[Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 05/24/13 1:19 PM CDT: BTW, news just broke that Deng is not going to have surgery on his wrist this offseason. Thinking optimistically, maybe his poor shooting was more due to a broken thumb! ]
The worst kept secret among sports fans is that the offseason can often times be more fun than the actual season, but all signs point to a relatively quiet summer for our Chicago Bulls. This is a change of pace from what we're used to; frankly, it might be a welcome one.
The memory of the summer of 2010 and all that came with it remains fresh. I will never forget the immortal World Wide Wes convincing this entire city LeBron James was about to be a member of the Bulls, when he told the universe "We're Going to Chicago, And Chris Bosh Is Coming, Too". Then there was D. Rose's preference to play with Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer over James/Wade/Bosh, the hilariously doomed Power Point presentation to LeBron, and the eventual settling for Carlos Boozer as the big piece and Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer as the complimentary parts.
The next summer was lockout shortened and distinct by only one move: the Bulls mercifully replacing Keith Bogans at starting shooting guard with Richard Hamilton, a move that, as we all know, didn't exactly work out like planned. We spent last summer reading about Kirk Hinrich's cul-de-sac and his Dominick's rewards card, fretting over Nate Robinson and exhibiting cautious optimism about the signing of Marco Belinelli.
Coming into this offseason, the Bulls face few questions. They have $73 million already committed to eight players; worrisome because last season's salary cap was set at $58 million with the tax line drawn at $70.3 million. We all know the Bulls just paid the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history and we know the new CBA has made penalty for doing so more punitive -- not just the dreaded repeater tax that keeps Jerry Reinsdorf up at night but also by limiting exceptions used to sign free agents and make trades.
The one thing the Bulls really have to do this offseason is rework the bench; namely find a backup center more capable than Nazr Mohammed and a backup wing who can provide some offensive firepower. It would be great to have either one or both of Marco and Nate back, but early indications seem to be that both are likely to sign elsewhere. Gar Foreman and John Paxson have proved to be adept at replenishing the bench in the past and we should trust them to do so again. The core of the team remains the same: Derrick Rose returns as the point guard and primary scorer, Jimmy Butler steps into the shooting guard slot, Luol Deng is the small forward, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson share power forward duties, Joakim Noah holds down the middle.
There is one drastic move the Bulls could make to shake things up, though. They could trade Luol Deng.
This has become a topic of conversation for the second straight year, spurred on by the development of Butler and the Bulls' current cap situation. Deng is slated to become a free agent after next season and his expiring contract (combined with All-Star level play) is thought to be of interest to some teams. My question: how does trading Luol Deng at all make any sense for the Bulls from a basketball perspective?
If you're trading Luol Deng, you want a draft pick back. This is easy because rookies do not make any money. It is cheap labor. Look no further than the $1.1 million Butler is slated to earn next year in his third season. The ideal trade for Chicago would be Deng for a high draft pick and a competent veteran who can match salaries; remember, the Bulls also have Kyle Korver's trade exception of $5 million should they choose to.....hahaha.....take on more salary.
Problem is, you don't want anyone from this draft class. The two names who might be intriguing are Indiana's Victor Oladipo and UNLV's Anthony Bennett, but it's unlikely someone in position to grab the former would be willing to trade him for Deng, while the latter is more of a four than a three. The Bulls already have their power forward of the future and he's currently winning MVPs in Spain.
What other deals for Deng are out there that would make sense? In hindsight, the Deng for Harrison Barnes trade that was thrown around last year would have been ideal, though if memory serves the Bulls were rumored to trade up for the eighth pick with Toronto while Barnes went at No. 7.
Instead, the Bulls should suck it up and pay the tax again. I know YFBB wrote that nothing he saw in the series vs. Miami leads him to believe the Bulls would have a shot against the Heat in the postseason next year, but I think I disagree. I think the Bulls have as good a chance as any team next year, assuming they're all healthy (huge assumption) and assuming the front office can again successfully rework the bench.
The Bulls beat Miami once and played them very close twice without Rose, Deng and Hinrich. To me, that is huge. The way to beat Miami is to play killer defense and move the ball on offense; it's why the Thunder could only get one game from them in the Finals last year despite having Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the team. Those might be the three best one-on-one players on Earth, but it's damn near impossible to beat Miami going one-on-one. You need to share the ball and the Bulls have proven they can do that. I don't even want to put a percentage of on the Bulls' chance next year, but I think the chance exists, no matter how small it might be.
Because I believe the Bulls would be, on paper, the third best team in the NBA next season, they should retain Deng instead of trading him for cap relief. We already saw Butler give LeBron hell defensively; throw in Deng's typically stellar defense that was missing in action this year and the Bulls can really lock up the perimeter. Unless you're going to swing for the fences with a Kevin Love trade, I think I'm actually OK with the 2014 plan. I realize this might get me banned from Blog-a-Bull forever, but it makes sense to me.
The Bulls have, in my estimate, a shot at defeating the Heat in the playoffs next year. If they don't, they have Mirotic coming over the following season, have Deng's deal expiring and can amnesty Carlos Boozer. This upcoming season is about sitting tight and seeing what you have. Because we never got to see what the Bulls had last season.
I'm all for rolling the dice and being creative, but that just doesn't seem like it's in the cards this year. Instead, let's see what the Bulls really have. That means everyone needs to be here, including Deng.