1. Does Deng fit into Chicago’s future plans?
Avi Saini: I’m unsure. It’s hard to say mainly because no one really knows what the future plans are at the moment. There have been talks for a while now saying that the Bulls are potentially looking at making a run at one of the big name free agents during the 2014 offseason. If that’s the case then it seems as if Deng doesn’t fit into the front office’s plan. However, financially the Bulls don’t have enough cap space to get one of the big name free agents and bring over Nikola Mirotic at the same time. I believe we’ll get a more definite answer later on in the season if the front office begins to participate in trades to free up money.
Braedan Ritter: Assuming the Bulls’ plan is to win a championship, then I believe he does fit in. Deng is a top-tier defender, a good all-around player and Tom Thibodeau’s workhorse. He has led the league in minutes per game the last two seasons, and even though his shooting numbers have dipped in recent years, he is still one of the most important members of the Bulls (even more so when they are facing the Heat). Chicago has to cut costs though, as they don’t want to be in the tax for a third consecutive year—which they may face in 2014-2015—and letting Deng walk would be an easy way to drop a lot of salary (letting him walk also frees up some cash to try and sign a bigger name free agent). Deng fits into the plan to win a championship, but his contract doesn’t, and the Bulls seem to always side with what pockets them the most money. He won’t fit into the future plans unless he takes a discount to stay in Chicago.
Matt McHale: Deng is a do-everything wing player who always goes full-tilt and plays elite defense at multiple positions. He’s also highly respected by his Bulls teammates and an absolute favorite of coach Tom Thibodeau. And with an actual summer off to rest and recover from lingering injuries that included a fractured thumb and damage to ligaments in his left wrist, Deng might actually be capable of playing better and more efficiently than he has the past two seasons, during which he was selected for back-to-back All-Star appearances. So there’s no question Deng fits in with whatever the Bulls could possibly be planning from a pure basketball perspective. Frankly, there aren’t many places in the NBA where he wouldn’t fit in as a player.
Unfortunately, re-signing Deng may not make much financial sense. The generally accepted premise is that Lu could demand a multi-year contract that pays around $12 annually. According to ShamSports, the Bulls are due to pay around $55 million in 2014-15 for the combination of Carlos Boozer, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Adding another $12 million for Deng pushes that number up to $67 million. Even if management uses the amnesty provision to cut Boozer’s $16.8 million salary for that season, the Bulls would be left with no flexibility to pursue another star to pair with Rose.
Even if you love what Deng does for the Bulls — and who wouldn’t? — we’re talking about a player with a long injury history who is edging ever closer to 30 and (as Bill Simmons might point out) already has almost 700 games and nearly 25,000 minutes on his NBA odometer (combined regular season and playoffs). Forget the immediate future. Is Deng going to be worth $12 million per year three or four years from now?
About the only way I can imagine Deng wearing a Bulls uniform past next season is if he agrees to take a pretty major pay cut. And why would he do that?
2. Which teams might try to sign or trade for Deng?
Avi Saini: The only teams I can see wanting to trade for Deng are teams who want to try to make a run at the big name free agents next offseason. Deng’s $14 million expiring deal would free up a sizable chunk of change and is attractive for teams trying to free up money. However, the only situation in which Deng would be traded to one of those teams is if Gar Foreman and John Paxson give up their 2014 plan for good. As far as teams that may sign Deng during the offseason, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, any team that completely strikes out on the big name free agents next year will look to make a run at Deng.
Braedan Ritter: Teams that want to trade for him at the deadline would most likely be looking for his expiring contract so that they can let him walk at the end of the season and go after one of the potential max contract free agents. It’ll be interesting whether or not Chicago shops him at the deadline. If the Bulls really don’t think they’ll resign Deng in the offseason, and they know better than anyone else would of their intentions, they should at least try and get something in return for him. This would put a big dent in their title hopes, but by mid-season there will also be a clearer championship picture and maybe it would be in the Bulls best interest to shake things up.
Those big-name free agents will also play a role in where Deng will land this summer. Whichever teams miss out on the bigger names will go at Deng, and some of those teams could potentially have a lot of money if they whiff on other players. Lu would be a great addition to any team that is looking for a veteran small forward.
Matt McHale: As I pointed out above, Deng skills and willingness to do whatever his team needs would make him a great fit virtually anywhere. However, he’s not going to get the numbers he wants from a championship contender. Brooklyn, Houston, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio…none of the teams projected to be legitimate contenders in the next few seasons will have an extra $12 million-ish to sign Deng with. Assuming the Bulls are unable to trade him during the upcoming season or work out a sign-and-trade deal next summer, some middling or lower echelon team may try to make a big splash by signing a known commodity with great pedigree. Maybe it’ll be the Philadelphia 76ers. Maybe the Orlando Magic. Etc.
3. Fact or Fiction: Deng will resign with the Bulls next summer.
Avi Saini: Fiction. Continuing with my line of thought from the previous question, any team that strikes out on the big name players will overreact to their offseason failures then turn to Deng and make a hard push to get him. Part of this, as recent offseason history suggests, means that a team will be willing to pay Deng around $14 million per year, roughly what he is making now and roughly what the Sacramento Kings set Deng’s market value at when they were bidding on Andre Iguodala. Unfortunately Chicago will be cash strapped for several years to come and will not be able to offer Deng around what he could get on the market without severely hampering their future. Because the NBA is a business and Deng, like 99% of all athletes, needs to make as much money as he can to last him the rest of his life, I see him taking the larger deal and leaving Chicago.
Braedan Ritter: Fiction. I think the Bulls want Deng to take a hometown discount, and Deng sees this as his last chance to get paid. I assume Kirk Hinrich and perhaps even Carlos Boozer will be following Lu out the door after this year as the Bulls go in a different direction, still building around Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. You can’t blame Deng for looking for a big payday, especially considering its unclear how much time he has left on his over-worked body. I suspect at least one team will overpay Deng with a deal that puts him out of the Bulls’ price range.
Matt McHale: Fiction. I can’t see it happening for all the reasons I outlined above. If the Bulls want to bring in another top talent to compliment Rose — and they simply must to have any hope of competing with the Miami Heats and Oklahoma City Thunders of the NBA world — there’s no way they can commit to paying Deng $12 million or more per year for the next four to five seasons. Not given the risks involved due to his age, injury history, and the general wear and tear of his career-to-date. And there’s little chance Deng will pass up the opportunity to do what’s best for him financially. Nor should he. But the most likely scenario I can foresee is Deng making a lot of money and losing a lot of games for a lesser team.