Last night, the basketball world was shocked when the Chicago Bulls suddenly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers. To this point much has been made and said about the trade from many basketball writers and fans alike. The following are takes on the trade and Luol Deng from some of the Bulls by the Horns staff. As you’ll see, one of our writers is a little torn up at the moment.
1. What was your reaction to the Luol Deng trade?
Avi Saini: Shock, joy, and sadness. Shocked because while I have been calling for the Bulls to trade Deng for somewhere close to 8 months now, I NEVER expected this deal to happen. In my 18 years of memory as a Bulls fan, I can’t remember the last time the front office undercut another team’s negotiations. Joy because now that the Bulls have made this trade, it means the door has fully opened for Nikola Mirotic to make the jump over the Atlantic Ocean. And sadness because while I was in favor of trading Deng, I will miss the stability he brought to Chicago after years of misery after Michael Jordan’s retirement.
Kelly Scaletta: I had two reactions. In my head I completely understood it. They’re getting as much a feasibly possible for a player they were going to lose anyway this summer. Logically, I understand that. Emotionally, it’s more difficult. I thought in the presser when Paxson described him as a “great player and gentleman” it said a lot about who he is. With 90 percent of the players in the league, you just look at what they do. With Lu, it’s also who he is. He’s an even better person than player, and he’s a heck of a player. The Bulls will miss that, and contrarily, it’s exactly what the Cavaliers need in their locker room.
Peter Owen: The trade came through on my phone at 6:36am as Twitter lit up. My initial reaction was pretty much of acceptance – this had to happen and made sense given the uniqueness of Andrew Bynum’s cuttable contract. By the afternoon, however, emotions and kicked in and I’m realizing how lucky we were to have Luol on the Bulls for so long.
Trenton Jocz: That only the inaction of Gar Forman and the Bulls front office made it mildly surprising. All of the other factors in play led to a Deng trade as the only logical conclusion. Since Derrick Rose’s injury, Luol Deng’s time as a Bull felt like senior year of high school does once winter break is over in that you know the end is coming and try to appreciate some things you had taken for granted while it lasts. In hindsight, we all missed the smoke signals of more rest in games and practice for Deng. Combine that with the deadline Cleveland was under to deal Andrew Bynum’s semi-guaranteed deal, as well as their overall desperation to make the playoffs, and it all makes sense.
Brian Schroeder: Sad.
2. Good more or bad move by Chicago?
Avi: Ultimately I think it’s a good move. It’ll hurt to see Deng in another jersey, but Chicago was going to lose him this offseason anyways and they needed to get what they could for him. Making the trade now rather than waiting also ensures the team can’t be a part of the repeater tax in the future and helps the team tank more this season. Pending on what they do with their draft pick(s) though will decide if Chicago truly benefitted.
Kelly: Well, he was gone anyway right? So the question is: Could they have gotten more? Judging by the fact that they were talking with other teams, and the suddenness of the move, it would seem that they got what they were hoping. One assumes they wouldn’t have pulled the trigger if there was something better on the table elsewhere. The other side of waiting to make the move is that they win more games that they could have lost. You also can’t understate the benefit of getting under the luxury tax. That takes them out of the repeater tax which means that in 2014 or even 2015 they can go into the tax and it will be less punitive. They get draft picks and flexibility. That’s a plus. They get it for a great player who was clearly not a part of their future. You have to say it was a good move.
Peter: Good move, though depressing. The Bulls made Deng an offer and he felt he would be better served moving on. It was the right decision by both parties. With Rose’s injury, this core’s time was up and trading Deng is the first domino falling in what is hopefully going to be a quick rebuild. A sad but necessary evil.
Trenton: I’m usually rather hesitant to compliment this cold and alienating front office, but this deal delivered on just about every front. I find the disappointment from some that the Bulls didn’t get enough for Deng rather misguided. The team acquiring him is either giving up assets for a rental if he leaves or re-signing him to a deal (think 4 years, $12-13 million per year) that many feel is very dangerous for a third banana who will turn 30 in the first year of his new contract and has logged countless minutes under Tom Thibodeau. First rounders are nearly impossible to get from the 28 teams that don’t play in New York nowadays, so to get what they did for a player so many are leery of strikes me as nothing short of success.
3. With Deng gone, where do the Bulls go from here?
Avi: As far as I can tell, Chicago has two options- try to get a star player on the team in the offseason or bring over Nikola Mirotic and rebuild the team over the next few years. Personall, I like the latter option. Regardless of how Chicago decides to play it though at this point it’s clear that the team needs to tank as much as possible to try to get that second star next to Rose. If they don’t then everything to this point will have been a waste and the team will be stuck in purgatory for years to come.
Kelly: They could go one of two ways. They’ve quietly bundled together an impressive portfolio of assets, including as many as four top-15ish picks in the next two seasons, and Nikola Mirotic, and they’ve gotten more cap flexibility, especially if they amnesty Boozer. They could either use those picks and rebuild, or they could bundle them together with Boozer (for money purposes) and try and woo away a superstar who is looking like they want to leave (e.g. Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony). They said they got flexibility and they did. My guess is right now they’re working phones now to see what they can get.
Peter: Trading Deng is the precursor to amnestying Boozer’s $16.9m final year. This would place the Bulls around $14m under the salary cap next season, letting them make a run at bringing Nikola Mirotic over from Spain. The plan seems to be to repeat the summer of 2010 where, after missing the big-name free agents, Chicago found themselves with unprecedented depth signing Boozer, Korver, Brewer and C.J. Watson.
Trenton: The Deng trade only strengthens my belief in Chicago’s title chances. As Mark Deeks noted here, the Bulls had a veteran team with a star not yet in his prime and were poised to hurt Rose’s future by dipping their toe in the water with two different cores, rather than jumping in with one. Often the “all in” moves in sports get credited for their boldness, but in reality, pulling your chips away from the table before going broke can be the hardest move to make. We may see that play out in Cleveland now that they’ve made the NBA’s version of the James Shields trade, giving up draft capital that would have supported Kyrie Irving’s prime to save face now. Trading for Rudy Gay is a misguided way to do so, but Vivek Ranadive wants to improve the Kings quickly. However, shortcutting rebuilding often leads to the back half of the lottery (look at New Orleans), and the Bulls have until 2017 to cash in on the pick. If everything lines up right, the Bulls could be looking at as many as four top 20 picks in the next few years.
4. What is your favorite Luol Deng moment?
Avi: I’m going to be broad with my interpretation of “moment” and say the months he played through torn ligaments in his wrist. When Deng injured his non-shooting hand, he could have opted for surgery and maybe have returned in time for playoffs. But rather than abandoning his team, Deng fought through the pain to help the team. Did his numbers go down that year? Sure. But it embodies what he meant to the team. He was the guy who put it all on the line for his teammates and friends.
Kelly: This is easier than it should be. When he pumped up the United Center crowd in Game 1 of the Pacers series. It was in that moment I knew the Bulls were going to win, and they did. It was so raw and emotional.
Peter: Most would choose Lu’s game-winning three against Miami in the magical 2010-11 season or Deng’s dunk on LeBron. I’ll pick something a little different: Game 1 of the 2011 Playoffs, with the Bulls trailing to Indiana in the 4th quarter, Deng picked up a technical foul and responded by pumping up the United Center crowd and swinging momentum in the Bulls’ favour. They would go on to win the game on a 16-1 run, Deng’s actions announcing his arrival as the physical embodiment of Thibodeau’s coaching philosophy.
Trenton: That’s the thing about Deng: for a guy who does everything, he’s not really remembered for any one thing. He doesn’t have the hardware or highlights like Rose nor Noah’s personality that lends itself to emphatic plays on the court and attention worthy quotes off of it (Like his thoughts on, coincidentally, Deng’s new city). For me, what stands out is the Christmas day game in L.A. to open the lockout season. Rose was the reigning MVP and the Bulls had added Rip Hamilton. However, the Lakers began to pull away and led 78-70 with 6:33 left. At that point, Deng re-entered the game and spurred a comeback, scoring nine points. Still down one, he swiped the inbounds pass from Pau Gasol, and despite nearly traveling, found Rose, who hit a go ahead floater. To put the cherry on top, as the entire defense swarmed Kobe Bryant, Deng blocked his last second shot to seal the win.
5. Where does Deng rank amongst the all-time Bulls players?
Avi: I haven’t seen (or paid attention to) all of the Bulls players in history so I can’t give him an exact ranking. But I think you could slot Deng’s name after Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bob Love, and Jerry Sloan. Rose, pending on how he does in the future can easily move past Deng, and players like Artis Gilmore and Norm Van Lier can stake a claim ahead of Deng right now, but that’s my ranking.
Kelly: Fourth, behind Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Jerry Sloan, although I could see a smattering of players such as Reggie Theus, Bob Love or Artis Gilmore being put over him.
Peter: Deng ranks in the top ten in all of the major statistical categories and the top five if you only count from the end of the Jordan-Pippen era. I’d place him in the top ten, after Michael, Scottie, Jerry Sloan, Bob Love and Norm Van Lier. He is perhaps the NBA’s all-time great in terms of his services to his city and the league’s image as a whole through his humanitarian work in America, his adopted home of inner-city London and war-torn South Sudan.
Trenton: I can only rank players I’ve watched, and after Rose at the top, Deng and Noah are tied for my second favorites, with every Taylor Swift karaoke inching Jimmy Butler closer to that class. It’s hard because he truly is all the tropes that have been overplayed in sports- winner, hard worker, unselfish, tough as nails. Compliments such as those have become extremely diluted having been ascribed to so many athletes, but by all accounts fit Deng perfectly. If these Bulls don’t win a title, it won’t affect how I feel about them one bit, but if they do lift the trophy in the coming years? Even though he’s moved on, Lu will deserve a ring for it as much as anybody.