The Bulls may not have received much in terms of assets in their trade of Luol Deng, but in a way they did enhance their existing asset of their own first-round pick.
You see, the draft is composed of a 'lottery' for all the non-playoff teams, and the odds of winning it (and odds of a higher pick in general) are the inverse of your record. So actually, a worse record means a better draft pick, and thus losing may be best for your team! It's called 'tanking', and I annoyingly spelled out the concept like that since it always seems to me people who suggest it think they just came up with this brilliant idea out of the blue that only 'smart fans' can understand.
It sure sucks to watch and be a part of, especially in this scenario. The Bulls had championship aspirations this year, and being so bad so soon is jarring. And it's not like they're even built to be a 'fun' form of bad basketball: they're not especially young, nor play an entertaining style that would achieve an entertaining form of losing. But sure: since the Bulls are clearly not trying to better this season, and won't spend any more money to accumulate assets, there's little sense in not going the other way and instead get as bad as possible so their own draft pick is better.
Was trading Luol Deng for nothing (that will help on the court) enough? Perhaps. Deng soaked up a lot of minutes on this team that will now go to more of Mike Dunleavy and a consistent role for Tony Snell, which is a downgrade to be sure. There is also the extra strain on Jimmy Butler. Someone who, like several rotation players currently, are already nursing injuries this year.
And maybe those injuries are allowed a bit more time to heal. Maybe the players themselves don't exactly feel like pushing through recoveries it in a season their management gave up on. Maybe even when they're on the court they kind of mail it in. Remember, the 2007 Bulls weren't that untalented but still imploded after a poor start, even though a lot of those players were thought to be solid professionals.
Though as a reminder, that season also involved replacing their coach.
And the Bulls current coach seems very unlikely to do anything but try and get his team to win as much as possible. The East is awful, and though this trade may also help the Cavs leapfrog the Bulls that may still not be enough. It's so bad even this modest bout of winning may have already doomed getting a high pick. And even if they just miss the playoffs, though it gives the Bulls the chance at a top-3 pick it very likely keeps the value of the selection fairly low.
Joe Cowley reported in the Sun-Times today that his Bulls source "insisted the organization was not tanking". This can be technically be true: the absence of 'going for it' is not tanking, and this particular Deng deal is mostly about money and not making the current team worse. Though getting only a single player that you'll waive will indeed make them worse.
An even more blatant tanking move would be another deal of a cheaper veteran like Kirk Hinrich (fingers crossed) or Mike Dunleavy. Thibs can do more with less, but there is a breaking point. If it's not hit now after giving away Luol Deng, forcing some Marquis Teague minutes may do the trick. In the meantime I suppose we have to root for losses and look down on others who don't 'get' why that's a good thing now. Yuck.