The emergence of Jimmy Butler during his second season, usually at the expense of an injured Luol Deng, has the Chicago Bulls thinking that it might be time to finally pull the trigger on a trade they’ve been considering for a very long time. With Butler on the rise and Deng becoming more and more of a health risk, there’s a chance that before his contract runs out in 2014, the two-time All-Star will find himself on another team.
Deng’s numbers in 2012-2013: He averaged 16.5 points, but that number dropped in the postseason to below 14, and he remained healthy for only 5, missing the ending of the series against the Nets, not to mention the entire series against the Bulls. Chicago have a lot of money on the table, tied up for $79,027,481 next season, including over $14 million to Deng.
Jimmy Butler? He’s on a very friendly rookie contract, which gives him $1.1 million next season and $2 million for 2014-2015. He isn’t as adept as Deng offensively (averaging 3.4 points per game less every 36 minutes) but he is five years younger, healthier and possibly a better defender, as he just showed during his amazing job in both series against the Nets and the Heat, averaging over 40 minutes per game in the postseason.
Deng is only 28, but it’s not the first time the Bulls considered trading him. In the famous 2007 ‘Kobe Bryant crisis’, the Bulls actually decided against trading for Bryant, in the fear of losing Deng and other valuable pieces. Deng is an All-Star and a very good all-around player, but the Bulls did expect him to take more on his shoulders in terms of scoring without Derrick Rose for the entire season.
Obviously, this season showed that Deng simply benefits from having better players around him instead of being the “forced” go-to guy, despite his tendency to be strong in the clutch and hit game winners from time to time. It just might be the fact that the Bulls were without a solid point guard for long stretches of the season, but maybe Deng’s offense and health prevents him from being as effective as the Bulls might need him and expect him to be.
Butler? His development curb is quite fast, averaging 13.3 points per game in the postseason, and it should only get better. He is quite raw with the ball, but he has a very good hand from beyond the arc (40.5% in the playoffs) and his athleticism can carry him when the Bulls get stuck on offense, like they have so many times this season.
Derrick Rose changes the picture completely in a few months. He’ll be back, no more questions about yes or no. Just the hope that he hasn’t lost too much of his ability during more than a year off the courts. Jimmy Butler is going to be a very big part of the team next season, although with Deng on the payroll it looks like a sixth man job for now. Butler has been playing as shooting guard here and there, but that’s not where he’s best suited.
Deng? He needs to show the Bulls something very special next year in order for them to think he deserves an extension. Even then, the fear of losing him for nothing might trigger a trade anyway.
On a personal note, this reminds me of a situation the Indiana Pacers were faced with not too long ago, as Paul George emerged as a significant player on the perimeter Some suggested the Pacers should make way by trading Danny Granger. Things worked fine last season, and this year the Pacers were unlucky to have Granger miss almost the entire season. Deng and Butler can co-exist, it’s mostly a matter of the financial details adding up.