In the wake of the Luol Deng trade there’s been an onslaught of criticism by fans—some of management, some of Deng, some of both. Some just want to lash out at anyone in general. Most of the fans criticizing either way jump on a wayward “fact” or two and then build Specious Mountain out of it, stand atop it, and declare their opinion as gospel.
Some fans are what I call “thermometer fans.” They check the temperature so they can complain about the weather. It doesn’t even matter what it is. They’re the ante-fans. They are “fans” of a team only so they can have something to whine about. They seem to take more pleasure in whining than winning.
This explains why some of the same people who, just a week ago were so angry about the notion of re-signing Deng instead of trading him, are now complaining that they traded him instead of re-singing him. The same people who believed that he was demanding too much in asking for $15 million (a fictitious figure spread around as fact) are now railing at management for “lowballing” Deng with an insulting three-year, $30 million offer.
Like I said, thermometer fans. Something happened, so there must be something to be angry about.
Let’s look at the actual reality of the Deng trade before we move on. Let’s look at it (dare I suggest it?) from the perspective of management. They had a player who on the one hand was one of the top-10 players in franchise history, who was one of the longest tenured they’d ever had, and who had poured out everything for the franchise.
He was a two-time All-Star and by the coach’s account, an instrumental part of the team.
On the other hand, he’d played a lot of minutes the last few years, was going to be 29 at the beginning of the contract, and other players of his caliber were getting pitched significantly more than they could afford to give him.
Andre Iguodala, who was a fair gauge of Deng’s value, had just signed a 4-year, $48 million deal the previous summer. Some might argue that Iguodala is “worth” more, but he’s not worth $18 million more and it’s a fair estimate of Deng’s value. Who’s “better” is moot.
Neither is on another level than the other. Besides, remember he was offered a four-year $56 million year with the New Orleans Pelicans so $48 million is a low-range value, which Deng is certainly worth. Josh Smith, also a similar caliber player, signed a 4-year, $54 million deal.
So, even if you want to argue those two are better, are they nearly twice as good? There’s a lot of room between $30 million and $54-56 million.
The Bulls entered as a team with valid championship hopes, but after Rose went down, those hopes ended and that changed everything. This was the last, and maybe second-to-last year of the window for this particular core. The window broke.
So now the Bulls and Deng were destined to split. It was the only logical conclusion. The bottom line was simple: Deng’s market value was higher than what the Bulls could afford to pay. Complicating matters was the innate eminence of the deal. There was a deadline and they didn’t have time to think about it. Cleveland had to trade Bynum now!
So, you can argue, why did they wait until now? They should have negotiated during the summer. But, during the summer they didn’t know what would happen this year. If they had negotiated this summer they might have reached a deal, and then Deng would be under contract right now for the next four years, and everyone would be complaining that we had this albatross of a contract that was keeping us out of free agency.
They did what they should have done this offseason. They waited to see how the season would play out so they could maximize their flexibility. Then, when they got the best offer they felt they could get, they told Deng what their best possible offer was, and Deng rejected it, quite reasonably, because he could get more elsewhere. The Bulls can’t afford to give more; that doesn’t mean he’s not worth more.
But, some might argue, the Bulls are a rich team and Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t care about the Bulls and he only cares about the White Sox and so on and so forth. Even if all that is true (and I don’t concede it is at all because they proved they were willing to spend the money for a contender) it’s still moot.
This is where fans have to do something that goes against their nature: Learn about the business side of things. Paying the luxury tax is something you probably have to do to win, but paying it when you can’t win can prevent you from winning in the future.
The new CBA includes a “repeater tax” which kicks in if you’ve paid the tax in three of your last four years. It means if you’re $20 million over the tax you could end up paying as much almost $100 million in taxes alone—plus the $100 million salary.
Not only that, but being over the tax “apron” ($5 million over the tax payer threshold) almost paralyzes what the team can do in terms of exceptions or trades. It costs virtually all flexibility. And we’ve seen that you can spend money hand over fist, and still be horrible. Just look at the two New York teams if you don’t believe me.
The important thing now isn’t just “whether” you pay the tax, but “when” do you pay the tax. And the trick is to align when you pay with your championship window. And regardless of where you stand, I think we can all agree, the Bulls chances of winning a title this year are nonexistent.
And, on a side note, I believe that Tom Thibodeau is an intelligent enough person to understand all nuances of this too. He’s not happy about it and no one expected him to be. At the same time, they didn’t sideswipe him with the news either. They let him know before what was happening.
When you look at everything in context, it all makes sense. They didn’t re-sign him this summer because they shouldn’t have, and that decision has been borne out by the season. They traded him when they needed to. They offered him what they could.
On Deng’s side, he didn’t do or ask for anything unreasonable.
There is no animosity on either side. The only complaint, ironically, is Deng’s request that the fans understand that he never asked for $15 million. What does it say that he’s not faulting ownership, but has an issue with the antefans making snap judgments?
And this brings us full circle. Fans have a responsibility too, and that goes beyond just cheering for your team. Fans shouldn’t blindly drink the team Kool-Aid and rubberstamp everything their team does but they should understand what the team does before criticizing it. If you want to judge, first show judgment.