The unthinkable has finally happened. The Luol Deng era in Chicago is officially over. After close to a decade, one of the hardest-working players in the game has left the Windy City. The man who has been the lynchpin of Tom Thibodeau’s system is headed for Cleveland in exchange for a down-on-his-luck Andrew Bynum.
While the wailing and gnashing of teeth from long-time Bulls faithful still echoes across the internet in the wake of the Deng trade, I wanted to take this opportunity and remind you, Bulls Nation, that there is cause for hope.
First off, the Bulls certainly tried to keep Deng around. Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday night that Chicago’s front office offered Deng a three-year, $30 million dollar deal to stay for another crack at the championship alongside Derrick Rose and he turned it down.
Had the Bulls wanted to retain Deng, they would have found themselves severely limited under the current CBA and unable to add any real talent to the roster this coming offseason.
With Deng gone and the Bulls having already dumped Andrew Bynum in a move to get back under the salary cap, they have managed to open a great many more options than were previously available to them.
Assuming they amnesty Carlos Boozer (something the Deng trade makes a near certainty), they will be able to choose from among a rich crop of free agents this coming summer, perhaps landing the long-coveted second superstar to go along with the former MVP or they may be able to take a more Popovichian approach and load up on some of the grittiest, hardest-working role-players to stack the roster from top to bottom.
2) The Present Was Dark
As much as Deng represented the warrior mentality of this team and embodied its toughness, there was no way that this Bulls roster was going to realistically contend with the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers for a shot at the NBA crown. Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls were forced to dive deep into the bargain bin and add D.J. Augustin.
Think about that for a moment. When D.J. Augustin is your franchise’s knight in shining armor, you have some serious work to do. Though Augustin has performed will for the Bulls since his arrival, there is no reasonable expectation that he will be a part of the franchise’s long-term plans for the future.
Carlos Boozer is posting some of his worst numbers as a Bull this season, despite being looked to more in the absence of Rose. He is obviously approaching the twilight of his career, and the Bulls will almost certain exercise the league’s last remaining amnesty option this coming offseason and send him packing.
3) The Future Is Bright
Let’s take a moment and assess what the Bulls will have in the pantry when October of 2014 rolls around.
They have the Charlotte pick, which is looking more and more like it may finally come of use this season, with Charlotte finally climbing out of the basement and possibly even into playoff contention.
In the deal that sent Deng to Cleveland, the Bulls picked up protected pick via the Sacramento Kings, as well as Portland’s 2015 and 2016 picks AND the right to switch draft picks with Cleveland in 2015, as long as Cleveland isn’t in the lottery.
That’s all just stargazing for the long-term. In the very near term, the Bulls will retain a solid core of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, and the surprising Tony Snell. With the team in full-on tank mode with this move and one of the most stacked drafts in recent history, the Bulls may finally be able to find a future All-Star at shooting guard to pair with one of the most electric point guards in recent memory.
Oh, and then there’s the icing on the cake: Nikola Mirotic.
Bulls faithful have been waiting patiently for the draft-and-stash Euros-stud to put on the Black and Red jersey he seems destined for, but in the meantime he has been absolutely dominating the Euroleague, winning nearly every award that league has to offer, while working his way into the top 25 AT THE LOWEST in every statistical category. With the money the franchise has saved in losing Lu and the additional cap space they’ll create by amnestying Boozer, offering the 23-year-old future superstar the money it will take to bring him over becomes much easier.
A starting five composed of Rose, a first-round shooting guard, Butler, Mirotic, and Noah would have knock-down shooters at four out of five positions, spacing the floor in the way that allows Rose maximum opportunity for penetration.
As for that shooting guard position… Well, just think about this. With all the picks they’ve stockpiled, and some respectable young assets in Snell and Murphy, the Bulls may find themselves in a position to move up and snag precisely who they want in the coming draft. If you’re anything like me, you might already be dreaming wildly about the possibility of pairing a certain oversized two-guard from Chi Town with Mr. Rose.