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Pros and Cons of Potential Luol Deng Trade for Chicago Bulls

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

Pros and Cons of Potential Luol Deng Trade for Chicago Bulls

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    With Derrick Rose's latest season-ending knee injury dashing the Chicago Bulls' championship hopes, the franchise has options with how it chooses to proceed.

    Deciding the fate of free-agent-to-be Luol Deng should be Chicago's first priority.

    The 10-year veteran seems to have spent the majority of his career on the rumor mill. He's a hard-nosed, two-way contributor with far more talent than a typical hustler.

    Whether he's the superstar running mate that Rose needs to push Chicago over the top remains a question mark. So Deng remains trapped in this cycle of rumors, a little too good to trade but not quite good enough to earn untouchable status.

    Sources told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst that the team has no plans to trade Deng, but that won't keep the offers from flying across general manager Gar Forman's desk.

    Between Deng's uncertain future and that of the franchise as a whole, the temptation to tear apart this core is hard to ignore. But given this team's ceiling and past successes, cutting ties with a pivotal piece like Deng won't be easy.

    So what should the Bulls do? Well, there are compelling cases to be made for both keeping him around and shipping him out.

Pro: Eliminates Risk of Him Leaving for Nothing

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    The Bulls aren't the only ones with a say in Deng's future. After failing to reach a contract extension before the start of this season, each day brings him one step closer to unrestricted free agency.

    While he hasn't hidden his desire to stay in the Windy City, he understands that he has to keep his options open.

    "Luol has taken the position that he will definitely go through the free-agent process," his agent Herb Rudoy said, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

    Someone is going to pay Deng next summer, perhaps at a higher rate than Chicago is willing to go. His unrestricted status denies the Bulls the opportunity to let the market set his rate. Once he puts his signature on a contract, then his future is settled.

    That's a major risk, even if his first choice is to stick around. The NBA is a business first, and there will surely be an economic side to his decision.

    If someone throws a "Godfather" offer in front of him, he'll walk. Chicago's reward for his exit? Nothing.

    Trading him now takes that risk out of the equation. The Bulls can bring back assets: proven talent, high-upside prospects, future draft picks or any combination of the three.

    As much as Bulls fans might like Deng, he might choose to leave on his own. Acting now gives the franchise pieces to work with moving forward.

Con: Derrick Rose Doesn't Want to See Him Go

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    OK, so maybe Derrick Rose hasn't said that directly. In fact, he hasn't personally said anything of the sort.

    But a source close to the former MVP said he wants the Bulls to hold onto all of their veteran pieces.

    "Derrick is worried that the Bulls are going to lose what they have,” a league source told Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News. “He doesn’t want to go through rebuilding."

    It isn't hard to read between these lines. Deng, along with perennial amnesty candidate Carlos Boozer, is one of Chicago's veterans who can't escape the chopping block.

    Sure, you could argue that Rose shouldn't have this type of command over roster decisions. But we all know how the NBA works. Superstars drive TV ratings, fuel merchandise sales and, yes, shape the way rosters are formed.

    Besides, do the Bulls really want to risk alienating the franchise's brightest star this side of Michael Jordan? Even if Rose isn't inside the room when decisions are made, he's made his preference known. Should the Bulls cut bait with Deng, how long would it take for someone to seek Rose's comment on the move? How bad could that interview look for the franchise?

    That's a public relations nightmare the Bulls should want absolutely no part of.

Pro: Chicago Could Address a Position of Need

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    You could argue that Deng's talent is a little redundant on this roster and argue it quite well.

    Deng's an elite perimeter stopper. He's the one drawing Chicago's toughest defensive assignment, and he's still holding opposing 3s to a paltry 12.3 player efficiency rating, via 82games.com.

    Not a lot of teams have players like that. The Bulls happen to have three of them.

    Then-sophomore Jimmy Butler dazzled with his defense on LeBron James in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals. And that was hardly a mirage. This season he's holding opposing shooting guards to a minuscule 6.4 PER, via 82games.com.

    Butler's offensive game isn't on Deng's level yet, but you can see the resemblance. He can stretch the defense (career 35.9 three-point percentage), attack the basket and moves well without the ball.

    Rookie Tony Snell's a work in progress, but he's already fitting coach Tom Thibodeau's mold as an athletic, defensive-minded player. Mike Dunleavy's defense doesn't belong in this discussion, but his value as a floor spacer (38.8 three-point percentage) adds another element to this offensive attack.

    The Bulls have other holes that need filling. Maybe Deng nets them a low-post scorer, someone capable of breaking down defenders off the dribble or even just a reliable backup for Rose. It's becoming apparent that Chicago might want to keep one of those on hand.

Con: He's Built for This System

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    If you think Rose would be upset by Deng's exit, just imagine how Thibs would feel.

    The coach wouldn't publicly mourn his loss. No matter what the basketball gods throw his way, he always feels he has enough to compete.

    But you don't have to dive deep into the stat sheet to realize what Thibodeau thinks of Deng as a player. Since the coach came over from the Boston Celtics in 2010, Deng has never seen less than 38.4 minutes of action a night.

    Deng prides himself on his defense, a staple for any success story under Thibodeau's watch. Deng's a relentless competitor with a motor that doesn't quit. If the coach had a chance to create his ideal player, he might pass on the opportunity—that or just clone another Deng.

    "You need rebounding, he’ll give you rebounding,’’ Thibodeau said of Deng, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “If he’s not shooting well, he gives you great defense. No matter how the game is going, he’s always going to be there late for you...He has great impact on winning."

    Tell us how you really feel, coach.

    Maybe Butler can become that type of player. Maybe Snell finds that versatility.

    Maybe the Bulls don't need to put their championship hopes on maybes. Not when Deng has that two-way talent already. 

    A talent that Thibodeau clearly recognizes and appreciates.

Pro: Staying Ahead of the Curve

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    As badly as we want to put the Bulls in championship conversations, there are leaps of faith that need to be made first.

    There just isn't statistical proof to back that theory.

    Sure, the Bulls have enjoyed some massive regular-season success since Rose first cracked the NBA ranks in 2008. Twice in the past three seasons, Chicago has held sole possession or shared ownership of the league's best regular-season record.

    But postseason triumphs haven't come nearly as easily. The Bulls have made playoff trips in each of the past five seasons, but three never made it past the opening round. The other two were cancelled by the Miami Heat, first in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and later during last season's conference semis.

    Injuries have played a part in these playoff exits, but at some point hoping for a clean bill of health is no longer a viable way to run a franchise. Not when the roster has been aging throughout the process.

    This isn't an up-and-coming core. Carlos Boozer is 32. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are both 28. All three players are staring at another wasted season with Rose on the shelf.

    Would keeping this core together guarantee Chicago a shot at the 2014 championship? Would the Bulls even be ensured of a top-two standing in the East?

    Moving Deng might seem like closing Chicago's championship window for the present, but there's an uncomfortably realistic chance that it's already sealed shut.

Con: Hard to Find Equal Value

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Forget about sentimental attachments, free-agency risks or even Deng's status with the franchise for a moment.

    At the end of the day, this decision largely hinges on what the Bulls can find in return. And judging by what's floating through the blogosphere, it won't be enough to make this worth Chicago's time.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't going to give the Bulls disgruntled, but talented shooting guard Dion Waiters and future first-round draft picks, via Bleacher Report's own Jared Zwerling. Would Waiters (plus filler) alone really warrant moving on from a player who fits so well with this system?

    B/R's DJ Foster came up with two potential packages that the Bulls could receive. One is a three-player collection from the Cavs, headlined by struggling No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a 2014 second-round pick. The other has Deng and Kirk Hinrich heading to the New Orleans Pelicans for Eric Gordon and Brian Roberts.

    Is anyone excited yet? I didn't think so.

    Bennett is 20 games into his NBA career and already fighting the dreaded "bust" label (2.2 points on .277/.174/.375 shooting). Gordon can create offense off the dribble, but just writing about the idea of him and Rose in the same backcourt makes me cringe. Both have missed at least 27 games in each of the past two seasons.

    Where is the trade offer that nets Chicago the superstar partner that Rose needs? Heck, where is the one that even brings back a talent upgrade over Deng?

    It's not out there. And it's not going to be.

    Trading Deng sounds good in theory, and there are real reasons to consider it. But the idea is best left in the hypothetical. The reality is that this isn't worth Chicago's time.

     

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