Bulls not willing to meet asking price
Deng is looking for max money, or close to it, and has given no indication that he is willing to take a hometown discount. The Bulls don't want to pay him anywhere close to that, so unless there is a major reversal, Deng heads to the open market next summer.
The Bulls respect Deng for his play, but they have concerns regarding his durability over the next few seasons given the nagging injuries he's played through. Deng did his best to explain to the media last week that he doesn't want to discuss his contract situation throughout the season, but it's the single biggest non-Derrick Rose storyline that will continue to hover over general manager Gar Forman and Co.
A trade is still a possibility, but the Bulls wouldn't get anything close to max value for the two-time All-Star. Any team trading for him knows he can walk at the end of the season. That's why allowing him to play out the rest of his deal and watching him walk at the end of the year is the safest bet.
Dealing Deng now, no matter what kind of future pieces they get in return, would serve as an admission that the Bulls aren't capable of winning a championship this season, and the organization believes it is a title contender. But to win a title, Tom Thibodeau and his team believe they need Deng.
But this is the last season they appear to be willing to keep him aboard, at least at the price Deng will be looking for in a new deal next summer.
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com.
Deng certainty better than unknown
Since being drafted in 2004, Luol Deng has been through a lot in a Bulls jersey. He's likely the franchise leader in trade rumors.
After his $71 million contract expires at the end of this season, Deng's agent said the veteran forward will explore free agency. I'm not sure what Deng's market value is at 29, thanks to a decade's worth of minutes on his body, but it won't be cheap.
Because of their championship aspirations, the Bulls can't risk trading him this season unless they get a significant player back at small forward or shooting guard. I'm not sure how inclined they are to really shop him, though surely they have, and will continue to, explore all opportunities.
But I agree with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who said, "I don't think you can win a championship without a player like Luol."
So what do you do with Deng? It's easy. You play out the season with him and see what happens in the offseason.
You let him explore the market and you offer him a deal commensurate with his value. There will be other options to replace him if he decides to leave, including moving Jimmy Butler to his spot and beginning yet another search for a shooting guard. They might not be better options, but they will be there.
I think the Bulls will think hard about re-signing him, even if it limits the salary cap space the Bulls want to use to chase bigger-impact players. To me, the assurance of what Deng brings is better than the unknown. The Bulls aren't very good at the unknown.
It's been said a million times, but Deng is the Bulls' Swiss Army knife. He can do so many things that complement a team, from locking up defenders to scoring to rebounding. His leadership, an overused cliché to some, is a real value. His teammates look up to him. Joakim Noah has described him as having the same regal bearing as Dikembe Mutombo.
Deng's value is clear, but his future is not. But he has at least one more season to run with this team.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.