tradeable for three reasons. First, he is a two-time All-Star. Second his contract is expiring, and for teams who are looking to jockey for position in the 2013 free-agency market, expiring contracts have value. Third, he is a veteran leader who can be a contributor on any level, whether it’s a contending team or a rebuilding one.
Of course, Deng has that same value to the Bulls in all the same ways, so Chicago shouldn’t be desperate to trade him. It should just consider some different options. Here are some players who have been floated either by media or just by fans and commenters on various articles I’ve written, along with the pros and cons of dealing for each player.
Bear in mind that if they don’t trade him, the Bulls are very much contenders for the title next season as composed, so the trade would have to be for the long term, not the short term.
Rather than go into a bunch of barely believable or workable trade scenarios, I will focus on three realistic possibilities.
Before getting into players where we might be able to work out a deal, let’s first take a moment and review a group of players who won’t be on this list and why.
Iguodala would be a wonderful fit with the Chicago Bulls. He’s a tenacious perimeter defender who attacks the rim. However, a trade for him would require that he agree to exercise his player option, which it does not seem he will.
Even if he does, just to make the money work the Bulls would have to send both Deng and Jimmy Butler to acquire him, which is way too much to pay for a player who is a marginal upgrade at best
Barnes was rumored to be a player the Bulls might try and deal for before last season’s draft. Even if that is true, it’s not going to happen this year. Golden State likes what it has and isn’t going to part with him.
Besides, Golden State no longer has the cap room to make the deal, so the Bulls would have to take back Andris Biedrins, along with his $9 million contract, and they aren’t going to do that.
Anything Involving Sign-and-Trades
Rather than go through the various scenarios that involve sign-and-trades, let’s just address the rules regarding sign-and-trades and the “apron,” a demarcation at which certain restrictions kick in for some tax-paying teams.
The apron is set at $4 million above the tax level, which was $70.307 million last year, making the apron $74.307 million. If a sign-and-trade leaves a team above the apron, it cannot, by rule, do the sign-and-trade.
Next year’s tax levels haven’t been announced, but the Bulls are already on the hook for $73 million. There will be holds for veteran's minimum contracts and the rookie contract for their first-round pick, adding up to the tune of about $5 million.
All together that means the Bulls are going to be at about $78 million next year in salary. That means in order for the Bulls to work a sign-and-trade with Deng, they are going to have to give up $4 million more in salary than they get back. Any player making over $10 million wouldn’t be workable in a sign-and-trade deal.
That, in turn, means that the team receiving Deng must absorb that extra salary. That decreases the chances that the Bulls are going to be getting back equal trade value, which defeats the purpose of making the trade.
Chicago could give itself wiggle room by amnestying Carlos Boozer, but that becomes another player the Bulls have to replace. That means that the player or players the Bulls are getting back have to be worth Boozer and Deng.
In other words, sign-and-trades are hard to work here. They aren't impossible, but they aren't likely with one exception, who is the first of the three payers on this list.
The rules for trading a restricted free agent have some people confused. Some people believe you can’t work a sign-and-trade for a restricted free agent.
From Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ, we have this among the criteria for sign-and-trades, which helps explain the confusion: “The player cannot be a restricted free agent who has signed an offer sheet with another team.” And then: “A sign-and-trade deal can be made with a free agent who has been renounced, as long as all the above criteria are met.”
That specification implies that if the player has not signed an offer sheet with another team and is renounced, then the player can be moved in a sign-and-trade.
In other words, a team can renounce its rights to the free agent and then deal him in a sign-and-trade as long as he doesn’t sign an offer sheet.
Even if it has extended him a qualifying offer already, it can pull it up until July 23, and even later with the player’s consent.
This is all relevant when discussing the possibility of working a sign-and-trade for Tyreke Evans because we first need to validate that by rule, it can be done, and it can be.
Evans is probably going to sign in the neighborhood of a four-year, $40 million deal, which would be sufficient for the Bulls in a sign-and-trade.
Should it be done though?
Evans is a 6’6” combo guard/wing who has never seemed to quite find his role in Sacramento despite having won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009-10.
He has career averages of around 18 points, five rebounds and five assists. His overall production declined last year, but his per-36 numbers are about the same as they’ve been the last two seasons, and his PER of 18.1 was actually close to what it was in his rookie campaign when it was 18.2.
His problem is that in Sacramento, the Kings have too many guards, including Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Toney Douglas. They also have a weakness at small forward, to the point they tried Evans there for a time this year.
The deal actually would make a lot of sense from the Kings' perspective, as it would give them the kind of veteran leader they desperately need. The kind of impact a player like Deng would have on a player like DeMarcus Cousins can’t be measured in stats or dollars.
It would also give them a pure small forward and an elite defender who can still score. He’d have the size to compensate for the relatively diminutive Thomas and Thornton. Deng could fit in well with the Kings. Dealing from a position of strength to fill a weakness is what you want to do with a trade, and it’s something the Kings would do.
Would it work for the Bulls though?
In a lot of ways it would. Evans and Derrick Rose sharing a backcourt together would give them as much offensive firepower as any in the league. Part of the dynamic is that both are excellent passers and rebounders, meaning that either could play off of the other.
Since Evans came into the league, there are only seven other players who have averaged 17.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.8 rebounds (the lows for both Rose and Evans). That would be quite a partnership formed by the former Memphis Tigers.
It would not be without weaknesses though.
Most notably, the Bulls would have a backcourt deficient in three-point shooting. Rose is .310 from deep and Evans is just .276. However Rose is .326 in his last two years and Evans was a much improved .338 last season.
The Bulls were already 29th in three-pointers made in the league last season.
They are also likely to lose Nate Robinson, their best three-point shooter from last season, and Marco Belinelli, their second-best shooter from last year. Deng was third.
Losing their top three snipers isn’t good for a team already deficient in them, and neither Rose (unless all that shooting during rehab pays off) nor Evans is a likely replacement. It’s a hole that can be filled through other means, but it’s one worth noting.
Jimmy Butler could fill in at the small forward spot, and last year he did so capably, even against LeBron James during the postseason.
If they do this, the Bulls are missing something in terms of depth, and the question becomes where do they find the minutes to relieve Butler and Evans? They could bring Ronnie Brewer and/or Kyle Korver back.
Evans has also been defensively below-average, but he’s been on a below-average defensive team. He is big enough and athletic enough that he should take to Thibodeau’s system, though it will take a few months for him to figure things out.
Provided the Bulls can find another wing who can get reasonable minutes and a player who can knock down threes, Evans could be a workable solution.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Cleveland Cavaliers are shopping their No. 1 pick. Furthermore, it’s also rumored that they could have some interest in Luol Deng, according to Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago.
This is definitely on the list of things that make you go hmm, as the Cavaliers could simply absorb Deng’s contract in return for the No. 1 overall pick. To even out the deal, let’s throw in the Bulls' No. 20 pick as well.
That could make for a very interesting opportunity for the Bulls, as that would give them the chance to nab Ben McLemore in the draft, who is a crazy athletic player. He would be insane playing with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. The trio would have well over 10 feet in combined vertical leaping ability, so that’s really going to put some oop in your alley.
McLemore also has the kind of defensive instincts and abilities that Tom Thibodeau adores. He has quick feet, burrows over screens like a determined gopher and stays in front of his defenders. Again, the trio playing together would be a nightmare to try and get around.
Also intriguing, by jettisoning the salary to Cleveland, the Bulls would drop down to about the cap level. That would mean that they could amnesty Carlos Boozer if they wanted.
A little over $5 million would have to go to the new rookie, and there’d have to be some money set aside for veteran minimums, but there would be about $7 million freed up. If the Bulls didn’t feel that they could replace Boozer with that amount, they wouldn’t have to amnesty him.
Some might argue it’s not quite enough for the Cavs to take the deal. But value is a relative thing, and it’s only “not enough” if no one else is offering more than the Bulls are. If they are, the Bulls could up the ante with a future first-round pick, but you don’t start the bidding with your max offer.
However things worked out, this would definitely be a trade for the future more than for the present. It’s hard to see the team being better in the short term with this trade, but having Rose and McLemore for the future is the kind of pairing you win championships around.
The third option would be the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, which is somewhere between the most likely and least likely scenario, as well as the most lopsided or least lopsided, depending on who you talk to and what you think about Love’s value.
There are contradicting facts helping to confuse the issue. Kevin Love did voice displeasure about the Timberwolves this year. He also represented the T'Wolves at the NBA lottery. You can argue he’s either unhappy or happy with the franchise.
He’s under contract with Minnesota, but he only got the four-year deal, not the five-year deal that most players his caliber get. That means he’s available for unrestricted free agency one year earlier than he should be.
That means all the other drama that surrounded Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony is escalated one year. In the mold of Deron Williams or Chris Paul, Love could be dealt one year earlier to avoid the drama if it’s apparent to the Wolves that he has no interest in sticking around.
It doesn’t matter how much the 'Wolves love Love. If Love doesn’t love the 'Wolves, then love is lost between player and team, and Love is lost to the 'Wolves. And the best way to show Love love is to offer him a (Derrick) Rose, and the ‘Wolves don’t have one. The Bulls do. The ‘Wolves just have a Ricky Rubio.
Love and Rose are offseason workout partners. They have a strong friendship already built.
So the question comes up, what would the Bulls have to pay to get Love? Bill Simmons suggests offering either Deng or Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the Charlotte pick and the rights to Nikola Mirotic, which is ridiculously too much.
First, no team should have two players named Nikola in America. It’s just wrong. The ‘Wolves would have to be obligated to then go for Nikola Vucevic, and really, It’s just too much.
Second, Jimmy Butler is almost untouchable—not quite, but almost. The kind of perimeter defense he provides, along with better than 40 percent shooting from deep after the All-Star break, along with the ability to run the fast break with Derrick Rose like two cheetah’s frolicking in the jungle, is not easily replicable. No. You don’t trade Butler as a throw-in.
He’s not untouchable in the sense that say, Derrick Rose is untouchable, but when you consider the cost of his contract and the contributions on both ends of the court, as well as his defense on LeBron James during the playoff series, he’s one of the highest value players in the NBA.
Simmons' proposal is pretty much every future asset the Bulls have. Teams that have given up too much to get that second star have not fared well. The Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks haven’t succeeded by adding their stars.
That doesn’t mean the whole idea is shut down though—just that the price Simmons sets is too high.
If they make it the Charlotte pick, a future first-round pick and this year’s No. 20 pick, along with Luol Deng, then you have a pretty serviceable deal. If Love wants to leave, and if he is going to restrict the 'Wolves in what teams he’ll “agree” to (by saying whether he’ll re-sign), they might not have a lot of choices.
The idea of Rose and Love playing together is just incredibly enticing though. Not only are they both superstar talents, but they also dovetail so nicely together with those talents.
Rose drives to the rim with such speed and grace that it’s impossible to watch him play an entire game without hitting rewind. Love is the best stretch four in the game.
Love’s ability to step out and sink the three will draw defenders away from the rim and make it easier for Rose to get there. Rose’s ability to collapse defenses with his penetration, then find the open shooter for the three, will make it easier for Love to knock down his shots from deep.
That would leave the Bulls with the freedom to amnesty Carlos Boozer, who would be making too much money to be a backup power forward.
The Bulls would need to find a wing still, but with the pairing of Rose and Love, they would have a duo to build a championship around, and probably not just one.