It was recently announced that Chicago Bulls and forward Luol Deng opted not to continue negotiations on a contract extension. Deng will instead head to free agency during the offseason of 2014. Deng is currently on a six year $71 million contract he signed in the summer of 2008.
First and foremost, the Bulls should not trade Luol Deng unless they get back equal value, which is incredibly unlikely. Deng is a player who has value to the Bulls, but not a team with assets to move. Chicago won’t get back a young emerging player or player better than Deng; if such a player was available, the trading team would opt for that player over Deng.
For that reason, Chicago should play out this season with Deng. As the team stands right now, they present a real challenge to Miami. They have arguably the most daunted perimeter defensive rotation that Miami will have ever faced with former All-Defense forward Deng, vastly underrated defender Derrick Rose and emerging star Jimmy Butler. Trading Deng would not kill your chances, but it would hurt. Mike Dunleavy Jr. at small forward doesn’t exactly present the same matchup problems for LeBron and the Heat.
It’s worth it to keep Deng this season for one last run. Even if Chicago got some value for the future, it would not be worth trading what Deng means for the team this season. Even if Deng walks.
Some pundits have estimated that Deng will get a big contract offer during the summer of 2014, and that he will be lured away and out of the Bulls pay-range. However look at the teams with cap room: what team is really going to reason paying Luol Deng double-digit salary?
There is no team in the NBA who will bring in Luol Deng as their key acquisition in the summer of 2014, especially under the new salary structure. Deng is the type of player that is vital for a championship team. He is not the kind of player that can be brought in as a flashy acquisition. In the pretend rebuild that Detroit went through in the summer of 2009, Deng couldn’t be the Ben Gordon, he would be the Charlie Villanueva complementary piece.
Most of the teams saving up big cap room for 2014 are looking for a big splash. Luol Deng is not that. I fully expect his value to be pushed down after he enters free agency. At that point, the Bulls can decide whether to bring him back on a contract in the $10 million or under range, or to let him go and move in a different direction.
Keeping Deng regardless of whether he leaves in free agency gives the Bulls options and leverage over Deng’s camp, and may eventually work out for all involved.