Deng weighing options, including one (Chicago) seldom mentioned

VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Luol Deng’s strengths

CHICAGO – LeBron James would have to get past the flaming jerseys, the Comic Sans and the instant chasm that opened between him and Dan Gilbert, owner of the team for which he performed and amassed profits for the first seven NBA seasons.

Luol Deng would have his own set of baggage with which to grapple if he were to consider returning to the team that drafted him 10 years ago.

Putting to the test the old Thomas Wolfe-inspired aphorism “You can’t go home again” might seem quaint when the likes of Jason Kidd and others involved in last week’s Brooklyn-Milwaukee sleight of hand kept repeating “this is business”. But then, this is business, so maybe – somehow, some way – James can go back to Cleveland. And Deng can go back to Chicago.

While the former possibility (however slight) has the NBA and its fan base intrigued, maybe even fixated, the latter is generating nary a peep in the vast Chicagoland sports media market. Despite all those airwave hours and blank Web pages to fill, the idea that Bulls VP John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman would turn to the third-most desirable small forward in 2014 free agency (after James and Carmelo Anthony) seems to captivate no one.

Too awkward?

Too weird?

Too bad.

The Bulls claim to be committed to goosing the roster and changing the movie of Derrick Rose‘s second major comeback from knee surgery in as many years. But the prospect of bringing back Deng, the two-time All-Star who toiled longer and harder than any Bulls player over the past decade, hasn’t garnered a blip on the radar.

Blame the baggage. The steamer trunk in that set came in January, when the Bulls came at Deng with a 1-2 punch in a hurried-up bit of contract-extension negotiating. They offered him a reported three-year, $30 million deal that wasn’t so much take it-or-leave it as it was take it-or-leave US; when Deng declined, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for draft picks and payroll relief via Andrew Bynum‘s contract.

It was an abrupt parting considering all Deng and the Bulls had been through together, his status as one of the team’s leaders, his skill set and the way Tom Thibodeau relied on him every way an NBA coach can. The locker room shook that day, emotional center Joakim Noah went into a temporary funk and, on the heels of Rose’s latest injury six weeks earlier, it looked like a tank job and felt even worse.

Being banished to the Cavaliers was no prize for Deng, either. His production and enjoyment faltered, and the “the Bulls don’t miss Deng” stories coming out of Chicago didn’t help. (They were 10-13 with Deng, 38-21 without or after him.)

VIDEO: Take a look back at Luol Deng’s stint with the Cavaliers

“It appeared uglier than it was,” said agent Ron Shade, who works with Chicago-based Herb Rudoy. “Luol is a professional, so what happened if January is forgiven but not forgotten.”

Shade recalled hearing Paxson’s news conference on his car radio the day Deng was dealt – the emotion in the Bulls exec’s voice struck him, as did the sincerity he and Forman showed when apologizing to the player for the team’s handling of his botched spinal tap during the 2013 playoffs. And yes, the Bulls have called since July 1.

“Like I say, Luol is a professional,” Shade said. “He will hear every reasonable option and give it serious thought. We won’t close any door on that possibility at all.”

The trickiest part for both Deng and the Bulls is that nothing has changed financially. He still believes he’s worth $12 million to $13 million annually, pegged to Josh Smith‘s (four years, $54 million) and Andre Iguodala‘s (four years, $48 million) last summer. When the Bulls talked extension last summer, they were in the $8 million to $9 million range (Deng just wrapped up a six-year, $71 million deal signed in 2008). When Chicago offered $10 million, they cut the length to three seasons. So it never got close to happening.

But that three-year, $30 million number, made so public, has become a set point that complicates the situation. If Deng accepts it now, some will characterize that as “crawling back” on the Bulls’ terms. If Paxson and Forman sweeten the deal, it might be portrayed that they “caved” and are scrambling to make up for their inability to woo Anthony.

In sheer pragmatic terms, the Bulls could do worse than Deng. He knows their system and fits into everything Chicago wants to do. His versatility enables him to fit just about anywhere, though it quietly and inadvertently argues against him being a “star.”

Deng gets his points without plays being called for him. He’s capable of many things but dominant at none, and if a team is a serious contender, he probably should be its third-best player. With the Bulls, he often was pressed into action as No. 2 to Rose and more, when the explosive point guard was out. Even if he rejoined Chicago, its offense needs another go-to scorer.

Meanwhile, Deng has options and offers that could increase once James and Anthony make up their minds. He met on July 4 with Miami’s Pat Riley and was told Monday, through Rudoy, that the Heat’s agreements with Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger don’t lessen their interest in Deng.

Deng spoke with Clippers coach/exec Doc Rivers last week and had conversations this week with Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld. Dallas, Toronto and the Lakers also are said to be interested.

It’s a game of musical chairs with special rules: LeBron and ‘Melo get to sit down first while the music still is playing. Then Deng, Trevor Ariza, Gordon Hayward and others will scramble with urgency – but probably still robust deals from anxious teams – for the remaining seats.

“We knew, starting with the whole process, that this LeBron thing, this Carmelo thing probably would drag out,” Shade said. “It’s very fluid at this point. We’re not desperately eager at all – the money’s not going to go anywhere. We would be nervous if the phones were not ringing.”


  1. NBA Fan says:

    Fun to read the speculations. Looks like almost any player can end up almost anywhere. We’re just waiting on the King (LeBron) and Queen (Melo) to choose their thrones.

  2. harrythehawk says:

    Caw Caw (come to the Hawks)!

  3. dan says:

    I think lebron want bosh to go to other team so Miami can get melo I do belived that this is what he is waiting for

    • Walter says:

      I disagree. If Lebron does not want to play with Chris anymore all the baby has to do is tell Miami and they would just not resign him.

  4. Jordan hill blatche and gortat says:

    You talk about deng being banished to Cleveland,,,,, yet you people think LeBron James will voluntarily go there…. and not only that but Cleveland is so good with kyrie yet deng doesn’t want to resign, even with James going back… Yeah that’s how much you people make sense…. one word summary…. dang deng dang deng deng

  5. Bill says:

    If I were Chris Bosh I would take the offer that Houston has made.I would not trust Lebron James , he is in this for himself, he could care less about any one else.He has shown this by wanting a max contract. This is what this guy is all about, he is worth a quarter of a million but he still wants more. He makes more from indorsments than he does playing basketball, but he still wants the max. I hope that nobody signs Mr Greedy.

    • LebronFan says:

      its the principle. he’s the best player in the game right now so he should get the max. it makes sense if you put logic behind his desire.

  6. Kurt Nicobain says:

    Mavericks shouLd hire LuoL Deng. I think he wiLL best fit in that team..

  7. Laker24 says:

    Deng aint comin bck to bulls..he stayed loyal to bulls for 7-8 years n they didn’t wanna pay him extra couple millions ..why would he come bck to them

  8. c man says:

    if deng wants a ring as well as more than what bulls offered he should take a hard look at the clips who sorely need a small forward this would be a perfect match as it gives deng want he wants and the clips what they need to take that one more step. also a big no to pierce as hes too slow and is just not the energy player the clips need

  9. lee says:

    if the bulls went after bosh who would fit better then gibson then the might be able to bring in deng and paul pearce with him and go get a championship the could make trades and signings that could make this work and their is also a possibilty that kg will be on the trade market why not grab him and hinrich too bame you have championship team that can score and has the best defense in the league

  10. justsayin says:

    I know Doc wants Pierce but the LAC need Deng more for his defense and a bit more youth comparatively.

    • Laker24 says:

      How they gonna pay him 12 mil a year ..clippers gonna lose in first or second again without a good defensive mind small forward… That’s the hardest position to defend in nba cuz pretty much all the best players r small forward

  11. str8chi says:

    I wouldn’t mind having Lance Stephenson and Deng on the Bulls this year. Deng surely plays better defense than Melo anyway. After that maybe splurge for a backup big man behind Noah.

  12. lino says:

    interesting to note, as aschburner states, the “special rules” for lebron and anthony. meanwhile, while there are those “fixated” on the two prima donnas, the defending champs have locked in all key components and, no doubt, are ready to roll.

  13. Zenmaster says:

    Dallas should sign Deng and Lance Stephenson rather. Such a great fit!

  14. TheKush says:

    Deng in Dallas makes the most sense to me!

  15. lbattle7915 says:

    Nice piece Steve, and an accurate characterization of Loul Deng.

  16. Ed says:

    Deng in Toronto sounds very interesting.

    • Alex says:

      He is the absolute perfect fit for the raps. The one thing their starting linup needs is a defensive SF who doesn’t dominate the ball but can score when needed. Add that to an improving young core and a deep bench, and all of the sudden the Raps are contenders for the East crown. They simply can’t afford him though. The most they can offer is 3 years/$18M.

      • jOLAN says:

        Need to ship Landry out. They really over paid for him. Stupid movies on Raps part. And he was a decent player, he should go someplace he can contribute more.