The Chicago Bulls don’t mind having Luol Deng on the team, but not at his current rate (and probably not close to it), and are strongly considering for this season to be the last for him on the team, enabling them to go after a high-profile free agent next season or get something via trade for Deng.
The 10-year veteran entering the final year of his contract, set to make $14.3 million. Deng averaging 16.5 points per game for the Bulls last season, but playing too many minutes in recent years and missing a big chunk of the playoffs due to a life-threatening condition after a spinal tap has many in the Bulls organization wondering whether or not Deng is the piece they need next to Rose, Noah and the others in order to win the NBA title.
Talks about an extension began, but the Bulls opted out of them, preferring to see just how well the return of Rose goes. There are more pieces, not just Rose and Noah, in this equation – Carlos Boozer, always an amnesty candidate, while Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson should also be included as key players in the Bulls’ hopes to see them compete and beat the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers for the Eastern crown.
According to Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com, Deng and his agent tried to settle an extension this summer, but it seems the Bulls want something else. Deng shouldn’t worry too much – he’s probably worth around $10 million on the open market next season, but the Bulls know they have an excellent player in Jimmy Butler (who’ll play shooting guard next season) who can fit in Deng’s shoes perfectly for a lot cheaper.
If not, there is free agency: If the Bulls amnesty Boozer and allow Deng to leave the team, they can go after guys like Danny Granger (if he makes a solid comeback this season), Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, while Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James will probably be out of reach.
The Bulls want to contend, but the disappointments, each season coming in a different way, of the last three years do have them wondering about the pieces they have surrounding Rose and Noah. It’s less about Deng picking up his numbers or not: It’s more about the Bulls being in the top 3 of the East, and how well they do in the playoffs.
There’s always the chance of Deng being traded by February, and the Bulls did try to move him this offseason to Washington and Portland, but money isn’t that much of a concern – winning titles and being competitive is. Deng is likely to remain for the rest of the season, and only a strong postseason performance and reasonable demands from him in the negotiations will keep him on the Bulls for a few more years.