It’s rumor season in the NBA with the draft on Thursday and teams scrambling to move up or down, trying to figure out what needs will be addressed via a new draft class and what will need to be dealt with in free agency. Around this time of year, dozens of reports will come out saying “Team X is talking about Player Y and their first round pick,” and stories like these get NBA junkies salivating and having flashbacks of some monster deal that swung their fantasy league last winter. Unfortunately, most of these leaked rumors are nothing more than that: hearsay, or strategic lying by a club to gauge league-wide interest in a player.
A prime example of this that does not concern the Bulls directly are the reports filed by Chad Ford yesterday (sorry its Insider) that concern a number of topics, including that the Cavs are trying to trade the #1 pick. Ford sites sources saying that Cleveland is kicking the tires on a potential deal that would send the pick and Cleveland’s other first rounder, #19 to Portland for LaMarcus Aldridge. This is unlikely to turn into anything, as it seems as though even the top pick will not replace the void in scoring and talent that would be created with an Aldridge departure, and with Lillard looking like the point guard of the future, it doesn’t make sense for the Blazers to blow things up now. So why would Cleveland bother to stir things up? Because they want other teams to know what type of return they are looking for on the pick. If there is another team that truly covets Noel or Oladipo or whoever is the best player in this draft class, they will feel pressure to step up quickly and execute a deal.
So how does this connect to the Bulls?
Chicago is in an interesting position. For the first time in a long while, the Bulls have some depth at the wing spots. Luol Deng, 28, is a two time allstar and is regarded as one of the best defensive players in the league. Deng has led the league in minutes the last two years and is seen as a key cog in the machine that coach Tom Thibodeau has built in his three seasons in Chicago.
The Bulls also have Jimmy Butler, capable of playing shooting guard or small forward, who seems to have the same defensive tenacity and motor that Deng has. His offensive game has greatly improved after just two years in the league, stretching his range out beyond the arc.
While Deng is in the last year of a contract that will pay him about about $14 million next season, Butler is still playing out his cheep rookie deal which still has two years remaining. It does not take a genius economist to figure out who the Bulls want to keep and who they would like to move for future assets. Deng, although polished and well regarded in the locker room, is likely to command a large pay-day after the 2013-14 season, something the cap-strapped Bulls will struggle to accommodate. For the team, it is best to try and move Deng this offseason, preferably before the draft, while his value as a player – and a big salary that will come off the books right on time for the exciting 2014 free agency period – is at its absolute peak.
On Monday ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the Bulls were in talks with the Washington Wizards about swapping Deng for Omeka Okafor and the third pick in the draft. (if this actually happens, which I don’t think it will, how fucking sick would McLemore look at SG? Everyone knows this dude can shoot the fucking lights out. Only knock on him is he might not be assertive enough. Good thing we’ve got that Rose fella to handle late game situations. Did you just get an erection?) Reports coming back in from Washington indicate that, while preliminary discussions were had, by no means was anything serious ever actually discussed. For Washington, even in this weak year for rookies, the 3rd pick could yield a valuable return with Otto Porter or Victor Oladipo still likely to be on the board, players who could fill the defensive needs that plagued the Wiz last year.
And even though that third pick may be asking a bit much by the Bulls, it sends a message to the rest of the league. Now, everyone knows that Deng is on the market. And at the same time, everyone knows the Bulls aren’t going to give him away for free. They are looking for immediate help, or valuable commodities that will improve the club down the road. A recent report from Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, saying that the Bulls have engaged with Deng and his agent in contract extension talks, is likely a further ploy by the Bulls to pressure teams into making a deal for the former Blue Devil before Thursday’s draft.
The fan in me is obviously saddened by what seems to be an inevitable change. Lu has been a Man’s Man throughout his time in Chicago, battling through injuries, giving 100% effort and improving every year. But this is the nature of the beast, and the long term success of the organization must be the priority of the front office and the fan base, and moving Deng is potentially one of many moves that will bring a title back to the United Center.