With Jimmy Butler's emergence, do the Bulls still need Luol Deng?
While this is certainly reason for excitement, it is also a cause for questioning Luol Deng's future in the Windy City.
Should the Bulls put Deng on the trade block after witnessing Butler's emergence?
Butler and Deng are of the same mold, both active defenders with superb length as well as able offensive contributors. Butler, in time, should become as effective on offense as Deng. In fact, he could even become more potent than Deng due to his athleticism and steadily improving jump shot.
Butler's rise occurred on the fast track last season. During the early portions, he raised eyebrows with his suffocating defense, something that remained true throughout the 2012-13 campaign. He appears as if he'll be a defensive stalwart for many years.
Then, during the season's latter months, he discovered a newfound confidence offensively. Prior to this, his scoring opportunities primarily came near the rim, off of offensive rebounds and putbacks and dunks in transition. An occasional mid-range jumper or three-pointer was mixed in there.
Come March and April, he was knocking down jumpers, including threes, with regularity. His three-point percentages in these months: 41.9 percent in March and an astounding 56.0 percent in April. He continued to shoot over 40 percent from distance in the playoffs, and it appears that this added dimension to his game was no fluke.
Butler is incredibly valuable to the Bulls going forward. He is already a key piece to their future outlook, and he is only scratching the surface of his potential.
Deng, on the other hand, has certainly reached his potential and is likely nearing the back side of his prime. He is now 28 years old and has logged an immense amount of minutes throughout the past few ventures. There's a good chance that his body won't continue to hold up and that his efficiency will diminish.
More importantly, Deng is a free agent after the upcoming season. Due to the Bulls' cap situation, they may choose not to re-sign him. They may chase another free agent rather than Deng, especially because they already have a fitting replacement for Deng in Butler.
It's surely possible that Deng will return to the Bulls after 2013-14, but that is no guarantee. There are many factors at play here, and Chicago would thus be wise to at least dangle his name in trade talks. It would be completely senseless to keep him and then watch him walk away for nothing next summer (much like Chicago did with Omer Asik).
Even if the Bulls didn't possess Butler, they would still be smart to explore what's out there for Deng because he's a looming free agent. The fact that they have Butler waiting in the wings makes this maneuver all the more logical.
What amplifies this even further is that Butler is a better fit at small forward, Deng's natural position. Butler and Deng are capable of playing together (with Butler at 2-guard), but Butler's length (6'7'') and versatility make him an ideal small forward.
While Deng was injured when Chicago met the Miami Heat in the playoffs, Butler consistently matched up against LeBron James, typically a small forward. He limited James' efficiency, holding him to a subpar percentage (for LeBron) of 43.8 percent.
Butler thrives in this spot, which is really Deng's only position. Deng is too slender for the power forward slot and too slow for the shooting guard position. Therefore, Deng is becoming expendable in terms of the team's chemistry.
Furthermore, Deng's plus/minus for 2012-13 finished at minus-two, compared to Butler's plus-57, according to 82games.com.
Don't get me wrong, Deng is still a quality player. He has been an All-Star for two straight seasons, and for good reason.
However, there are multiple factors that magnify why the Bulls should look to trade him sooner rather than later. He's likely nearing the decline of his career, he's soon-to-be a free agent and he currently has value on the trade market.
Deng has accomplished much in his nine years in Chicago, but Butler's emergence signals that Deng's time should be running short. As likable as Deng is, he is no longer a needed piece to the championship puzzle.
In effect, Deng should be on the trade block.
The Bulls should thus entertain offers for Deng, while also actively pursuing trades that could net them a player of impact in return (perhaps a shooting guard who can create his own shot).
Butler has created this flexibility for Chicago. The Bulls should recognize this and discern proper trade proposals involving Deng in the coming days and weeks. If they don't, it could be a major opportunity wasted.