Bulls play it smart in trading Luol Deng

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
2:30
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls didn't want to move Luol Deng. They had to.

That's the initial reaction I had to news the Bulls were dealing Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Kamil KrzaczynskiThe Bulls just couldn't afford to let Luol Deng walk away at season's end and get nothing in return.
They couldn't run the risk of watching Deng leave in the offseason and get nothing in return. And now with Deng gone, the Bulls get themselves out of the luxury tax and save a lot of money in the short term once they waive Andrew Bynum -- a move that will be done by the 4 p.m. CT deadline on Tuesday, according to a league source.

What Deng's move does mean is that the Bulls as an organization have decided to go in a different direction.

They would have loved to keep Deng and see if this core could have one made another push together. But when the Bulls and Deng's representatives couldn't work out a contract extension last summer, the writing might have been on the wall. That became much clearer in recent days, when Deng turned down a three-year deal worth $30 million, according to Yahoo! Sports.

In the long term, the Deng deal changes the future for the Bulls. They acquired three more future draft picks in the trade with Cleveland.

As reported, a future first-round pick is Sacramento's, and it is top-10 protected for the next two years. There's a chance the pick could become a second-round pick in 2017, if the Kings continue to play their way into the lottery. But the Bulls are banking that with a new ownership group and a new arena in the works, the Kings will find themselves in the playoffs in the next few seasons ... and the Bulls will end up with another first-round pick.

The other layer of the deal is that the Bulls get two future second-round picks, and the ability to trade first-round spots with the Cavs in the 2015 draft as long as Cleveland's pick doesn't fall in the lottery. Bulls GM Gar Forman is fond of using the term "assets" to describe the draft choices he has piled up in the past; that's exactly what he loaded up on in this trade. All these picks the Bulls are hoarding may never see the floor in Chicago, but they could be used in future deals down the line.

Aside from the money aspect of this deal, the question now becomes how much will this change the Bulls' core moving forward?

Derrick Rose isn't going anywhere. He still has three years remaining on his max deal after this one. Joakim Noah still has two years left on a team-friendly contract. Taj Gibson still has three years left on his deal. And Jimmy Butler is still in his rookie deal.

Rookie Tony Snell figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Deng's departure in the short term. With Deng out of the fold, Snell should get a lot more minutes to show what he can do. The Bulls' front office has been high on Snell since drafting him last summer and believes he can turn into a valuable player down the line. Veteran Mike Dunleavy also may be dealt down the line, given his relatively cheap contract and the fact he is signed for another season after this one. But for now, he and Snell will get the bulk of Deng's minutes.

The key for the Bulls is deciding what they want to do with the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract. All along, signs have pointed to the Bulls exercising their amnesty clause on the final year of his deal, which is worth almost $17 million. With Deng now out of the fold, will the Bulls decide to pay Boozer to leave?

In doing so, it would free up even more money for the Bulls to go after their big target this summer: former first-round pick Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls were always hoping to sign Mirotic for the mid-level exception, but he could decide to ask for more money now that he is no longer bound to the rookie-scale contract. If he does, the Bulls are even more likely to amnesty Boozer, given that it would free up even more cap space to sign Mirotic.

No matter what decision the Bulls make down the line, their biggest one was made early Tuesday. Trading Deng is a sign that the Bulls are looking toward the future and not caught up in trying to recreate the past with a core that saw its window for a championship close when Rose went down for the season Nov. 22 in Portland with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.

Deng was a great player for the Bulls, but he was not the second offensive option on a championship-caliber team. The Bulls decided they couldn't wait for Deng's price to fall back into their range and ultimately made a move they had to make.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.9 3.3 1.6 39.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.7
AssistsD. Rose 5.1
StealsJ. Butler 1.6
BlocksP. Gasol 2.0