Was picking a small forward (Tony Snell) the best thing for the Chicago Bulls in the 2013 NBA Draft? Time will tell, but the obvious thing is that Luol Deng and his expiring contract aren’t wanted in the organization as they once was, and the day when Jimmy Butler finally takes over the starting position isn’t too far away.
The Bulls are sending mixed messages regarding Deng and his future with the team, which at the moment is one more season worth $14.3 million. GM Gar Forman is saying Deng remains a key part of their future plans: Luol’s a big piece of what we’re doing. He’s been a big piece of the success we’ve had the last couple years… He’ll continue to be a big piece of what we’re doing moving forward.
But being a big piece might mean a trading chip. The Bulls discussed certain things with the Washington Wizards, while recently there have been low key talks with the Portland Trail Blazers for LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Blazers don’t want Deng – they want Noah.
It’s only reasonable. Jimmy Butler emerged last season amid all the injuries as a versatile player who can do everything Deng does, only at a cheaper price. He finished last season averaging 8.6 points per game while shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc, but he was much more important in the postseason, shooting over 40% from three while playing 40.8 minutes a game, and hardly getting a second to rest during the Miami Heat series.
Butler seems to be just as good as Deng on defense, even if he has shorter arms. He’s more physical in the man to man game, and has no problem handling bigger, stronger players like LeBron James. He didn’t shut him down – no one can, but he made it quite difficult for the best player in the NBA to feel comfortable during the conference semifinal series.
And now comes Snell. Snell was amazing during the workouts, but his New Mexico career, including his Junior year, wasn’t outstanding. He averaged 12.5 points per game while shooting 39% from beyond the arc, and the said the Bulls wanted a perimeter guy who can hit shots from deep. Tim Hardaway Junior, Reggie Bullock and Allen Crabbe were all still available at that point, making it slightly weird the Bulls went with Snell, who isn’t thought of a consistent performer on both ends of the floor, although his potential and upside, words scouts and GMs love, might a bit higher than the others.
Deng is still a significant contributor, although it won’t be a stretch to say the Bulls were slightly disappointed with him not raising his offensive output last season in the face of the year-long absence of Derrick Rose. Deng averaged 16.5 points per game while leading the NBA on 38.7 minutes a night. For the money they’re paying him, and especially with an alternative like Butler on the bench, Deng just doesn’t seem to be worth his salary compared to the alternative.
Is he out? Not yet. Snell needs a strong preseason to show the Bulls can start giving him significant minutes, but that’s not the only factor. If Chicago can get a good trade for Deng – a power forward who can contribute right away or a shooting guard that can push Richard Hamilton out of the rotation, they’ll pull the trigger on the deal. Worst case scenario, they have a slightly declining borderline All-Star forward for one more year. That’s not so bad.