Tom Thibodeau has called Deng the "glue" of the Bulls and it would be tough for the him to lose his most trusted player. But the reality for Deng, and for the organization, is that he has played a lot of minutes over the past few years and the front office isn't sure how much they would want to pay him after the final year of his deal runs out after next year.
That's why Deng was always the most likely candidate to be dealt before this summer and why Marc Stein's report that the Bulls have explored a deal with the Washington Wizards that would land them the third pick in the draft and Emeka Okafor, assuming he were to opt into his contract worth $14.5 million, shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Let's take a look at a few of the key factors involved in any potential deal.
Why would the Bulls want to move Deng?: He's a two time All-Star and a defensive stalwart. The problem is he's played through several different injuries throughout the past few seasons and has been a league leader in minutes under the domineering Thibodeau. Most importantly, Deng is scheduled to make over $13 million in the final year of his deal and will be looking for something in that neighborhood again next summer. The Bulls would like to clear out as much cap space as they can before next summer in order to sign another scorer to pair with Derrick Rose and would have another rookie contract on the books if this deal were to go down.
Which player would they take if they got the pick?: Bulls GM Gar Forman and his staff would have their pick of swingmen if they were to get to the top of the draft. Depending on what Cleveland and Orlando decide to do at No. 1 and No. 2, the Bulls would be selecting from a group that could include Kansas' Ben McLemore, Indiana's Victor Oladipo, UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Georgetown's Otto Porter -- all of whom have the potential to become solid scorers in the league.
Why would Wizards want to make this deal?: This is the part I don't understand. Deng has proven he can play consistently at an All-Star level but he can walk at the end of the year. If he had another couple years on his current deal, or he was going to sign an extension with the Wizards, then it makes more sense. But why would any team give up a top pick for a player who could walk at the end of the year, even if they would be shedding a bad deal (in this case Okafor's) in the process? Stein also noted that the Cavaliers have interest in Deng, but the question remains the same: Why would any team give up a young piece in order to trade for a player who has the ability to walk away at the end of the year?
How would this change Bulls' future?: This is two-fold for Forman and Co. First, they would be getting a player who could help them down the line who has the ability to turn into a solid contributor next season. They would also be able to clear out the important cap space they need to attract a difference maker next summer. If, as expected, the Bulls amnesty the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract next summer and Deng or Okafor's deal comes off the books, they would have enough cap space to try and sign former first-round pick Nikola Mirotic and still have space to add an impact player to a core that many believe is ready to compete for a title with Rose and Thibodeau leading the way.
Will it get done? If Forman can get this deal done the league might as well start carving his name into the executive of the year award right now. Many believe the Bulls, with Deng and a healthy Rose, will have the ability to contend for a title next season. While that is the hope within the organization, many privately acknowledge that they still need to find that missing piece to pair with Rose in order to take down the Miami Heat. Whether an Oladipo or McLemore would be that kind of game changer remains to be seen, but making this kind of deal may give the Bulls their best chance to win in the future.
Deng has proven to be one of the better players in the league over the past three years and has changed the soft perception of him from a few years ago. His teammates and coaches respect his work ethic, and he has earned a hard-nosed reputation throughout the league. Despite all the accolades, Deng is still more of a system player than a superstar who can create his own shot and take pressure off Rose. Championship teams need players like Deng but not at the type of price he is being paid now or in the future.
If the Bulls have the chance to move him they must take advantage of it now. They can't risk not being able to keep Deng for the right price next summer and get nothing in return as he signs with another team.