Luol Deng knows that the Chicago Bulls could trade him at any time. The Bulls are 7-7—tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference—and they flirted with the idea of shipping him off for a 2012-13 rookie in the offseason. That didn’t happen, and the .500 team is now relying on Deng to play 40.5 minutes per game.
That’s dangerous territory.
Deng has played two (of a possible eight) full NBA seasons. He’s been in street clothes for 101 contests. The 27-year-old should be in the prime of his career, making him more attractive to a squad that doesn’t require his services for so many minutes per night.
Deng has played an increasing amount of time per game since the 37.9 MPG that he logged in the 2009-10 season. He rebounds well from the small forward position, pulling down 7.4 boards a night this year. At 6’9”, Deng’s lanky frame also enables him to be a reliable wing defender and a valuable contributor to a contender.
What you don’t want him to be, however, is the leading shot-taker on your team. That’s who Deng is for this iteration of the Bulls—a team that lacks a former NBA MVP in Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the playoffs last spring.
When the most highly anticipated return to the Association (with apologies to Andrew Bynum and Philadelphia 76ers fans) will happen is still a mystery. If that situation is resolved by Rose sitting out 2012-13 and making a return at the start of next season and a Deng trade is consummated, Chicago may be in prime position to do damage next season.
Banking on winning the lottery is inherently a problematic strategy, but these Bulls could introduce a new Big Three next season: Rose, a lottery pick and Amar'e Stoudemire. In order for the money to work, they’ll have to give up two of their top three scorers.
Here’s a potential deal:
New York Knicks get: Luol Deng (SF, Chicago Bulls) and Tyrus Thomas (PF, Charlotte Bobcats).
Charlotte Bobcats get: Carlos Boozer (PF, Chicago Bulls).
Stoudemire, Henderson and Thomas are all hurt right now. So why would Chicago want to make this trade?
For starters, the Bulls can wait to make the move if they want the players involved to actually contribute this season. Given that they’re the squad offering up the two players that are still in NBA lineups, that’s not too much to ask.
But if Chicago doesn’t require immediate contributions, it will add a legitimate perimeter defender in Henderson along with a potentially explosive finisher at the 4 in Stoudemire. The Bulls could hold Stoudemire out until he’s 100 percent healthy and roll him out at the same time as D-Rose.
By adding Deng and Thomas, the Knicks gain defensive length and finishers on the offensive end. Thomas has always been a productive shot-blocker (3.3 per 48 minutes) in limited time, but he’s been very prone to getting hurt since being in Charlotte.
New York’s deep frontcourt rotation would allow for the Knicks to play the two guys sparingly—as opposed to Stoudemire’s nonexistent spot in the rotation—and do so efficiently. It will also be able to dodge the constant questioning of whether Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony can coexist offensively.
Charlotte would remove two defenders from a team that already trots out guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo on a nightly basis, returning a proven scorer in Boozer. The 31-year-old has a checkered injury past, but he hasn’t missed an NBA regular-season game since the 2010-11 season; he started all 66 contests last year.
Boozer would relieve Biyombo of the pressure of offensive development while giving Kemba Walker someone to dump the ball off to in the post.
Without Rose, Boozer and Deng, Chicago would take its lumps during the 2012-13 season, but auxiliary benefits also apply. Forwards Taj Gibson (27 years old) and Jimmy Butler (23) would get more minutes.
Entering his third year next season, Butler would be more equipped to help the team in any capacity required of him with more experience in the short term. Gibson, meanwhile, would either prove to be fantastic Amar'e insurance or another trade chip in February.
By the way, those Spurs with a young Duncan won NBA titles in four of his first 10 seasons.
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