Throw Back Thursday: Revisiting an Old Deng Discussion

The recent injury to Derrick Rose has many fans debating what the Chicago Bulls should do next- continue to compete for a title or blow the team up to a degree and begin the rebuilding process as soon as possible. A big part of this debate revolves around Luol Deng, his soon to be expiring contract, and if the Bulls should trade him. Both Braedan and I discussed this issue back in July and the post remains relevant. Thus we’ve decided to share it all with you once again to hopefully add to the discussion (as well as take part in Throw Back Thursday). Everything appears as it did in the original post. Enjoy everyone!

From Flickr via Shinya

From Flickr via Shinya

Luol Deng is no stranger to trade rumors. Since entering the NBA, he has seemingly been involved in yearly 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, a tad bit overpaid for his level of production. Any contract extensions or free agency negotiations the Bulls engage in with Deng will likely be centered on cutting his salary down to the $10 to $12 million range (more likely the latter). The problem is that Deng can command more on the open market and it’s highly likely both he and his agent realize that.

Next year’s free agency period will be highlighted by the likes of some of the league’s best players and looks to be strong. The list of players includes Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Carmelo Anthony. However, it’s highly likely that most, if not all, of these players will likely resign with their current teams. In that situation, who’s left? Not much. After the top seven players (or eight if you include Pau Gasol), Deng arguably becomes the best player available should he become an unrestricted free agent. If history has shown us anything it’s that as the best player available it’s highly likely that several teams will be willing to over-pay for his services. It doesn’t exactly help that the market for Deng has been set with the $14 million per year offers Andre Iguodala received. Letting Deng walk into that kind of market where he will be offered like $6 to $8 million more of the life of a contract could be enough to see him walk away and leave Chicago with nothing.

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 franchise. 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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3 Responses to Throw Back Thursday: Revisiting an Old Deng Discussion


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    Lee December 3, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I say resign. Who wouldnt love to have deng and butler on the same team. Hes got great leadership qualities, and is o e of the most respected players in the nba. Hes tough in the painted area and just battles it out every game. I think he earened the rigbt to finish his career as a bull.

    if anyone should vet traded its boozer, and I love boozs game but hes better off on a team whos able to use him the right way

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