There was a lot of news this last week about the Chicago Bulls and whether they should trade Luol Deng. Among the most intriguing names to pop up is Dion Waiters, the disgruntled shooting guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Determining whether the Bulls should make such a move is not an easy one either way. Too much of the time we look at trades at just think of this player versus that player. That’s a sloppy and short-sighted way of looking at it.
Unless you’re in a “win-now” mode (which the Bulls are not with Derrick Rose done for the year) the only way to measure a trade is by comparing how the future team would look if you make the trade versus how it would look if you didn’t make the trade.
There are two problems which the Bulls have had in the Tom Thibodeau era which can be adequately described as chronic: a chronic absence of shot creators apart from Derrick Rose and a chronic presence of injuries. Watiers, potentially, could help with both of these issues.
He’s averaged 14.9 points with a 47.9 effective field-goal percentage, and 52 percent of his points are unassisted. He is shooting slightly over 40 percent from deep. The biggest argument in favor of making a play for Waiters is that he would actually be a pure scorer at the 2, something the Bulls haven’t had since Ben Gordon bolted for the Pistons.
While you’d like to see a bit more efficiency, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s just 22 and only in his second year in the NBA. There’s plenty of room to grow there. He would give the Bulls an authentic offensive threat in the backcourt beside the hopefully healthy Rose going forward.
The Bulls wouldn’t be able to make a Deng for Waiters move straight up because the salaries don’t match. However, if you add in Anderson Varejao, the salaries match up. While Varejao is under contract for two more years, next year is unguaranteed, so the Bulls cap (which is actually overstated) wouldn’t be overly infringed.
Of course the Bulls could either keep him or move him in a trade though.
There are a lot of reasons to make sense of this trade. If only things were so simple.
I get the sense that many Bulls fans don’t truly appreciate how much Deng means to the team, both as a player and a leader. You don’t just deal a two-time All-Star and not realize the impact of the loss. Yes, Jimmy Butler has shown potential, and is an outstanding defender (seriously, a 6.5 PER?) but that leaves out the logic that Butler is already on the team.
You can’t replace a player with an existing player, because the existing player is on the roster already. When my office TV broke, I had to replace it with the TV that used to be in my bedroom. It was bigger, so it was an “upgrade” in my office, but my bedroom had to settle for the smaller TV that used to be in there before I got the big TV for it.
Point being, you can move parts around, but you ultimately end up with a downgrade somewhere when you “replace” something with what you already have.
The difference between a Butler/Deng wing tandem and a Waiters/Butler wing tandem is exactly the difference between Deng and Waiters. Butler is a constant. So how do Deng and Waiters compare?
Deng is the more productive player per minute, but not by nearly the margin you might expect, especially since most of the difference comes in rebounds—not a factor that you’re particularly looking for in a small forward.
Of course this doesn’t account for defense, and with Waiters that’s still a developing aspect of his game. There would certainly be a loss there. Of course a year under the tutelage of Thibodeau could help Waiters, who has the athleticism to be a superior defender.
And, if they’re this close now, how will they compare in two years, three years, or four years? Certainly not nearly so favorably. By then, with Waiters hitting the peak of his career, and Deng’s in decline, it’s more likely that Waiters would be the better player.
The Bulls can’t seem to decide if they want to rebuild or not. If they are, it would behoove them to move Deng. There are arguments to retain him, particularly if he’s willing to take slightly less than he’d get on the open market. Not the least of these is a peace offering from management to Thibodeau.
There are arguments to trade him while he’s still a Bull. We don’t want a repeat of Omer Asik, where we lose him when we could have gotten something for him. There are no arguments to just let him walk in free agency and getting nothing back.
Personally, I sit down with Thibodeau, have a very long talk with him, and get his blessing on the trade, then pull the trigger. The Bulls are somewhat forced into going to a min-rebuilding phase either way right now. This year and next, the championship window is closed. In two years, when Waiters starts sniffing his prime though, the window could re-open. And at that time, it would be better to have him than Deng.