The Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to part ways with Andrew Bynum whose contract can be waived to save someone six million dollars. The Bulls, presumably, would like to get under the luxury tax this season to avoid potential future repeater penalties as well as to save some serious cash in a year that has no chance of ending with a parade.
K.C. Johnson notes that the Bulls aren't going to do a swap of Deng for Bynum, but reading between the lines, it's easy to see there's a deal to be made.
Last season, at least two teams inquired about absorbing Richard Hamilton into their salary-cap space near the trade deadline, but both also asked for a first-round pick to take the veteran guard off the Bulls' books.
The salary dump could have dropped the Bulls below last season's luxury tax threshold. But sources indicated at the time the Bulls refused to entertain those offers, with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf signing off on the tax payment to keep the first-round pick.
As previously reported, the Bulls hope to re-sign Deng this summer in free agency. Also as previously reported, though the Bulls aren't seeking to trade Deng, if a team offered a rotation player and first-round pick in advance of February's trade deadline, they would consider such an offer.
There is no interest in trading Deng as a salary dump.
So there it is. The Bulls aren't going to salary dump Luol Deng. That's understandable. However, they're certainly willing to trade Deng if they only need a rotation player and a pick. The popularly talked about deal of Waiters + #1 for Deng certainly looks like something the Bulls would do if given the opportunity.
It's clear Cleveland's not amped up to give up that much value, but Bynum + #1 which I've recommended meets in the middle of where the teams presumably are right now (Cleveland willing to trade just salary relief and the Bulls wanting real assets back).
It also feels like these types of discussions about the Bulls wanting to keep Deng this off-season are simply there to help keep a strong negotiating hand. Now Cleveland fans will argue that they can just bid on Deng next season and not have to give up an asset to get him.
This is true, but it's also true that they may have to pay significantly more for him next season with the Bulls in the running to sign him. He'd presumably much rather be in Chicago than Cleveland, and if the Bulls trade him now, they would be out of the bidding war next off-season. Maybe that's not worth giving a #1 for, but with the right protection, that pick doesn't project to be all that high.
The Bulls should agree to lotto protection this season and perhaps top 10 protection next season in order to score the pick, and the Cavaliers don't really have room to add another non lotto pick to the roster given the over abundance of youth and lack of veterans.
The deal isn't a slam dunk for either side, but I don't know that either team is going to do better.
The next best option for the Bulls is the surprising Phoenix Suns. The Suns are in playoff contention in the West, are actively looking to trade a pick for a quality player, and may or may not have room to pursue Deng in the off season because of Eric Bledsoe's salary cap hold.
The Suns are under the cap, but depending what cap holds they land for draft picks, which guys they renounce, and whether they can agree to terms with Bledsoe (and what those terms are), the Suns might have anywhere from 10-15 million or so in cap room left over. It's an amount that may or may not leave them room to bid on Deng depending on the particulars.
In that sense, they have some incentive to trade for him now. On top of that, the Suns are already positioned for a playoff run in the West, so they have an immediate need for a player like Deng and have the assets to spare to acquire him. They even have a matching salary in Emeka Okafor.
It's a trade that makes plenty of sense for both sides if the Cleveland deal can't be made. The Bulls won't save on the tax with this move and probably won't score quite as high a selection, but they may be able to wriggle two later 1sts from Phoenix then trade them off for future picks later to stack the team with resources for future trades.
Either way, the Bulls may be saying they want to move Deng, but my hope is that they're really simply trying to get a bidding war on the player going so that they can improve their offer. While the Bulls reportedly want to resign Deng, they reportedly wanted to resign Ben Gordon and didn't even meet with him in the off-season.
They reported were going to keep Asik at any cost, but then decided not to. The Deng situation isn't like Gordon in the sense that everyone knew the Bulls didn't really want to bring Ben back, however, like Asik, it's easy to see where the Bulls like Deng, want him back, but simply can't afford him.