Before Derrick Rose arrived for the Chicago Bulls in the 2008-09 season, it was safe to say they lacked an identity in the post-Jordan era.
The Bulls made the playoffs only three times in the 10 seasons between Jordan's departure and Rose's arrival. The first of those postseason trips was the 2004-05 season after the Bulls had drafted Luol Deng in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Deng is the only player that remains from the team that brought the Bulls back to the playoffs after a six-year drought. While the Bulls should be thankful that he was the consistent glue that held the team together for so long, it's time they part ways.
Luol Deng will be in the final year of his six-year/$71 million contract extension this upcoming season, which already makes him a trading asset. Teams are always looking for expiring contracts to free up salary for the following offseason.
It also helps that Deng has actual talent. Over the past four seasons, Deng has averaged 16.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG and appeared in two all-star games. He has been one of the league's premier defenders on one of the best defensive teams since the arrival of head coach Tom Thibodeau. Jimmy Butler's emergence this past season has made Deng even more expendable.
His stock will never be as high as it is right now.
That's why, when it was reported that Deng and his agent had been discussing an extension with the Bulls, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, I was shocked. Unless this will be a sign-and-trade, then it should be considered a mistake. Deng's agent, Herb Rudoy, denied such discussions took place as confirmed by ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
These reports came only a day after ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Bulls were in exploratory talks with the Wizards about a Deng-No. 3 overall pick swap.
The Bulls need to resume going this exploratory route. They should talk with teams with high picks in the draft to try and move Deng's deal now rather than let him walk in the summer of 2014 for nothing. (And they should let him walk if it comes to that. He will be 29 years old with a ton of minutes played on his resume.)
The Cavaliers, Wizards, Pistons, and Suns are a few teams in the lottery that could use Deng's services. Whether a deal is imminent remains to be seen, but the Bulls' front office should not put down the phone for the next few days.
Even after the draft, the Bulls should be making calls all throughout the summer to give this team a jolt of energy, which sounds kind of ridiculous considering they made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 and won a playoff series this past postseason sans Derrick Rose.
Deng is the perfect trade asset: He's a talented player in his prime who plays both sides of the ball in the expiring year of his contract. To get a lottery pick would be particularly special since they would, presumably, be able to pick from a slew of wing players to pair with Derrick Rose, including Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, and Otto Porter Jr.
The Bulls have to make a splash. Whether or not it's on draft night is something we'll find out Thursday.