Despite failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season, the Bulls remain optimistic they will re-sign Deng next summer.
Having spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, Deng has consistently said he wants to stay with the Bulls, though the sides were far apart on contract talks before they were tabled.
Considering that position—which at least sounds pretty firm—it's interesting to note that there's an understanding around the league of what it might take to land the soon-to-be free agent in a trade.
According to Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago:
Luol Deng is a wanted man.
No, certainly not by law enforcement and not even so much on the NBA's trade market, as many teams are hesitant to take him on as a half-season rental, especially if the Bulls' price is a productive young player and a first-round draft pick, as people in the know around the league continue to say.
Those two sentiments—one claiming Chicago won't deal Deng and another outlining the price it'll take to acquire him—might seem a little contradictory. But really, they're not all that surprising.
The Bulls are probably being truthful when they say they plan to keep him around this season. Deng has meant a ton to the franchise, has always worked as hard as possible and has been nothing but professional throughout his decade-long career.
But everything has its price.
The question is: Are the Bulls asking a fair one for Deng?
What's He Worth?
Deng is currently making $14.3 million in the final season of a six-year, $71 million contract. Those are big dollars for a guy who's been to just two All-Star games, but Deng has probably been worth what the Bulls have invested in him over the years.
A versatile defender since joining the club in 2004 and a key part of the Bulls' excellent defensive run since Tom Thibodeau took over, Deng has been emblematic of Chicago's gritty blue-collar mentality. He has also shot the ball just well enough (46 percent for his career) to rate as a darn good offensive player.
Defensively, Deng's prowess needs little explanation. He'll never be outworked and has the length and smarts to affect the game as an excellent stopper.
More than that, Deng has basically played his heart out during every second he's spent on the floor. And there have been a lot of seconds.
He led the league in minutes per game in each of the past two seasons and has averaged more than 27 minutes per contest six different times in his career. If another team swung a deal to acquire him, it'd be getting a guy who has proved he can stand up to an otherworldly work load.
Of course, all of those minutes also cut against his value now. At 28, Deng has an awful lot of tough miles on his tires. And by any reasonable aging curve, he's almost certainly past his prime. His nagging Achilles injury doesn't bode well, either.
Then again, he's averaging a career-high 19.6 points and 4.1 assists this season. So, what do I know?
At present, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls value Deng at around $7-8 million per year, a figure he balked at during preseason negotiations. That's apparently what he's worth to Chicago. His value to potential suitors is more complicated.
The Risk and Reward
The fact that no suitor has made an acceptable offer (that we know of) to the Bulls is probably tied to the fact that Deng is going to enter unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2013-14 season. Basically, he might wind up being no more than a half-year rental.
All things being equal, it might not be too tough for a team to part with a first-round pick and another asset to get Deng. But with no assurance that he'll stick around beyond this season, it makes sense for potential buyers to be hesitant.
Plus, it's hard for other teams to know whether his salary demands in the upcoming negotiations (reportedly $12-13 million per year, according to Cowley) will effectively make it impossible for them to keep him around at a reasonable price.
In theory, teams that should be interested in Deng are the ones looking to win right now and that could use a little effort and defense at the wing position.
So, in practice, teams of just about every ilk are open to the idea of adding Deng.
That's no surprise, especially considering how valuable his teammates consider him to be. According to Taj Gibson (via Cowley), any squad would be crazy not to want the veteran small forward around:
(Deng's) a winner. There are a lot of guys that are superstars that aren't winners. That's the first thing that stands out with him: winner. He's a star, a superstar in my book, on my team.
There are a lot of guys in this league that have that star title but don't understand a damn thing about winning and being a team player.
Right now, there are obviously a ton of teams that agree with Gibson's assessment. But 2014 first-round picks are as valuable as assets get in today's NBA, which means suitors are going to have to get downright desperate before they offer any of them up to the Bulls for what might only amount to short-term help.
Playing It Smart
The Bulls have seen Deng's immense on-court value, and they have good reason to believe he's worth what they're asking. Besides, they might as well shoot for the moon in their demands. If no acceptable deal emerges, Chicago can still negotiate with Deng at the end of the year.
And if he walks away, at least the Bulls will have a little cap relief.
Realistically, the Bulls might be asking too much for Deng, but only if they're seriously dedicated to moving him. Since they're completely prepared to let him walk away, it's probably wise to demand an excessive return and hope some team eventually bites.
The Bulls have the leverage here, and they're using it wisely.