According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, this does appear to be a possibility.
When John Paxson first took over as Bulls general manager in 2003, he mentioned an early piece of advice he received from a more experienced colleague: “Never trade an established player for a nonestablished player.”
Paxson has given way to Gar Forman, but surely that advice has been passed along in the Berto Center board room.
So why would the Bulls even think about trying to trade Luol Deng for a high draft pick?
That does appear to be one of the strategies under consideration right now, league sources confirmed.
The Bulls are at $63,394,363 (7 players) in guaranteed salary next year. This doesn’t include team options on Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, or Omer Asik (restricted free agent).
Picking up these contract options and matching an offer sheet for Omer Asik makes it impossible for the Bulls to stay out of the luxury tax. Jerry Reinsdorf has never paid the tax and will not pay it this year. The options are either dismantling the bench mob or moving one of the high priced players.
Next season, Deng, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah will make roughly $56 million combined. If those four could lead the Bulls to the NBA Finals, there would be no problems. Even forgetting about how injuries might spoil next season, the team’s greatest strengths the past two years were Rose and depth.
The Bulls will have to ditch the depth unless they can move one of the high-salaried players. Rose is going nowhere, obviously, and there’s virtually no interest around the league in Boozer. Of the other two players, Noah is arguably tougher to replace as a mobile 7-footer who can anchor the defense.
This trade would mainly be about saving money and maintaining flexibility for the future (two of the front office’s favorite things). Moving Deng would free up space to resign all of the depth this year and add a young wing player with upside to grow along with Rose.
Now all the Bulls need is a trading partner.
Golden State, with No. 7 selection, could use a player with Deng’s winning history. The problem is, the Warriors already have four high-priced players in Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, with an extension for Stephen Curry coming in a year or two.
Toronto, picking No. 8, might be interested. The Raptors have cap room, but they haven’t been able to lure many free agents to Canada in the past, so trading for Deng could make sense. In 2004, the year Deng was in the draft, Dallas got the No. 5 pick in exchange for Antawn Jamison. It doesn’t seem likely the Bulls could get a pick that high this summer.
There is no shortage of teams to engage — Sacramento at No. 5, New Orleans at 10, Milwaukee at 12, Portland with sixth and 11th picks. Besides Barnes, the Bulls could target a shooting guard such as Duke’s Austin Rivers, Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb or Syracuse’s Dion Waiters.
This seems to be a real possibility. The Bulls working out Harrison Barnes a couple weeks ago is starting to make a little more sense now, isn’t it?
The whole point is creating flexibility to make more moves in the near future, without paying the luxury tax for a team that may struggle to make the playoffs.
Bringing back Korver, Brewer, and Watson allows the Bulls to have around $17 million in expiring contracts next year (including Richard Hamilton’s $5 million expiring deal). That could prove to be very valuable in the trade market.
Having said all of that, Deng is a fan favorite and, when healthy, has been an anchor on some of the best defensive teams in the league. The guy shows up every night and plays extremely hard. You’d have the right to be upset if the Bulls end up pulling the trigger on one of these deals, but this seems to be a logical move looking at things long term.
The Bulls are in a weird spot right now. Two seasons in a row owning the best record in the league, multiple all-stars, and an MVP caliber player should mean you are a perennial contender, right? Major injuries and bloated contracts have actually put the Bulls in a position where it might be beneficial to go through a mini rebuilding phase.
Moving Deng brings the following benefits:
- Frees up cap space to resign all of our depth
- Resigning depth means we have a ton of expiring contracts
- A young wing player with lots of upside
- Possibility of a trade exception
Traded Player Exception: If a team trades away a player with a higher salary than the player they acquire in return (we’ll call this initial deal “Trade #1”), they receive what is called a Traded Player Exception, also known colloquially as a “Trade Exception”. Teams with a trade exception have up to a year in which they can acquire more salary in other trades (Trade #2, #3, etc.) than they send away, as long as the gulf in salaries for Trade #2, #3, etc. are less than or equal to the difference in salary for Trade #1. This exception is particularly useful when teams trade draft picks straight-up for a player; since draft picks have no salary value, often the only way to get salaries to match is to use a trade exception, which allows trades to be made despite unbalanced salaries. It is also useful to compensate teams for losing free agents as they can do a sign and trade of that free agent to acquire a trade exception that can be used later. Note this exception is for single player trades only, though additional cash and draft picks can be part of the trade.
With this, the amnesty option available for Boozer, the protected lottery pick we acquire from the Bobcats, and the Nikola Mirotic arrival on the horizon, we will have plenty of future assets.
This next season could be one of drastic change (with the possibility of lots of losing), but the Bulls will probably be better off long term because of it. The draft is in 10 days, so we will soon find out if the dominoes are going to start falling.