Deng it! What Should the Chicago Bulls Do? The Debate to Trade or Keep Luol Deng

Luol Deng is no stranger to trade rumors. Since entering the NBA his name has popped up in numerous trade rumors and this offseason has shown to be no different. However, for the first time, the Bulls are legitimately faced with a dilemma: With Deng entering the final year of his contract, his uncertain future with the franchise, and given the position the team is currently in, should the Chicago Bulls actively seek a trade for Deng? Braedan and I discuss the merits of whether or not the Bulls should trade Luol Deng.

Avi Saini- Trading Deng Makes Sense for Chicago:

On paper a lineup of Joakim Noah-Carlos Boozer-Luol Deng-Jimmy Butler- Derrick Rose looks like a tough team to stop. Why would I want to break something up that could potentially work out really well in Chicago’s favor? Why would I want to trade away Chicago’s small forward when we seemingly finally have our shooting guard of the future?

My first reasoning stems from the fear that the Bulls could lose Deng for nothing as they did with Omer Asik just one year ago. This season Deng is set to make $14.2 million which the Bulls would hopefully like to bring down as low as they possibly can. Any contract extensions or free agency negotiations the Bulls engage in with Deng will likely be centered on cutting his salary down to the $8 to $12 million range. The issue with this that Deng can command more on the open market and it’s likely both he and his agent realize that.

Next year’s free agency will be highlighted by the likes of some of the league’s best players such as Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, and a few others. Though these players can become free agents there is a fair chance that several of these players may not opt out of their contract or will simply resign with their current team, leaving a teams angling for only just a handful of stars. If the league’s history has shown us anything it’s that after a team swings and misses on landing a coveted star, the next best available player will be over-paid for his services. After the top seven players (eight if you include Pau Gasol), Deng arguably becomes the best player available should he become an unrestricted free agent. Given this trend and the fact that Andre Iguodala was offered a $14 million by the Sacramento Kings, Deng could cash in big in the offseason and receive significantly better offers than the one the Bulls are willing to give him. Letting Deng walk into a market willing to offer him $8 to 12 million more of the life of a contract could be enough to see him walk away and leave Chicago with nothing if he isn’t traded away.

To me it makes more sense to simply get what you can for Deng while possible.

My second reasoning for wanting to move Deng stems from the major flaws with the 2014 plan in which Deng’s and Boozer’s contracts come off of the books. Let’s assume the Bulls push through with the plan and free up all that cap space. Operating under the assumption that the salary cap will be approximately $58 million, roughly what it is set to be next season, let’s see how the finances work out. The Bulls will start off with around $40 million on the books leaving approximately $18 million left to work with under the cap. After picking up Butler’s and Marquis Teague’s options ($3 million), paying Mike Dunleavy ($3 million), and bringing Nikola Mirotic over ($5 million), the Bulls will only be left with around $7 million left to spend. Clearly this is not enough to get one of the big name players. Coupled with the fact that there are no other impactful scorers to be had in the free agency class after the big names the entire plan essentially goes to waste. Chicago could look to fill out their roster with that money and sign Deng past the cap with their Bird Rights but: 1) Deng could already have chosen to leave for another team willing to pay him more money as noted earlier and 2) Signing Deng with Bird Rights could jeopardize Butler’s contract extension and put Chicago in a financial situation similar to the one they’re in now. Trading Deng eliminates the possibility of Chicago walking away empty handed, or worse, from the 2014 free agency frenzy.

To me the most compelling reason to move Deng lies in the fact that he and Jimmy Butler are the same kind of player. In fact in most situations on both offense and defense Butler has shown himself to be the better, more improved, and significantly cheaper version of Deng according to Synergy Sports.

Note: All numbers are each player’s respective points per possession scored on offense or allowed on defense. The higher the number on offense and lower the number on defense the better. For consistency’s sake, Butler and Deng’s PPP are arranged in the parentheses as (Butler’s PPP vs Deng’s PPP).

On defense Butler holds advantages over Deng in the following situations: isolation (0.75 vs 0.83), pick and roll situations guarding the ball handler (0.68 vs 0.83), spot up (0.79 vs 1), and overall (0.76 vs 0.85). Deng does hold advantages in post defense (Butler’s 0.84 vs Deng’s 0.78) and guarding the roll man in pick and rolls (Butler’s 1.05 vs Deng’s 0.95).

On offense Butler is better as a spot up shooter (1.04 vs 0.81) and transition scorer (1.24 vs 1.04). Butler is also a better scorer as the ball handler (0.8 vs 0.68) and roll man (0.92 vs 0.83) in the pick and roll, off of rebounds (1.36 vs 1.12) and better at cutting to the hoop (1.34 vs 1.19) to score. Deng holds an advantage in isolation situations (0.69 vs 0.82). In off-screen plays and all other uncategorized situations, Deng and Butler are the same. Overall, Butler is the more prolific scorer (1.02 vs 0.89).

According to Basketball Reference, Butler was able to record a better true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, and win shares per 48 minutes while notching a similar player efficiency rating and defensive rating compared to Deng.

According to the points per possession numbers above Butler’s skill set aligns more properly with that of a wing player who doesn’t dominate the ball. Butler is no better an isolation player than Chicago has had in the past and does nothing to help take the offensive pressure off of Derrick Rose, who would once again have to create everything himself. Analysis of all the stats demonstrate that Butler is in fact as good as, if not better than, Deng defensively and a much more prolific offensive threat. Also given the fact that Butler is a significantly cheaper player, it makes more sense to simply shift Butler to a position where he can utilize his skill set more (small forward0 and simply trade Deng for a shooting guard to take the pressure off of Rose to be the sole creator of offense.

I love Deng as much as the next guy. He’s been a great teammate, role model to the community, hard worker, and done nothing but good for the current team and franchise overall. But the NBA is a business and if you, as an organization aren’t winning, you’re losing. It’s time to entertain trading Deng for the final pieces that can push Chicago over the top and to the trophy.

Braeden Ritter- Keep Deng, because I’m sentimental:

Deng is set to make 14.2 million next season on a Bulls roster that is currently constructed (counting Rip Hamilton’s $5 million until they buy him out for one million) to have about $80 million on the books for the 2013-2014 season. So yes, Deng is slightly overpaid, but he isn’t close to the worst contract on the team (I’m looking at you, Carlos Boozer…no don’t try to hide behind Kirk Hinrich. I can still see you, Carlos). The problem isn’t just Deng—at least he is productive—it’s much, much deeper, so by getting rid of him you’re putting a Band-Aid over an arm that’s been chopped off. That’s why the Bulls should give it one more shot with this squad.

I’d say this is the Bulls best chance to go for a title run since 2011, the first year of the ‘Big Three’ in Miami. Rose is rested…like really well rested. They finally have a ‘shooting guard’ in Jimmy Butler. Deng, Boozer and Joakim Noah ranged from solid to great last season. Mike Dunleavy coming off the bench is a nice option with Taj, and Nazr Mohammed has proved himself to be valuable at times. They are still behind the Heat, but the things that kept running through my head during the last two rounds of the playoffs were: “Can I make it to Chipotle and back before this commercial break is over?” along with “Man, the Heat look really beatable.”

It seems a little weird to say that, considering they are the two-time defending champs with the best basketball player in the world on their team, but the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals showed that Miami isn’t untouchable. A sub-par playoff stretch from Dwyane Wade—who will be a year older—and two seven-game series showed that Chicago could give the Heat a run as currently constructed if Derrick Rose returns healthy. And a big reason the Bulls would be a good matchup is because of Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler on defense; both can guard LeBron James or Wade. If they get rid of Deng, that puts a lot of pressure on Butler, who really will be a second-year player, to try and stop LeBron alone (although, I admit, keeping a player for one playoff series doesn’t make much sense).

However, if they aren’t able to get it done, a possible “fresh start” next season (let Deng walk, amnesty Boozer) won’t give the Bulls a ton of money under the cap as you explained , but it’ll be a place to start where they can finally look to add legitimate pieces, not just small parts.

I’ve made fun of the ‘2014 Plan’ since it was announced, because it was basically like saying “we’ll coast for a few years and then try to get better, even though we won’t have that much money and will be putting all our chips in the free agency basket which hasn’t worked out well for us as of late.” But a different plan could work. Either Deng resigns for a discount, or you can let him walk. That would save a good chunk of change on the cap, and then (hopefully) amnesty Boozer, saving even more money. That savings would be enough to bring in a pretty big name free agent at either shooting guard or small forward that could actually be the final piece to the championship puzzle.

Letting assets walk away for free really hurts (see: Omer Asik), but you can’t bail on something without the right deal. Unless the Bulls are getting valuable draft picks or young players under contract for a while, they will be right back in this exact same spot in a few years.

And to your point on Deng and Butler being the same player, all I can say is yes, that is true. Both are really natural small forwards, with solid length. But is that a bad thing? Wouldn’t nearly every team in the NBA love two wings that can hit threes pretty well and defend with some of the best in the league? One slice of pizza is awesome and delicious. But two slices of pizza is even better. That analogy doesn’t really work, but you get the idea. The Bulls have been looking for a shooting guard for what seems like a century, and now that they have found someone who fits there, there is a rush to move him to a different position.

According to, Butler’s net rating at shooting guard (3.5) was much better than when he was at small forward (.5). At shooting guard, Butler’s opponents put up a PER of 7.0. At small forward, the number jumped to 12.7. Now neither of those numbers are good—15.0 is an average PER—but that is a testament to how good of a defender Butler is. He is clearly a better defender at shooting guard with his length. Jimmy may not be the best fit as the shooting guard of the future, but why not let him fill that role in the present, while Deng plays one more year alongside him at the three, and this Bulls roster gives it one last go.


You’ve heard our takes on the subject. Let us know your opinion in the comments.

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11 Responses to Deng it! What Should the Chicago Bulls Do? The Debate to Trade or Keep Luol Deng

    HerdedHorse July 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Phenom writing! Go Bulls, all back and ready to win now together THIS season!

    ChiBullsFan July 7, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    The real problem is the cheap ass owner. Many teams are paying the luxury tax because they want to win. the Bulls have been playing with free money(MJ’s Profits)for a long time. The “2014 Plan” is smoke and mirrors, none of those guys are coming and most are too old to be of any help.We already pitched James and he signed elsewhere. Add Mo Wiliams, Elton Brand,Nate Robinson or Tony Allen now and we can compete with ANYBODY. If you want to drink Champagne, you need more than beer money!!!

    Anthony July 7, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I agree let it ride out with this team. I think we are the team with the best shot to beat the heat next season if Rose is in MVP form. Losing deng for nothing won’t be that big of deal since w have butler and dunleavy/snell/mirotic can hopefully take deng’s min in 14-15.
    for me the 14 plan is ride it out, hopefully win a championship and even then might be the best idea to let deng walk and cut boozer.
    14 plan should be bring mirotic and wait for bobcats pick. I rather build around rose with young talent then sign over the hill guys.
    I don’t think the bulls are cheap. In hindsight they should have never spent the money on boozer. what would have people said if the bulls walked away not spending a dime that offseasaon?
    Bulls made it the 2nd round without Rose who is a MVP type player, i think they put together a good team. THe bulls will most likely start the season as a top 4 team to win the championship. and i predict they will cut boozer next year to sign mirotic….do you realize the cheaper route would be to keep boozer and sign mirotic in 15?

  4. Matt July 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Sure plenty of teams have gone deep in the cap chasing whatever pieces are available in the hopes of building a championship team…Orlando, LA Lakers, Brooklyn, Knicks. Do you really want to swap places with any of those teams right now? Just look at Detroit a few years back…spending too much on too little means the team can’t do anything moving forward. Hell just look at Boozer, too much money on too little costs more than just the owners profits. It costs the team the ability to continue building.
    The Bulls need to look for someone worth spending the money on. Alderge comes to mind, just not sure if he’s worth giving up Noah or Butler for.

  5. TBF July 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    The team is trapped in basketball hell right now. They’re too good to just blow up and start over, but not good enough to beat the big teams in the playoffs.

    This team is, functionally, identical to the one that lost to the Heat in 5 3 years ago. What has changed that makes you think we could beat them now? Deng’s older, Boozer’s older and Noah’s got bad feet. They have a coach who, for all his regular season wins hasn’t done squat in the playoffs and who overplays his players so that they’re exhausted and injured by playoff time.

    This is the time when the team and the fans have to decide what they want. Do you wanna win 50 to 60 games every year, make a top 3 seed in the East and ultimately end up praying that maybe *THIS* year is the year we finally sneak past LeBron? Or do you wanna go whole hog, gamble it all and make some changes to try to get a team that we can win a championship with?

    Brad S. July 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    WOW! New content AND some comments in response? For the first time since Rose got hurt, it feels like BBTH has a pulse again. (Matt – that playoff loss hurt me too, but that doesn’t mean we stop writing. Tsk, Tsk! 😉

    Avi, that is one damn convincing argument, but I gotta go with Braeden on this one. I know full well that I am too much of a sappy, nostalgic chump, but I want to see the team back together again for one more season. It seems cruel to jettison Deng now, without giving them their shot. Machiavelian-Strategy wise that makes no sense, but it’s the perfect setup for what would be an awesome storyline should they win.

    Jason July 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    These are two really well framed arguments but my concern is the bulls as a franchise for the duration. We have long term pieces and even if we do well and win with Deng, that will probably just raise his stock more and guarantee his departure after the season. Will this season be the one where we see the beastly Boozer who dominates against the heat to actually contribute to a series victory? If so then what does that mean to Mirotic? Will we keep Booz just to have him revert to the guy we all have known so far? I really don’t want to become the champion mavs or heat who win one year and dismantle the next to return to mediocrity. I mean it’s all about a championship, but even if we win with this team our FO has designed our roster to be dismantled in the very near future so I’d retool now.

    eL sEgundo July 10, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    dangerous deng has earned his right to wear the bulls uni. bulls talk about brining in character guys and what not. deng represents the bulls nicely.

    not to mention hes a tough motherluver, battles lebron, and he really is a problem for the opposition.

    i say keep deng. two slices better than one slice. all we need is pepporoni, and we got a shot at the heat. BULLS !

    Larry December 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    The Bull’s problem is lack of commitment. They don’t want to pay Deng and there is nobody available who can replace his production. The top 7 or 8 FA are not coming, after them who is left that will come and replace Deng;s production for 6 mil?? Remember when the Bulls paid 30 Mil for one year, now they don’t want to pay 12. Everybody wants Deng to go and replace him with Butler, so now where’s the shooting guard. Again there are no 6 Mil shooting guards. And the way the Bulls rack up injuries having Deng and Butler is no luxury. Best case scenario is Boozer is amynested, Mirotic finally comes and backs up Gibson. starters Rose, Butler, Deng, Gibson and Noah. bench has DJ, Mirotic, Snell, Muhammad and Murphy


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