Today’s big news on the Chicago Bulls front is that Luol Deng and the team were not able to agree on an extension. While this is obviously a key development, I don’t really see it as huge news. Deng’s six year, $71 million contract is up after this season, and he will explore free agency. The Bulls have said all the right things about wanting to keep Deng but have always planned on maintaining longterm financial flexibility. With an epic free agency class ahead in 2014 (including Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Kobe Bryant and many more), Chicago’s front office wants to make a move that vaults the Bulls into indisputable title contention.
Luol Deng is a very important part of this year’s team, and he’s played more minutes than anyone with Tom Thibodeau as head coach. As the Bulls’ starting forward, Deng has made two straight All-Star games and earned a reputation as a shutdown perimeter defender. Furthermore, he’s battled through countless injuries, most recently playing with a broken thumb and suffering from complications of a spinal tap during the playoffs. Through it all, Deng has played every minute possible and earned the respect of Bulls fans.
While it will be tough to see him leave as a free agent next year, you have to respect the willingness of the front office to reshape the team at the exact right time. Jimmy Butler, the last pick of the 2011 first round, has emerged as a high quality perimeter defender that can take on many of Deng’s assignments. It’s too early to know with certainty if Butler’s improved three point shooting is a thing to stay, but Jimmy was lights out after the All-Star break and in the playoffs especially. With an extremely team friendly contract, Butler is the perfect player to replace Deng’s contributions. On top of that, the Bulls are certainly hoping that 2013 first rounder Tony Snell can emerge as another Butler/Deng/Kawhi Leonard (Snell’s high school teammate!) type. At the end of the day, the Bulls emerging wing depth in tandem with 2014’s free agents make it too difficult to diminish future cap space on a known quantity such as Luol Deng.