Luol Deng can't play much better than he has over the past week, averaging 27.4 points, 6 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game over his last five contests. That's why there is no better time for the Bulls than the present to deal Deng as fast as they can and get back the best offer possible.
As Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson watched their team lose a 131-128 triple overtime affair to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night, two things should have been clear to them. First, the Bulls, no matter which players are on the floor, still play with plenty of heart without Derrick Rose. Secondly, and most importantly in the short term, the Bulls must deal Deng sooner rather than later.
This team's championship aspirations disappeared this season when Rose went down, so why hang on to Deng now in the final year of his deal? It would be one thing if the Bulls still had hopes to re-sign him in the future, but it's become apparent that Deng doesn't want to give the organization a "hometown discount" and the Bulls don't want to pay Deng anywhere close to the $14 million he's making this season.
With that in mind, the Bulls run the risk of getting nothing in return for Deng if he were to get injured. That should be even more apparent to Forman and Paxson after watching Deng play almost 56 minutes on Monday night.
"This was a tough one," Deng said after the game. "I think just coming back from a trip, we had a tough trip, I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't tired out there. I was tired, a lot of guys were, our team and their team, they had a back to back. It just made (for) a lot of fatigue and mental mistakes in the end."
Deng played one of his best games of the season on Monday, scoring 37 points with eight rebounds and seven assists but even he admitted that he was gassed at the end of the game.
"I'm in great shape," he said. "I always work on my fitness, but like I said, it's a new role, a new experience ... It's still early in the season so fatigue is not a factor."
Deng was referring to the fact that in addition to all of his other duties he is now being asked to close down games the way that Rose did in the past. It's a role he has struggled with during the past week, as evidenced, in part, by his seven turnovers on Monday night. The real problem for Deng and the Bulls is that while fatigue might not be a factor for him now, it will be later in the season.
That's why Forman and Paxson would be best served to deal him now with 66 games remaining in the regular season. They can sell a team on the fact that Deng will be there for a majority of the season and in the process they will open up a spot in the starting lineup so that rookie Tony Snell and third-year swingman Jimmy Butler can start playing together.
If Deng stays, Thibodeau will have to make a decision about Snell or Butler in the starting lineup. Either way, one of the young players will have his minutes cut.
Deng doesn't have nearly as much value as he would have a season ago when he still had another year on his deal, but he still is widely respected throughout the league for his consistency and skill.
Thibodeau doesn't want to see Deng leave, but if the Bulls aren't going to pay him and he doesn't want to take a pay cut, there aren't any other choices.