If reports are to be believed, the Chicago Bulls are actively pursuing a trade involving their All-Star Small Forward Luol Deng, a deal that could possibly be concluded before Thursday's NBA Draft. Sources suggest the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards are putting together packages involving the number one and three picks respectively. With no obvious quality atop the draft this year, this would be a small price to pay for a player of Deng's ability.
The former Duke Blue Devil has long been one of the most underrated players in the league. An efficient scorer who has evolved into one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, swingmen like Deng are hard to find. This makes the decision by the Bulls to explore possible trade possibilities an extremely strange one.
In the absence of team leader and superstar Derrick Rose last season, Deng took on the responsibility and thrived, guiding the team to the fifth seed in the Playoffs with a 45-37 record and making his second All-Star appearance, which was exactly what his exceptional displays deserved. He led the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game, was a force rebounding the basketball and could be counted on to guard the opposition's best player on a nightly basis.
With all that being said, the question has to be asked.
Why would you want to trade Luol Deng?
The first reason, as is often the case in these tight economic times, is financial. The Bulls are already over the salary cap for next season with just eight players under contract, something that will no doubt be causing the front office great concern. With Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah all on lengthy, lucrative deals, Deng looks to have been designated as the odd one out. Deng is an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Bulls may not be in a financial position to offer him the contract he is looking for, which is why they are looking into the possibility of getting something for a player they could lose for nothing next summer.
There's no doubt that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau rates Deng very highly. He leaned on him heavily last season, rarely taking him out of the lineup, even when the team were involved in blowout games. Deng will be a huge loss to the Bulls should he be traded, yet some suggest this could actually be a good move for the franchise.
As Deng has refused to have an operation on his left wrist over the past two seasons, his efficiency has suffered as a result. The British International has played with torn ligaments in his wrist for the best part of 18 months now. He has refused to have an operation during the summer, instead making sure Great Britain qualified for the Olympics, then playing in it. Deng isn't to be criticized for this, how many players get the opportunity to play in an Olympic Games in their home country? Not many, but it does seem to have hampered his performance slightly and that will not have pleased the Bulls front office.
There is evidence to support this claim. After tearing his ligament in January 2012, Deng went on to shoot a career low 41.2% from the field. After another offseason without surgery, Deng's shooting percentage increased slightly, yet it was still poor at 42.6%. He has once again opted out of surgery this summer, stating that with a full off-season to rest it will no longer be a problem. Despite this claim, the Bulls have to worry whether his performance will deteriorate further due to this complication.
Whether this has contributed to the Bulls exploring trade possibilities or not, is uncertain. It would be a collection of the two factors we have discussed. If the Bulls are serious about this, they must have a contingency plan in place. If they were to obtain one of the top three picks in the Draft, they would no doubt be targeting Georgetown forward Otto Porter. He is a lengthy swingman who has the ability to be a shutdown defender, also capable of creating his own shot off the dribble. He is a good player, but an All-Star he is not.
If any deal was to be struck with the Wizards, then it would have to include the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor. The former number two overall pick hasn't fulfilled his potential but is still a solid defensive presence and would be a valuable backup to Noah, who has himself suffered numerous injuries over the years. The Bulls have more pressing needs than that and it would be far more beneficial for them to have Deng in their lineup as they would most likely be releasing Okafor after this season.
This is a huge decision for the franchise, it would appear to be lunacy if they trade Deng and would represent a clear sign of the times in the NBA. The almighty dollar controls all aspects of the game, especially following the new collective bargaining agreement making things even more difficult for teams looking to live in the luxury tax. The Bulls would be wise to play the season with Deng, maximizing their chances of an NBA title with the return of Rose and worry about a new contract at the end of the season. After all, success is the only thing that matters.
The other argument is Deng entering free agency with no restrictions. General Managers live in fear of stars leaving for nothing, a fear that grew considerably when they saw LeBron James leave Cleveland without so much as a draft pick in return. If they do trade Deng, they will not get his market value even though the draft pick will be high. However, something is better than seeing him sign for another team with no compensation being owed to the Bulls.
Do they "Stick or twist"? Certainly a dilemma that will be intriguing to watch over the coming days.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_