Luol Deng fights for a loose ball, typical of the hustle plays he constantly makes for the Chicago Bulls. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com
Luol Deng has arguably been the most consistent player on the Chicago Bulls the past two seasons. He has earned two consecutive All-Star nods and is once again leading the NBA in minutes.
If the Bulls were smart, however, they would trade Deng after the season because his value will not be any higher going forward.
Deng, a nine-year NBA veteran, is just 27 years old, but his body is already beginning to break down. He decided to skip wrist surgery last summer and has been playing through multiple bumps and bruises, including a hamstring injury from earlier this season.
Chicago fans love Deng’s grittiness and his ability to play through injuries, but realistically, his production has dipped after the All-Star break. Deng is averaging 16.0 points per game and shoots 46.1 percent from the field for his career. In the last 10 games, however, he has only scored 13.3 points per game while firing 41.4 percent from the floor.
The emergence of second-year small forward Jimmy Butler makes Deng expendable. Butler is arguably the Bulls’ most explosive athlete and he is nearly as good a defender as Deng in one-on-one situations. Butler is still developing his offensive arsenal, but he has proved that he is capable of logging extended minutes as a starter in Deng’s absence.
In a six-game stretch earlier this season, the Bulls leaned heavily on Butler with Deng out. In those games, Butler shot 42.9 percent from the field and averaged 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest.
Another asset the Bulls possess is Nikola Mirotic. The 22-year-old Mirotic, who the Bulls selected with the No. 23 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, is a 6’10” forward with an array of offensive skills. He is widely regarded as the top player in Europe with the ability to shoot the ball accurately from beyond the arc.
Check out the full scouting report for Mirotic (via NBAdraft.net). The Bulls’ front office thinks very highly of the Spanish forward, and they have been adamant about holding onto this asset. Mirotic will likely see his first action in Chicago after the 2013-14 NBA season. His contract with Real Madrid lasts through 2015, however, and the buyout to obtain Mirotic will cost the Bulls $2.5 million.
Deng is under contract with Chicago through next season. The Bulls learned the hard way that sitting on their assets will backfire, which is what happened last summer with Omer Asik. Chicago developed the Turkish center into a strong player, but they received nothing in return when Asik signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Houston Rockets.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau has squeezed every ounce of effort out of Deng the past three seasons and it is only a matter of time before his production declines for good. Before that happens, though, the Bulls must capitalize on Deng’s current value by dealing him at the end of the season.
Perhaps the Bulls could swing a deal that lands a young, up-and-coming scorer at the shooting guard position. Another possibility would be to deal Deng in a three-team trade that sends multiple lottery picks from a subpar team to Chicago.
Critics have knocked the Bulls front office for not providing another superstar to play alongside Derrick Rose. Deng is not the solution. He cannot create his own shot nor does he consistently create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Bulls will likely amnesty Carlos Boozer’s contract after next season to free up space for a strong free-agent class in the summer of 2014. That means Chicago will move forward with Rose at point guard, Taj Gibson at power forward and Joakim Noah at center.
If the Bulls deal Deng, the combination of Butler and Mirotic will handle the small forward spot. That leaves the possibility of finding a second star at shooting guard. If the Bulls deal Deng for draft picks, they will have an opportunity to find that player in the lottery, or the team could decide to pursue a top free agent with the money freed up from Deng’s and Boozer’s large contracts coming off the books.
One interesting name in the 2014 free agent class is Kobe Bryant. Would the Black Mamba consider the possibility of teaming up with Rose to close out his career with a shot at one or two more titles?
Chicago fans can only dream…