Late Monday night, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers completed a deal that will send fan-favorite Luol Deng to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Bynum, a first-round pick, two second-round picks, and the right to swap first-round picks in an upcoming draft. The story, broken by Shams Charania of RealGM.com, was a late-night doozy after many people had gone to bed.
Before the season started, I pondered what Deng’s future might be in Chicago. Reports of failed extension negotiations were already circulating, but it seemed that the Bulls were ready to give it one more go with the core of Derrick Rose, Deng, Joakim Noah, and Carlos Boozer.
Of course, that all came crashing down when Rose injured his other knee.
So now, the questions about Deng’s future have been answered. And it’s a tough one for Bulls fans, and presumably Bulls players and coach Tom Thibodeau, to swallow. With Rose out, another season heading nowhere, and repeat luxury tax penalties staring them in the face, Bulls’ brass decided to worsen the team now in hopes of long-term success. The deal will save the Bulls a large chunk of money, as Andrew Bynum and the unguaranteed $6 million remaining on his contract will be waived before he can board a plane for Chicago. Along with a potential amnesty of Carlos Boozer, this will leave the Bulls with roughly $12 million in cap space (according to numbers from Zach Lowe of Grantland) and multiple future first round picks to rebuild with. The first-round pick the Bulls will receive is originally from Sacramento, and has top-12 protection this year, and top-10 protection the following three years. Go Kings! Be mediocre, instead of abjectly terrible!
I’ve expressed my appreciation for Deng in this space many times. The guy is simply a warrior. Through Rose’s injuries, through Noah’s injuries, through his own injuries, through a season and a third without hopes of a championship, the guy has simply busted his rear for the Bulls. If a superstar needs to be defended, he does it. If someone needs to create a shot, he does it. If rebounds need to be grabbed, he grabs them. For his nine years as a Bull and ceaseless effort on the court, I thank him.
Fans love Deng, and Deng may love his teammates, but it isn’t clear how much Deng appreciates the Bulls’ front office. Yahoo! Sports reported that Deng recently rejected a 3-year, $30 million extension offer from the Bulls. The continued failings to get an extension done, coupled with the dicey handling of Deng’s health towards the end of last season’s playoffs paints an image of Deng not caring too much for John Paxson and Gar Forman.
So, with Deng set for free agency and asking for, reportedly, in the range of $15 million per year, the Bulls weren’t willing to commit that much money to a player, no matter how beloved, who may be on the decline soon. It simply would hamstring any reloading efforts the Bulls would have tried, no matter how beloved the player.
Now, Bulls fans must cut ties and look to the future. It’s tough to see a guy leave everything on the court every night for your team, then get traded for money savings and intangible things like a draft pick. But, as the saying goes, that’s the business of sports.
Not to mention, the Bulls, not so sneakily, have joined in the Tankapalooza of the 2014 NBA season. It’s easy to see the Bulls missing the playoffs now, and in the Draft Lottery, all you want is a shot. Remember Derrick Rose, and the 1.7% chance Chicago had to get him? In a loaded draft, the Bulls might end up with two lottery picks, if things play out right.
The hitch in that, though, is that Tom Thibodeau is still the coach, and he treats the thought of tanking with a disdain unknown to mankind. But it’s what makes him Thibs.
Next year, the only sure things on the roster will be Noah, Jimmy Butler, and Thibodeau. Deng is gone, Boozer probably will be, and Rose can’t be counted as a known quantity coming off of, essentially, two years off. Nikola Mirotic may come over from Spain, or he may not. It will be tough watching the Bulls the rest of this season, and next, without the one guy who was a constant on the floor.
The pain will be soothed, though, by knowing the Bulls made out with a pretty good haul, and did the best thing for the future of the franchise.
Read more Bulls rumors, news and opinion on our Chicago Bulls page