When the Bulls drafted Luol Deng, I remember the phrase "you can cross off SF from your list of needs for the next decade" being said. Nine years later and a year left on his deal, that has largely been true. That said, Chicago should be looking to move on from Luol Deng rather than extend him.
Luol's a good player. He's a glue player. A system player. He defends. Rebounds. Hustles. Does the little things. If you ever wondered whether coaches love Luol Deng or not, wonder no more at the fact the coaches voted him into the all-star game twice.
They probably don't love him enough to trade much for him, not at his salary, and the Bulls need Luol this season if they want to compete for the NBA title. My opinion often vacillates on Deng. I don't think he's worth his salary, but I don't see how the Bulls get better trading him or letting him walk.
Losing Deng won't be addition by subtraction. He's a good player. He's a good person as well. The Bulls relationship with Deng would be a hell of a lot more contentious if he wasn't given the situation a few years back with his leg.
There have been times he wanted to leave and times the Bulls wanted him gone, but never has either situation gotten bad enough for the Bulls to move him for nothing, and no one has ever offered much, including this summer.
I was discussing Deng on my last podcast and a listener wrote me to say the thing about Deng is that you never really miss him when he's out. I thought it was a great point that I hadn't quite considered in that light. We've seen Deng have a number of significant injuries in his career, and I don't know that the team has ever suffered for it.
Deng's injury may have been the key to beating the Brooklyn Nets last season as he was absolutely abysmal in that series.
In the end, the Bulls aren't going to create a great team with Deng as a central piece of it. Not unless his salary gets pushed down to the sevenish million per year role player range, and honestly, I'm not sure I want Deng back at virtually any price.
The thing is we all recognize the Bulls need at least one more dynamic offensive player on the perimeter. Nate Robinson showed us that player doesn't necessarily need to be a star, just someone who can create offense. Jimmy Butler probably isn't going to be that player at SG, Deng definitely isn't that player at SF.
If you keep both long term, then you've locked yourself into the same pedestrian offense that you've had for years. Though it's only been one year with Butler, I think the Bulls have to choose between the two. I choose Butler for the next four seasons following this one. He's younger, more athletic, more disruptive defensively, and generates more free throws.
Of the two, Butler strikes me as the more dynamic threat on both ends of the floor.
Chicago will have to hope they've found a winner in Tony Snell. If they can develop him into a player who can reliably knock down threes and play defense then the team looks better with Rose, Snell, Butler than Rose, Butler, Deng. The Bulls don't need more glue nearly as much as they need more shooting.
Snell's unlikely to be ready for that role this season which is why the Bulls can't afford to trade Deng for peanuts now, not if they want to win a title this season. Maybe Snell won't be ready next year either, but the Bulls don't need him to be a traditional starting caliber player, they just need him to perform his exact niche skills well enough.
Even if Snell doesn't pan out, and there's a good chance he won't, the Bulls will have an easier time finding a player with some complementary strength to stick at SG. Heck, bring back Marco Belinelli to play next to Derrick Rose and see what he can do with the spacing provided by Derrick Rose.
In the end, the reason Deng shouldn't be back next season is that he doesn't impact wins enough for the money he'll command. The Bulls paid the luxury tax last season and will pay again this season. They'll almost certainly look to skip a couple years of it in order to avoid the repeater tax, and when looking to trim some salary removing the guy who doesn't impact wins and is paid 14 million looks like the thing to do.
The Bulls might have two such players in Deng and Boozer, but of the two, believe it or not, Boozer is the more difficult one to replace. I think Chicago can throw in a two million dollar guard with some offensive skills at SG, slide Deng to SF, and not really lose much. They'll have a tougher time finding a PF/C with a pulse that can slide in for Boozer due to the lack of big men out available [though poor man's Boozer, Drew Gooden, is still looking for work].
In the end, this season is the likely the last shot for this core group of players. Maybe something changes this season, maybe the Bulls win a title or Butler proves to be a fluke, but my expectation is this is our last season with Luol manning the SF spot.