Luol Deng Trade Gives Chicago Bulls Time to Build Toward Derrick Rose's Return

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 5:  Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2013 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Chicago Bulls ended an era when they agreed to trade Luol Deng, 28, to the Cleveland Cavaliers early Tuesday morning, but they also made sure they'd be ready to start the next one just in time for Derrick Rose to return from injury next season.

Per an official release from the Cavs, the deal shakes out as follows:

The Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired All-Star forward Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for center Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks and the right to swap 2015 first round picks with the Cavs (1-14 protected), Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant announced tonight from Cleveland Clinic Courts.

The move is a bittersweet one for Chicago because Deng was so perfectly emblematic of the team's success in recent seasons. A gritty forward who gave everything he had, Deng logged ridiculous minute totals under head coach Tom Thibodeau over the past three years.

He was as blue collar as they come, an ideal symbol of Chicago's hard-nosed, defense-first approach.

The heavy burden never bothered Deng, probably because his early days in Chicago were marked by losing records and dark times.

Thibodeau leaned on him harder than anyone, routinely demanding that he guard the opponents' toughest matchup and almost never letting him rest. In fact, Thibs might struggle to adjust to life without his beloved small forward, per Bryan Gutierrez of Mavs Outsider:

Nov 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) talks with forward Luol Deng (9) center Joakim Noah (13) and guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeat
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Through it all, Deng was a dutiful soldier, a competitor who fought through sprains and spinal taps without complaint. There's no getting around it: After nine-plus solid years, he'll be missed in Chicago.

Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Bulls general manager Gar Forman wished Deng well in an official statement: 

We have great respect for Luol Deng as a player and a person. He has been an incredible contributor to our team on the court and he has also done great things in the community. On behalf of the entire Bulls organization, I want to thank Luol for his years in Chicago.

For what it's worth, the Bulls didn't let him go without first making a last-ditch effort to retain him, albeit with a modest contract offer, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Deng's departure will usher in a new age, though, with perfect timing to boot.

No, the Bulls aren't looking to do much winning this year; trading Deng was a clear signal of that fact. But Chicago will save on the balance of his $14.3 million salary this season while reaping the related benefits of its big trade in the future.

Chicago has officially waived Andrew Bynum after acquiring him in the trade.

Assuming a Carlos Boozer amnesty is also on the horizon after this season concludes, the Bulls will cut another $16.8 million off next year's cap figure. That'll not only help them avoid the dreaded repeater penalty for serial luxury tax offenders, but it could also free up enough money for them to pursue a high-caliber free agent on the open market.

And then there are the picks, which may have been the sweetener that ultimately pushed the deal to completion, per Johnson:

The Bulls are clearly now set on having a lottery pick of their own this year, which should bring in a valuable youth infusion from the loaded 2014 draft. They'll also have a protected first-rounder from the Kings sometime in the next four drafts, the Charlotte Bobcats' top-10-protected first-rounder this year, the right to swap selections with the Kings in 2015 and a couple of second-round picks down the line.

Remember, Chicago had just a 1.8 percent chance of nabbing the top overall selection in 2008 but managed to luck out in a big way. That stroke of good fortune netted Rose. With as many as three first-round chances in 2014, the Bulls are in perfect position to get lucky once more.

Ultimately, Chicago now has a boatload of assets and much more payroll flexibility, two things rebuilding teams need.

The timing of the trade is going to work out nicely as well. Chicago can now take a shot at a free agent this summer to pair with a recovered Rose, and the possibilities are practically endless.

Perhaps the Bulls will target up-and-coming restricted free agents like Evan Turner or Gordon Hayward. Maybe they'll set their sights a bit higher, aiming for guys like hometown kid Dwyane Wade, who could be available if the Miami Heat disband via the mass exercise of early-termination options among their Big Three.

Don't rule out Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Greg Monroe or even LeBron James. Every one of those players are massive long shots, but the Bulls have some cap space, a handful of picks and incoming rookies who could make a sign-and-trade proposition very enticing for any team.

That means max-salaried stars are very much in play.

Combine whatever addition the Bulls pluck from the market with Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, a lottery pick or two and a healthy D-Rose, and you've got a ready-made playoff team that will be much better prepared to do battle in the East than the one the Bulls fielded at the beginning of this season.

Rose is still the center of Chicago's universe, and with his knee expected to be fully healed by the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, Chicago is taking steps to put a few more stars in orbit around him.

Building for the future doesn't have to be a long-term endeavor. As the Bulls just proved by trading Deng, it can happen practically overnight.