For those thinking the Bulls trade of Luol Deng to the Cavs means they'll fall out of the playoffs, well think again. The Bulls, sans Deng, won against the Phoenix Suns last night, and we'll have to see if that was a fluke or whether the team continues to fight back.
It's worth noting the Bulls have now won six of eight games while Deng played in two of the wins and one of the losses. So they're won four of their last five games without Deng. There's a divergent view of Deng. Many feel he adds much more to the game than his stats. He's the guy Thibs can count on to keep everything going.
I sometimes feel that way, but I also frequently feel he's one of those guys who's heavily overrated. A guy who puts up decent points on this team because there's no one else to do it. Who's defense is consistent but not spectacular. He's a quality player largely because of his work ethic, character, and willingness to do anything. He has a well rounded game but no true big strengths.
While he's absolutely been an average to above average starting caliber SF his whole career, the Bulls paid a pretty penny for his type of production, and I've often wondered how much we'd really miss him if he were gone. Four of the past five nights, the answer has been not all that much. We'll see what that answer is the rest of the season.
For those thinking the Bulls can tank down to the good picks in the lottery tomorrow, unless there's significant follow up trades to dump talent, don't hold your breath. The East is so bad that I think the Bulls will still make the playoffs without Deng. I think there's a better than 50/50 chance we may not even see a significant decline in team performance.
When Deng went down before, Jimmy Butler stepped up and played just as well or better. I think to some extent the offense creates a lot of Deng's opportunities and will make any hard working player look a bit better than they are. I expect Tony Snell to start playing some better ball with quality minutes and Jimmy Butler to play much better running at SF.
This isn't to criticize Luol. He'll always be one of my favorite Bulls as a person. He was the first NBA player I ever interviewed and still probably the nicest NBA player I've met. John Paxson said something strange on the radio yesterday, when discussing whether the Bulls were tanking he noted that people thought the Raptors were tanking when they traded Gay, but they got much better.
"You never know" he said. I think it'd surprise most if the Bulls are better without Deng, including myself, but I don't actually expect that much drop off, and when the Bulls actually don't have that much drop off, I think we'll then feel pretty good about not having to pony up 15 million for him next season.
This is one of those Richard Jefferson type scenarios. Good player looking to break the bank one last time, and the team that pays him is going to likely find out it was a mistake. That's always been my view on Deng. I've always been scared the Bulls would be forced to pay because they're trying to win a title and can't afford to let him walk and lose talent.
The Bulls choose that road and definitely lost talent. The return was potentially pathetic. The Bulls may or may not even get a first rounder out of it. Hopefully the Kings do well in the lotto this year and compete in the West after adding a star in the draft to go along side DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.
That said, the road to keep Deng was more perilous, especially with the risk of Derrick Rose not recovering to play like a star player. If he doesn't and the Bulls were stuck paying Deng big money they'd be deep in the tax with no shot to win and no flexibility. Instead, the Bulls lived to fight another day instead of ponying up the cash to likely go down with the ship.
It wasn't an easy decision, but it was likely the best decision. One day later, with a quality win, the decision looks even better.
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