What's Next for Chicago Bulls After Luol Deng Trade?

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What's Next for Chicago Bulls After Luol Deng Trade?
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the moment Derrick Rose was dreading.

The Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Bynum, a handful of draft picks and the promise of financial savings, launching them into full-on rebuilding mode.

Chicago's official Twitter feed broke the news:

Three draft selections will be sent Chicago's way. The Bulls also have the right to swap 2015 first-round picks with Cleveland depending on placement, according to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson:

The Bulls acquired the right to the Sacramento Kings’ first-round pick, which is top-12 protected in 2014, top-10 protected from 2015-17 and then becomes a second-round pick if not used by then, and two second-round picks the Cavaliers had acquired from the Trail Blazers in 2015 and 2016.

Also, the Bulls have the right to swap their own 2015 first-round pick with the Cavaliers only in the case the Cleveland pick is between 15 and 30.

This is exactly what the injured Rose wanted Chicago to avoid: Rebuilding. He didn't want the team to disband, to start over.

To change.

But his latest knee injury forced the Bulls to decide between another lost season, where they stand pat and simply hope things turn around, or a new direction entirely, one paved in immediate struggle and future tensity.

 

What Happens Now?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Losing. Tons of it.

Trading Deng wasn't about receiving adequate value in return, because the Bulls didn't.

Although Deng is a threat to leave Cleveland during free agency, he's a two-time All-Star who led the NBA in minutes per game each of the last two seasons. There was value to be had in any deal.

But the Bulls chose this trade, which may not even culminate in a first-rounder if Sactown remains awful through 2017. Leading scorers, staunch defenders and stars aren't flipped for that kind of underwhelming return—unless "underwhelming" is what Chicago was interested in.

Look at Bynum as an intangible asset. He's earning $12.3 million this season to Deng's $14.3 million, but the final $6.3 million of his deal is not guaranteed.

Waiving him saves Chicago $8.3 million in salary commitments, allowing it to sneak under the punitive luxury-tax threshold ($71.7 million), preventing owner Jerry Reinsdorf from spending stacks of cash on a season lost to another Rose-related injury.

Playing in a woeful Eastern Conference also demanded the Bulls do something drastic. They weren't going to win a championship this season anyway. Not without Rose. Moving Deng for essentially no one makes them worse, no small feat in the regrettable East.

Put it this way: If the playoffs started now, the Bulls, who are 14-18, would gain entry as the sixth seed. And what's to be gained there? A first- or second-round exit? Again? No thanks.

Chicago has succeeded in increasing the value of its first-round draft pick this summer, when slews of franchise cornerstones will be ripe for the picking. There's almost no way the Bulls make the playoffs without Deng, ensuring they'll receive a lottery selection.

Hoping for something better than a top-12 or 14 pick will drive them to do even more, though. Something along the lines of another cost-cutting, win-deterring trade.

 

What Happens Next?

Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

More. Lots more.

Before Deng's departure, the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence revealed that the Bulls planned to trade their two-time All-Star and amnesty Carlos Boozer this summer. Part I of this master scheme is complete; Part II could follow suit later on.

Or the Bulls could improvise.

Amnestying Boozer isn't a sure thing. It seems like a no-brainer, but the Bulls, while relevant, have always been frugal. Paying Boozer $16.8 million to simply leave won't sit well with Reinsdorf.

But the Bulls must do something. Jimmy Butler will soon be eligible for an extension, and Nikola Mirotic will hopefully be stateside before world's end, costing Chicago more money.

Even without Deng's potential contract factored in, the Bulls had $64.9 million committed to next season's ledger. That figure hasn't changed; only Deng's possible return has. 

Removing Boozer's salary brings their bottom line to roughly $48.1 million, approximately $14 million under the projected salary cap, and $27.6 million below the predicted luxury-tax threshold. But there are other ways the Bulls can create room.

Shopping Boozer is a good place to start. Flipping him for an expiring contract would be ideal. Interested teams know the Bulls can amnesty him this summer, making a trade unlikely, but Boozer still has value as a scorer and rebounder who, when given playing time, remains a double-double threat.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Abandoning the Taj Gibson experiment is another possibility. Gibson has long been valued for his defense, but his defensive rating (100) is actually higher than Boozer's (98) this season. His minutes have also been limited as a reserve and, in the past, due to injury.

Chicago owes Gibson $33 million through 2016-17. Trading him for an expiring contract brings their salary commitments to $57.9 million while hopefully gleaning a draft pick or prospect of some sort in return.

Forced to choose between Boozer and Gibson, many would select the latter. But if the Bulls wish to get worse now, Gibson is the easier one to move. And with him out of the picture, Chicago will have under $40 million in salary commitments entering summer 2015—not including Butler's inevitable extension—when stars like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge become available.

Whatever happens, whatever you believe, understand the Bulls aren't done. Deng's departure shows they're committed to tanking and future flexibility, but it doesn't bring them full circle.

This is just the beginning.

 

What's After That?

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

A new dawn. A new core.

Finding Rose the sidekick he needs.

Phenomenal as Deng is, he alone wasn't enough. While a star, he's not someone capable of headlining a contender. He's not a superstar, which is what Chicago needs.

The days of relying on Rose are over. Done with. Gone. The Bulls cannot depend on him to carry a contender. Not when he's one breeze away from another season-ending injury. They need someone else.

Sacrificing now for later will help them get that someone, or at least put them in position to. Deng's departure was Step 1; tanking further, through another trade, is Step 2; finding that second superstar, the 1A to Rose's 1B, is Step 3.

How will they get him? The draft is a possibility, depending how far they fall, but so is free agency. 

Chicago is one amnesty or trade away from creating cap space this summer. Provided the Bulls move Gibson by 2015, they're within two years of luring another max superstar to Chicago, the more likely course of action.

Which aspect of rebuilding will Chicago be more invested in?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Once you move past LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, this summer's free-agency class is wildly overrated. After them, Deng may be the biggest name available, just to give you an idea. 

"The moves made today will put us in a better position to make the entire roster stronger for the future and to compete for a championship," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said in a team statement.

Instead of attempting to part ways with Gibson and Boozer, or whomever else, by this summer and chase those who cannot be caught, the Bulls will likely enter a phase that demands patience. That isn't about winning this season or next season. 

That looks ahead to 2015, where Chicago's future, its real future, awaits.

 


*All stats used courtesy Basketball-Reference, and salary information obtained via ShamSports unless otherwise noted.

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