Luol Deng is playing his best basketball in 3 years. He appears healthy, confident and fully recovered from whatever plagued him the last two years. Thus, there is no better time to trade Luol than now. His value will never be higher. He will never acquit himself better than this. If he has 10 more healthy games, trade him to the highest bidder and never look back. It could be the difference between being mediocre for the next 5 years and being a contender.
1. He is a bad fit next to Rose (and James/Wade/Bosh). Luol Deng, basketball wise, is an odd duck. He is a small forward who cannot shoot 3's, cannot drive to the basket, and cannot post up. He is a slasher and mid range shooter. Though his overall game has improved, he has not developed anything new since he has been in the NBA. This is Luol Deng. And as the Bulls are currently constructed, he doesn't fit.
Rose needs to play with guys who can shoot 3's. And if we are looking to add James/Wade/Bosh - those guys need 3 pointer shooters to play with as well. Deng as a 3rd option doesn't make sense with Rose and a top tier free agent, because he isn't a reliable shooter to spread the floor. He is a very tough fit next to Wade or James, potentially better with Bosh, but still not ideal. His presence clogs the lane. Deng would be much better playing with a power forward who can shoot, but outside of signing Dirk, I don't see how he fits with the Bulls past this season.
2. He makes too much money under the financial realities imposed by JR. If the Bulls spent like the Knicks, Lakers, Nuggets or Blazers are willing to spend, there would be less impetus to move Deng. But the Bulls do not. And Deng as potentially your 4th best starter (assuming we sign a max free agent and Rose/Noah continue to improve) makes too much money. Deng's salary may potentially force the Bulls to rid themselves of Hinrich, Salmons, Tyrus and eventually one day Noah. He simply isn't enough of a difference maker to take up as much cap space as he does when the Bulls are unwilling to go into the luxury tax. The Bulls are forced to spend more wisely, and I don't know if paying Noah, Rose and Deng big money makes the Bulls anything other than average.
3. His value will never be higher. Never. If Deng gets injured again, the Bulls are back to square one with him. His contract becomes an absolute albatross, and he eats up cap space for the next 5 years. Right now Deng is playing inspired ball. I wish him all the best health. But even if he remains healthy, I still think he will eventually have to go. His game is simply too limited to play next to Rose and Noah. He hasn't showing any signs of getting better.
4, Trading Deng frees up cap space for 2010. No single move could do more now and in the future. Unlike Salmons, there is no chance he opts out. Unlike Hinrich, his contract isn't declining. Deng makes big money and letting him go would be a clear signal that the Bulls are serious about attracting a Wade, Bosh or LBJ. Letting Deng go means the Bulls could come in to 2010 with Tyrus, Salmons and Hinirch as a supporting cast to surround a superstar, instead of just Deng. Going forward, each of those contracts would be easier to move for a player who fits better and each of those players has the potential to have as big impact on the court as Deng does.
It is time for Deng to go.
Send him to Golden State for A. Randolph and Maggette, to Portland for Rudy and expiring contracts, to Houston for McGrady, or to Utah for Boozer. The Bulls should try to get a young player on a rookie deal and expirings, but the exact players are inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that Deng isn't part of a future with Rose and his contract and play don't make him a good fit next to a top tier free agent like James, Wade or Bosh. His presence may force the Bulls to get rid of productive vets (Salmons/Hinrich) and talented young players like Tyrus and Noah. Lets go all in for 2010 and trade a player who could potentially hinder the plan while we still can.