Luol Deng has been perhaps the best wing player to play for the Chicago Bulls since the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
He was the face of the Bulls for the period of time that spanned the post-M.J. days up until the emergence of Derrick Rose.
He has meant a ton to the Bulls and their fanbase.
But should the Chicago Bulls keep Luol Deng in town long-term?
The case for keeping Deng
The NBA has clearly evolved over the past several seasons. It went from a big-man league that featured true centers who clogged up the lane to a league of athletic wing players who could slash at will and has now obviously moved outside as point guards rule the world.
The simple truth of it is that wing players who have value on both sides of the ball are becoming more and more of a rarity.
When you look around the league, there are still examples of players who excel both offensively and defensively at the wing positions. Nic Batum, Andre Iguodala, Paul George and obviously LeBron James are some of the biggest examples of these double-threat players.
And few other players have been as good as long as Luol Deng.
Deng, since coming to Chicago before the 2004-05 season, has been a standard of consistency and excellence.
Deng is a long, somewhat athletic player who can score in a variety of ways but is at his best on the perimeter.
Due to his length, he can shoot over just about anybody, and while he isn't as much of a slasher now as he was in years past, he can still create his own shot.
He is a smart player who doesn't turn the ball over a ton despite having the ball in his hands fairly often.
Deng is an excellent rebounder for his position, routinely averaging better than six per game despite playing on the perimeter.
He has long arms that help him create a buffer in front of him and frustrates quicker and smaller players.
Overall, there are few players in the league who offer their team a better combination of defensive prowess and offensive efficiency that Deng does.
He also offers a lot in terms of intangibles. When Deng went down last year in the playoffs, the heart and soul of this Bulls team left as well. He is a quiet leader who leads by example.
It is just too difficult to measure all that Deng means to this Bulls team through numbers alone.
The case for letting Deng walk
All of those things are true, but so too is another simple fact, and that is that Deng is getting older.
Sure, he has yet to hit his 29th birthday, which would suggest that he still has plenty of life left in his game.
Wing players who don't rely exclusively on athleticism tend to age fairly well.
But Deng entered the league as a teenager and has already logged nine NBA seasons.
Given the amount of minutes he plays per game (between 38-40 each of the last four seasons) and the grind that he is under, you could easily make the case that Deng is older than his years.
Statistically, Deng's numbers aren't trending in the right direction.
Sure, we can point to the fact that due to Rose's absence, Deng's job offensively became much more difficult. But that can only explain away so much.
Deng's 42.6 shooting percentage from the field was the second-lowest of his career. His worst mark was two years ago (41.2) when he had Rose's help.
Deng's three-point shooting percentage has gone down in three of the last four seasons, hitting a six-year low of 32.2 percent this past season.
Scoring-wise he continues to be consistent, but his PER is largely trending down.
Deng also struggles to stay on the court. He has played in 75 games or more in only four of his nine seasons as a pro.
Overall, Deng is still technically in his prime, but he is quickly reaching the end of that phase of his career.
At what cost?
So this begs the question of how much is Deng worth and at what cost should the Bulls pursue him?
It is obvious that Deng provides plenty of value to the Bulls. He is a smart player who is one of only a handful of players still around who play exceptional ball on both sides of the court.
That being said, Deng is coming off a contract that paid him upwards of $14 million per season, and there is no way the Bulls should be seriously entertaining paying him anywhere close to that amount in his next contract.
Next year's free-agent crop should be a good one with big-name players likely planning on opting out of their current deals.
Deng won't be a first-tier free agent, but he will be a good one. And given that he will still only be 29 when he becomes a free agent next summer, he should have plenty of suitors.
Andre Iguodala, who was a free agent this summer, is perhaps the best basis for comparison for Deng.
Iguodala was the same age that Deng will be and possesses a similar set of skills.
Iggy was able to land a four-year deal that pays him between $11-to-$13 million per season.
However, this was a weak free-agent class, and it seems highly unlikely that Deng will command such a stiff figure.
It seems a lot more likely that Deng will get closer to $10 million per season provided his numbers stay about the same this year.
With already $60 million committed in salary, the Bulls will have to make a tough decision on Deng.
That being said, a three-year deal would be ideal, as it would still take advantage of Deng's last remaining years in his prime and give the Bulls the option of seeing how well he ages.
But they should definitely keep that figure at $10 million per season or lower.
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