DEERFIELD, Ill. – Chicago forward Luol Deng got neither a trade nor a contract extension by the end of NBA business late on Draft night Thursday, which should only make his summer more, um, compelling.
That’s a fill-in-the-blank euphemism for the crossroads at which Deng finds himself at age 28.
Deng, the Bulls’ two-time All-Star, has been coach Tom Thibodeau‘s most leaned-upon player for the past three years, at both ends of the floor and through the teams’ many injuries (Deng plays hurt more than any other Bull and most of his NBA peers). During the season, that makes him invaluable on the floor and in the locker room.
During the offseason, though, that makes him an asset. And that’s how Deng was being assessed, evaluated, sliced and diced as the draft approached.
Some reports had the Bulls talking about a deal with Washington that would have sent Deng to the Wizards for the No. 3 pick and Emeka Okafor – Washington took Otto Porter Jr. with the third pick instead. Okafor and Deng, meanwhile, went nowhere.
Other reports suggested that Deng was in negotiations with Chicago brass for a contract extension, presumably something that would bring his annual salary down from the $14.2 million he’ll earn in 2013-14 – down, that is, if Deng wanted to stick with the Bulls.
With Derrick Rose ($18.8 million), Carlos Boozer ($16.8 million), Joakim Noah ($12.2 million) and Taj Gibson ($8 million) on the books for $55.8 million in 2014-15 – Boozer as an amnesty candidate – Chicago is sensitive to payroll, cap and luxury-tax implications for the summer of 2014 and beyond.
But the extension talks were swatted down by Deng’s agent, Herb Rudoy, early in the week.
Then with the No. 20 pick Thursday, Chicago drafted 6-foot-7 New Mexico wingman Tony Snell, described in NBA shorthand as a “3&D” guy. That puts him in the Bulls team photo next to 6-foot-7 wingman Jimmy Butler, who showed some of the same skills in a breakout second season in 2012-13. Butler is heavier on the ‘D,’ still developing on the 3 but based on his performance after the All-Star break and against Brooklyn and Miami in the playoffs, he already has been inked into the starting backcourt spot next to Rose.
Snell – touted for his 6-foot-11 wingspan, 8-9 standing reach, 9-inch hand length and 4.9% body fat – was a high school teammate of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard in Riverside, Calif., but is only four months younger than the Spurs forward, who already has logged two NBA seasons and one stellar Finals. So we’ll skip any comparisons there.
We won’t make any to Deng, either, a heady, selfless player finds ways to caulk around whatever his Chicago teammates are or aren’t providing on a given night. But Deng got ill in the playoffs, followed by a spinal tap to rule out meningitis and complications from that procedure, ending his postseason. That gave them another taste of life without the 6-foot-8 veteran – and life went on.
Washington, its roster so young, could use a veteran such as Deng, same as several other teams. Deng, a proud man, deserves to be appreciated for all he’s done and keeps doing for the Bulls. That’s a long shot, given management’s budget red lines and some fans’ vocal treatment of the South Sudan gentleman during some earlier periods of contract wrangling and under-performance.
Deng’s heavy minutes through a bum wrist and other ailments also have left him feeling a little taken for granted. And the front office’s apparent determination to keep its powder dry for 2014 and beyond – despite Rose’s eagerness and various opportunities and vulnerabilities in the Eastern Conference – might make younger, cheaper facsimiles look awfully attractive.
“We value Luol as you all know,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said late Thursday. “Luol’s a big piece of what we’re doing. He’s been a big piece of the success we’ve had the last couple years. And he’ll continue to be a big piece of what we do moving forward.”
Deng and his future in Chicago (or elsewhere) is as good a barometer for the Bulls in 2013-14 as anything this offseason.