28 year old, two-time all-star and 9-year Bulls vet is in the final year of his contract. Luol has been an integral part of the Bulls organization and success during the past several years. Coach Thibodeau calls him the “glue” of the team, and he is widely recognized as one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league. He did not sign an extension with the Bulls so is set to become a free agent following this season. So, as the Bulls missed out on resigning Luol to a hometown discount, Deng could either be shipped to another team or lost in free agency. Yes, the option of signing a new deal with the Bulls is available, but it is unlikely that the front office will meet Luol’s wants for what might be his last major contract.
Luol is no stranger to his name being swirled through the rumor mill. During the days before the NBA draft, there was a potential trade to Washington for the number three pick and Emeka Okafor (who just herniated a disk in his neck, may not play this season). I was personally a fan of this, because it allowed the Bulls to add some experience and depth to the frontcourt, while adding Georgetown phenom Otto Porter to develop alongside Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. But alas, both teams felt the trade was not going to be beneficial—and good thing for the Bulls considering Okafor’s injury.
The general consensus now, is that the Bulls will retain Deng for the entirety of the season and let him walk afterwards. The thinking here is that with a fully healthy roster, the Bulls have a great chance to dethrone LeBron and company and win a championship. Through the years with this core of players, the Bulls have only really been healthy once, and that year, made it to the conference finals.
For me, this seems to be a pretty standard, and frustrating move by management. Although Luol is no Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony, both the Magic and the Nuggets dealt their super-studs and had the chance to rebuild around a plethora of talent and youth. I should mention that the Magic are still in the process, but seem to be on the right track, however the Nuggets have been in great shape the past two seasons, since letting Melo leave. Anyway, I think it would be a mistake to try to give this core one more chance without any insurance for when Luol leaves next summer. Besides that, Carlos Boozer will likely be amnestied leaving a big hole in the 3 and 4 spots, and the Bulls cannot strike out on another free agency prize the way they did in 2010 with “The Decision”.
There are several trade scenarios that make sense, and I think it would be important for the front office to at least discuss the idea of taking somewhat of a risk in order to have a bright future.
The Celtics Scenario: The Celtics decided to blow it up this summer, letting go of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They still have Rondo, but could use some veteran leadership off the ball in order to be relevant this year. I propose we send Luol to Boston for Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. This trade would provide the Bulls with a very capable successor to Luol. Green has great length and better offensive abilities, and having Lee in the backcourt would provide a 3 and D specialist to add depth. This option would likely hold off a run to the finals another year, but long term the Bulls would be set.
The Rockets Scenario: The Rockets added Dwight Howard this summer to their core of Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Why not add another huge weapon in Luol? The fact that they signed Dwight makes former Bull Omer Asik dispensable, and the young and cheap Chandler Parsons has been a standout for the Rockets thus far, but is no Luol Deng. If the Bulls send Deng for these two, they get defensive tenacity in the frontcourt, not to mention the depth to pummel the Heat in the paint, but also a young sharpshooting small forward to step into the starting lineup.
As much as I would love to keep Luol, and have a hard time seeing the Bulls beating the Heat without him, both of these scenarios do present a bit of a gamble when it comes to the Bulls success this year, but make sense for the future. We would have a solid starting 3, added depth and likely a couple of draft picks for the future. We need to have a bit of insurance in the event that Luol leaves us during free agency because as we all know, Derrick refuses to recruit, so we cannot count on a major addition during next summer.