The trade of Luol Deng—one of the longest-tenured Chicago Bulls of all time—has evoked plenty of emotional reaction in Chicago. Amongst the fervor is a familiar refrain to Chicago fans: Jerry Reinsdorf is cheap.
The move put the team under the threshold for paying the luxury tax this season. It's an advantage many are lauding as the team is now looking down the barrel of another season without Derrick Rose, and chances for an NBA championship look to be non-existent.
Was moving Deng necessary, and the best move for the team?
Yes, and yes. The 28-year-old has seen an obscene number of minutes already in his career, his body is becoming less reliable and the three-year, $30 million extension Chicago’s front office reportedly offered him (and that he reportedly turned down), per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, was about exactly what he's worth.
The team couldn’t afford to lose Deng for nothing, and a handful of middling draft picks in a league that’s overvaluing the draft certainly isn’t nothing—it’s asset collection, to be used for leverage on the market.
But let’s not celebrate Reinsdorf’s savings. Getting under the luxury tax is not an accomplishment that any Bulls fan with perspective should be high-fiving over.
That Reinsdorf is likely smiling over his dip under the tax line should be our salty reminder of this ceaseless profit-hoarder’s many short-sighted tightenings of the purse strings that have already cost his team mightily in the long run.
Consider the lack of urban development outside of the United Center. Reinsdorf has regularly made the stadium’s perimeter be this blank, vacuous way—as he has on the South Side with U.S. Cellular Field—because he is afraid of any adjacent businesses taking away from his earnings.
Such an outlook, and the gray emptiness outside the stadium, is perhaps the best metaphor we have for the flawed economics at foot in Reinsdorf’s doings.
Yes, he’s wildly lucrative, but he’s also made Chicago a less desirable free-agent destination by not allowing the lush, overwhelming culture of his city anywhere near his team’s facilities. When Kevin Garnett waived his no-trade clause to go to Brooklyn, he cited the impressive Barclays Arena as one of his primary reasons—these things matter to players.
But Reinsdorf doesn't care, because he knows he's already got a brand that guarantees huge profits for as long as he'll be alive.
Winning isn't his concern.
He bought the team as investment, has made more than his money back and has already handed off almost all of his real Bulls responsibilities to his son Michael. In terms of glory, he's always made it clear that he cares much more about the fortunes of his Chicago White Sox.
Would Reinsdorf be willing to go deep into the luxury tax in the event that a championship is indeed on the line?
True, the team was in the penalty before trading Deng, but only barely—and refused to go any further into it, only adding Mike Dunleavy on a discount rate this past summer. But we can’t really know the answer to this question now, because Rose’s injury has bought Reinsdorf the allowance to save yet again.
But Bulls fans have more than enough reason to fret over the team’s greedy principles effecting its on-court product further, as soon as next season.
The signal the Deng trade potentially sends to the core of its cultural fabric in Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is dangerous. Noah recently referred to Deng as "my brother," and Rose and Thibodeau have also both spoken incredibly fondly of the Sudan native over the years. They all note the team's willingness to part with their family member as alarming.
Also scary for fans is the impending signing eligibility of the longtime apple of the team’s eye, Nikola Mirotic, looks like it might demand some extra salary muscle, as he’s the best professional player in Europe, and a bidding war for his playing rights seems to be looming.
Mirotic is a figure who has already reached legendary heights for Bulls fans looking down the line, and his eventual arrival in Chicago has long been a silver lining through all of the heartbreak and chaos of the past two seasons.
If the team isn’t willing to shell out for him this summer, Chicagoans should get their pitchforks ready.
Even more so if Noah, Rose or Thibodeau turn that "the NBA is a business" rhetoric around on their team, and go somewhere where they're treated more royally.
The sooner the Bulls go into the luxury tax for Mirotic or any other game-changing star, and the sooner they start eating bigger payloads in the name of title-chasing, the better. The team boasts one of the largest fanbases in all of sports, and it's got an immense amount of history and prestige on its side.
So act like it, and stop ordering value meals.