[Disclaimer: First and foremost, this is not an endorsement of any of sin's opinions. ;) This is also not meant to be revisionist history, especially in light of recent injuries. Its just a discussion about perceptions but used in the context of our Bulls. ]
Put the Bulls in an alternate universe for a minute. I promise, only a minute. I won't harp on this for the next year. Now imagine a trade for Melo had happened for Deng and Noah as had been widely speculated as what it would take to get Melo. Now I want to start off by saying I myself would not do this trade. No way I'm giving up top 3 players in the East at two positions for one top 3 player at one position.
Now, you might be asking why am I bringing this up now. Well, a debate these days around here is if Luol Deng should be in the all-star game. Now, in a perfect world where guys like Allen Iverson aren't starting when he's obviously over the hill because of fan voting, I would say you have to be top 2 in your conference at your position in order to guarantee yourself a spot (one starter, one back-up). So in the East, its no question who the starting SF is. Not even in jest can we argue this. Lebron is a superior player to Deng and Melo.
So then who really is the 2nd-best SF in the East?
Well, I'd say there is really only one thing that Melo clearly does better than Deng: score. Melo can score with the best of them and in a myriad of ways. Deng rebounds better and plays better defense. Here is the comparison to see for yourself. Some stats jump out at me. First, the FG% and TS% are similar as well as rebounding though I feel Lu has the penchant for bigger rebounding games and seems to be better at getting the tougher boards. Secondly, Win Shares clearly paints the picture with these two players: Melo is +17 in OWS, Deng is +5 on DWS. But think about that for a minute now. Let's bring it back into the context of alternate-reality Bulls. Whatever we lose on defense, Melo makes up for it on offense 3 times over. Interesting for a team who is sometimes dysfunctional on offense.
Then there is the perception of Melo as a bad defender. Can we not argue that Melo has never played in a defense-first system? Melo went from a high-paced team in Denver to a high-paced team in NY. Neither teams are organizations that preach defense first. BTW, I credit this as the biggest reason the Knicks have struggled for over a decade. They have forgotten who they are as an organization. That team's staple has always been defense during its successful days. Now, organizations that DO KNOW that they want to preach defense first, like Chicago and Miami, can be just the kind of culture an athlete of Melo's caliber may need. In my opinion, he is too good of an athlete to be totally inept on defense. I believe it to be more of a case of never having that instilled in him. You can see in this year's Bulls what being in that culture can do for a supposed mediocre defensive player, like for example, Boozer and Korver. Korver will never be great because of his lack of athleticism and Boozer in the back of his mind may still always be more preoccupied with getting in rebounding position rather than contesting a perimeter jumper, but I think most of us can agree their defense has gone up a tick this year. Miami and Chicago are teams that have preached defense first going back to the 90's.
So who is to say Melo can't make up that 5 wins on defense if he plays in such a system for an extended period of time. I think he possesses the athletic ability to be a good defender and its all a matter of perception with him. Even the numbers suggest its somewhat of a wash with them as they are pretty even in steals and blocks rate. So maybe Deng has a bigger impact as far as winning for his team. I think you can argue either way. Maybe Melo is backup to Lebron in the all-star game simply on name alone.
I would never trade Noah AND Deng for Melo. Like I said before, there is no value for the Bulls in such a scenario even if it gives the perception of consolidating talent. But ask yourself this: if Melo is the 2nd-best SF in the East, wouldn't it make sense to trade Deng for him? Wouldn't you do it? I'm not saying I would, but it definitely makes me pause a moment. Your perception of them and where this team is at and will be in a few years will give you your answer.