The player vs the contract, stop trying to dump Luol Deng

Remember the good old days, when a player was simply either good or bad?    The contract never really mattered, but the salary cap era has changed all that.   Now, we turn around and say “_____ is overpaid” to describe 90% of the league.   We often dismiss what a player is good at simply because his salary is off putting.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.   I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.   When you think the whole league is overpaid, you’re wrong.   You just haven’t accepted the market rate.   The reason why teams make the “overpayment mistake” over and over is because it’s not a mistake.  It’s the better than the alternative of letting guys leave for another team and being left with crap.

Look, I’ll freely admit, I’ve been as guilty of it as the next guy.  In fact, I’ve led the movement in the xyz is overpaid camp largely because I’ve been planning for the Bulls to hit 2010 free agency for two seasons and wanted to make sure they had cap space.   However, that era is over, that time has passed.  It’s time to go all in.

Fans often get upset when teams sign good players to high paying deals and lock themselves into mediocrity.   They nod their head in agreement to the “tank to get lottery picks and a superstar” theory even though the odds of it ever working are minuscule, and they won’t go out and pay to watch those 20 win seasons while the process is on going.

The owners all want to win, but they also all have a bottom line agenda to feed, and quite frankly, being locked into the first round is more exciting than being locked into the pursuit of a lotto pick when it comes to ticket sales, merchandise sales, and advertising revenue.

Take Atlanta for instance, they “overpaid” Joe Johnson.   What were they going to do if they didn’t overpay Joe Johnson though?   Lose Joe Johnson for nothing.  Go from a second round playoff team to a lottery team, and watch their fledgling fan base get cut to 1/2 it’s size.   It’s a high stakes gamble for owners, because in most sports towns, it’s easy to lose tons of money by having a such a decline.   Does Joe Johnson generate 126 million in revenue for the Hawks over the life of his deal?   I’m not sure, but as long as he doesn’t go Gilbert Arenas on them it’s not as ridiculous as you think.

The balance between winning and profit and how one drives the other is difficult for general managers and owners to balance.    Even when you’re fairly sure a guy is going to disappoint you later on, if you want to commit to trying to win, you often need to sign that guy and hope for the best.  The alternative is to sign someone considerably worse, who’s even more likely to disappoint you, and if Atlanta didn’t sign Joe Johnson they would have signed someone considerably worse or no one at all.

Part of the problem is the soft cap and bird rights.   Teams have little flexibility to switch out players.   The Hawks could keep Joe Johnson, an all-star, at a superstar price tag, or they could let him go for nothing and use their MLE on someone like Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver.  They didn’t have the luxury of playing the full market of FAs and trying to lure someone else in at 12 million, it’s Johnson at 6/126 or some guy at the MLE.

This brings us to Luol Deng.   Many people seem to have forgotten that Luol Deng is actually pretty good at basketball.   The zeros on his contract seem to have blinded us to the fact that he averaged 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2 assists, almost a steal and block a game, on only two TOs and less than two PFs. 

If we trade Luol Deng, we won’t replace him with another player who can make 12 million a season.  We’ll replace him with someone on the MLE.   We don’t have the salary flexibility to do something else.  Which is why at the point we were trying to free up cap space, I was a fan of trying to move Luol Dengs contract.   When we needed to build room for two star players (or even three star players), then dumping Deng would have been a viable plan.    We are no longer at that point. 

We are now at the point where we’re trying to win, and unless you can trade Luol Deng in a package for an upgrade (hi Carmelo), then it’s foolish to start talking about trading him for expirings.   We won’t be under the cap, we won’t utilize that money in a better way, we will be a worse basketball team. 

Luol Deng won’t prevent us from signing Derrick and Noah in the future.   Management and ownership won’t let that happen.   The worst case scenario, worst case mind you, is that Deng will prevent us from signing Taj Gibson or keeping Brewer, Korver, Watson, or guys in that category of skill.   I hope that’s not the case.  I hope this team is good enough that the tax isn’t an issue and the check book is opened in the future.   We know that if the White Sox needed to flush four million dollars down the toilet to give themselves a negligibly better chance at making the playoffs while having no chance to go anywhere in them that they’d do it.

However, even if it’s not, Luol Deng is better than those guys, and we’re better off with him and trying to find cheaper role players elsewhere than having a bunch of cheaper role players trying to figure out how to increase the top end talent later.

As such, stop trading poor Luol Deng.  There was a time for that, but that time has passed.   It’s no longer time to dump anyone.   The days of addition by subtraction are over, the days of addition by addition are here.


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  • I think you make a good point, however, constantly comparing the Bulls to the White Sox when it comes to spending habits is tired and doesn't prove much. Two different sports, the constants and variables are TOTALLY different in baseball, and the financial system is quite different. Making the playoffs in the NBA is a lot different from making it in baseball. How many lower seed teams make the finals in the NBA? Comparably, teams sneak up and win all the time in baseball. Being mediocre in the AL Central in baseball is more rewarding and has better odds than being mediocre in the Central division in basketball. Mediocre teams win World Series, they don't win NBA finals.

  • Nice shot at the White Sox. Even though I'm a Cubs fan, I hate that I have to root against the Sox , purely because the owner's favoritism based treatment of his teams pisses me off so badly.

    As for Luol, the problem with him has, and always will be, the injury issues. I agree that, if he's giving you the same production we got last year, he's not this huge detriment. In fact, he's more of a plus.

    Problem is, he's shown every year that he has big time problems playing an entire season. That's the thing that bothers me about him. And I think if most fans really thought about it, that's what worries them too.

    I'd really like to see Thibodeau decrease his minutes this year. I think he's led the team in mpg since he arrived. Hopefully that will keep him on the court more often. Until he shows he can be relied upon for a full season, he's still gonna be hurting our team imo.

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    The problem hasn't been Deng getting injured, the problem has been that the team was set up to need 82 productive games from a solid, but not all-star level player just to make the playoffs. Deng earns his money, works hard to avoid injuries, and is a top 10 player at his position.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    How does he earn his money if he can't stay on the floor? Isn't that the biggest way NOT to earn your money? And he's a top 10 small forward, WHEN HE'S PLAYING. Which has not been nearly enough throughout his career.

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    Juiceboxjerry, I cut and pasted the comments below from your post. The same post! Comments from one paragraph after the other. My calculator is broken because it can't do this kind of math.

    YOU STATED: "Problem is, he's shown every year that he has big time problems playing an entire season / I think he's led the team in mpg since he arrived."
    Are you talking about the same person or did you leave the other guy's name out by accident?

  • In reply to hinton980:

    MPG is the average number of minutes played when said player is playing.

    I never said he led the team in "total minutes played".

    That's the distinction. Luol can still play the most mpg, yet still not play the most minutes per season. Got it?

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    that should have been obvious to anybody with a rudimentary understanding of math.

  • You're completely on the money that fans need to accept that most players are not overpaid and that 9 figure contracts really are the market rate. Actually, it's often below market price due to the cap. Just not sure that Johnson and Deng are the best examples though.

    I think the knock on Deng is the gap between his stat line and the impact we wanted him to have on games. The expectation was that he would grow into a real go-to guy but instead he's an extremely talented role guy. Then there's the injuries. I'm not sure it was just the money that people complain about so much as Reinsdorf's decision to treat him like the franchise player he didn't become.

    So far as Johnson, the Hawks didn't have to pay him. I actually think Crawford does more for them when he's on the floor. I don't think anybody believes Johnson was worth more than Boozer and Stoudamire to the Hawks or to anybody else. They panicked and now they're going to be somewhere between middle-of-the-road to nonfactor in the east for the life of that atrocious contract unless they emmulate another Atlanta ballclub, the Braves and do an amazing job developing talent and building through the draft.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    i agree i woulded stay with crawford and used the money of johnson and sign another player that they realy need a center or power forward

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    Doug this is one of yuor best post congratulations! that's ehat i've been talking about deng ii not over paid and if he stay healty he can be an all star now he can play less minutes with less presure on him this is the third time a say we don't need to trade deng the missing peace in are lineup is a good shooting guard that can shoot the 3 and compliment brewer. Doug can you tell me why we did'nt get nothing in return for hinrick plus we gave are pick too?

  • I understand your point but when you really look at the majority of the players in the league, they are overpaid because the talent level is way below average. When you have a guy making let's say 10 million a year for 3 to 4 years and he only averages 10 to 12 points a game, that's being overpaid and for one blame the league for allowing this to happen by letting these young no talented players come into the league out of high school too soon. It all got started in 1995 with KG getting drafted right out of high school back then and some of the players that are coming out since then have gotten worst and the league has overpaid them due to the potential that they may have. Therefore this is why so many players today are grossly overpaid due to potential. I said a long time ago when this trend started that the NBA was going to suffer talent wise behind this and that's where we are today with I would say about 70% of the players in the NBA has no good talent and are what?...OVERPAID!!!

  • In reply to Reese1:

    And some players average less than that and are seriously getting overpaid and riding the bench. Like I said, I understand the point being made and the market value but it is really sad when you look at the situation and we as fans suffer from this because we are the ones who spend our money to watch some lousy basketball being played because of potential talented players. This is why out of 32 teams, only maybe I will say only another 5 teams legitimately have a real shot at winning a championship. This is why a lot of people were so upset when the Miami situation happened cause of the lack of talent in the NBA to win a championship. In the long run it may help the league cause teams are now forced to get better and stop overpaying potential.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I disagree with the assertion that if 90% of players are perceived to be overpaid then it's the perception that's wrong. You've written about the problem yourself: it's the CBA. It redistributes funds away from guys on rookie contracts and max deals to good but not great veterans like Deng.

    Given that, the mistake is re-signing guys like Deng (and Gordon/Hinrich/Noc/etc) before we had the stars in place. You should be constantly churning the roster for cheap guys on rookie deals until you get lucky in the draft and/or FA to reach a point where you're just vet players on their inflated contracts away from contention. Then you can hand out long term deals for less than superstar talent to keep your supporting cast.

    The Hawks may have a difficult balancing act, but I'm not sure that applies here. The Bulls can stink and still be popular, so there's no excuse to keep the players just to be semi-competitive.

    That said you are right about our current situation: we should keep Deng because he's better than anything else we can realistically do with the money.

  • Yea, that's what I'm banking on. I'd like to see Lu at around 30 mpg this year.

  • I wouldn't say "upset" is the right word. I'd go with "concerned".

    Just like I'm not "upset" that Luol is on the Bulls.

    I'm definitely concerned about both of them, and their ability to stay healthy. But, other than that, I don't have much of an issue with them as players, or with what they're earning.

    That's all I was trying to say with my initial comment. I promise I'm not trying to be contrarian or anything, I just think that's the reason so many people get pissed at Lu every year.

    I believe, if he stayed on the floor, the people that are so down on him would realize that he does have value.

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    If Deng was missing games because he kicked a chair, I'd be upset. Deng is missing games due to injuries like stress fractures due to overplaying and wrist injuries from getting undercut. That's part of the game and there's no way around that.

  • The bottom line is Deng looked overpaid until this FA season but it doesn't look so bad now with the contracts for Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson etc.. If Deng is healthy and plays as he does normally with a little bit of improvement in his 3 point shooting....he will be a sought after contract.
    It is obvious you don't trade him unless you are getting an upgrade(which is what we thought with LBJ) or if we are getting a improving star in a different position with a smaller contract(just for example somebody like Eric Gordon in LA).

    The other thing is after MJ and before Rose, Deng has been the only guy who looked like he will turn into a superstar. The disappointing part is we thought he can be a second supporting star such as Bosh but he is a level below that.

  • I didn't get the impression that the Bulls ever tried to find out the real market value of Deng or Hinrich at the time they signed their deals. Both guys got their extensions after a season where their numbers actually declined from the season before, which made me believe that if they gave those two qualifying offers and let them go out and get offers from other teams, they could've just matched and saved some money.

    Of course, that is a gamble. Someone might have thrown some real ridiculous money at them despite the dip in their stats and the Bulls would've ended up paying even more than they eventually did. Personally, I thought it was worth the gamble back then. But not now, though. With all the money thrown around the last couple of summers, the market's changed to the point where Deng's salary for his production is just about right.

  • Good point. If we didn't have a common owner for these two teams, would it be run differently? If we think about it there are about 13-15 players with 6/8 players getting paid top dollar in the NBA while 40 players are in MLB with 10-12 players getting paid top dollar. But the crowd capacity and number of games are more in MLB. The Bulls numbers have been skewed because of the Jordan effect from the late 80's for almost 15-18 years. We will know the costs of operating a basketball team in Chicago in the modern era only in the current future...

  • Like I said, I do understand your point and the market value of some players but bottom line is you're right, it is what it is, the NBA has some terrible teams and players that are being overpaid. But that's what the NBA is now, all about money and overpaying a bunch of no talented players. Either the league will do better bringing in better players or Miami will own the league after the Makers run is over. And hopefully the Bulls will continue to improve the team cause realistically they are one more good player away from competing with and beating Miami on a every year basis.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    excuse my typing, I meant to say after the Lakers run is over.

  • Really? You'd take a dumb off-court injury vs. an in-game, manageable injury?

  • Well, I'd argue that playing Deng 40+ minutes a night in December is stupid, and the problem was taken care of by telling Vinny to take a hike.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    Exactly...Deng looked like a superstar in the 1st quarter but would tail off by the fourth. It will be interesting to see his avg stats based on quarters last year on how much little effective he was in the fourth quarter.. Vinny not only did a dis-service to Deng...he didn't develop or define a role for James Johnson by resting Deng.

  • I don't know why, but I thought Hinrich signed his extension after his 5th season. That must've been when the extension kicked in. The Bulls would've been CRAZY to give him that extension after a 5ppg drop off. I never agreed about that extension being a discount. On the other hand I didn't think he was grossly overpaid. He's a solid backup, or a decent starter for a team lacking a star-caliber PG. It's just that after 4 years of college and NBA ball and very little improvement in his stats between his 2nd and 4th seasons, it seemed he had reached his ceiling. I thought his deal should've averaged about $1mil less per season. That's not a huge difference so I wasn't bent out of shape about it but I would've liked to have seen what his market value was. I think Hinrich had a clue, though. I remember him being quoted as saying he wanted a little more. But he wasn't crazy enough to turn it down.

  • The point is not just paying the top 8 players in the rotation but paying those at the end of the bench. Unless you have high upside guys, the Bulls don't sign guys like Matt Barnes, Dahntay Jones etc.. to be the 10-12th guys usually. This time, they have kind of done that. Also, Hinrich missing so many open shots is an everlasting bad memory for me to justify his contract.

  • Well here's to hoping Luol stays healthy this year and shows the naysayers just how good he can be. I agree that the time to look at dumping his contract is ovah. Now that we have a balanced team I think he's going to be much more appreciated and have (another) great year. I'll admit I'm a total homer but I'm done with trade talks and am ready to see what this team has. Later in the year we can look to make a move at the deadline depending on what's needed and available. I dont think Luol Deng will be our problem when that time comes.

  • Amen, I thought this would have been common sense but I guess not. I love Luol Deng. Never have bashed him for being overpaid. Never for being injured. I think he will help us win. Those numbers he put up last year were pretty solid. Thats an understatment even. And what he did last year was with a coach that didn't have a clue how to use him. He is healthy this offseason, and will be working with Boozer who he can share the responsibilities of being the 2nd scorer with. Luol gets to the line, finishes at the rim and on transition like no one's buisness, shoots above average, rebounds way above average for his position, shoots a high percentage, plays good-great defense, and is a high character guy who won't give you any problems within the team or off the court. Actually he is a great man who is very charitable off the court.

  • Yes, Deng is a good player and an asset to the team. He finds his offense without having plays called for him and does many good things without the ball such as rebounding and decent defense. That said, he can

  • In reply to Edward:

    If Deng could create his own shot he would be an elite player. Not many of those guys around, I'll take what Loul brings to the table.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I Agree. If Deng could could create his own shot he would be an elite player. Additionally, if Deng was that elite player Bulls would be considerably closer to competing for a championship.

    However, both those statements are false. Deng cannot create his own shot and Bulls as currently constructed are not a championship contender. Which is why I wrote what I wrote.

    I like Deng, but Bulls need an elite SG to compliment Deng at the wing - that is if they are going to compete with the elite teams in the league for an NBA ring.

  • In reply to Edward:

    I agree, but don't think at this point its realistic to expect to add an elite player while Jo, Derrick, & Carlos are playing together. Maybe if something like the Gasol trade comes up, maybe if we strike gold with the Carlotte pick. Otherwise I think it is pretty close to impossible, so why get your hopes up? Lets see just how close these young guys are to being a title contender. If Derrick Rose takes the jump to super stardom, it may be closer than people think.

  • In reply to Edward:

    Seems like you were insinuating that the soft cap & Bird rights are bad for the NBA. I disagree completely. I think the NBA has the best salary cap structure & salary scale of all the major sports.

    Baseball doesn't have a cap, you can't trade draft picks, the top rookies hold out for too much...its crap. This is the extreme end of the spectrum that lets the elite markets dominate while the other small markets face the impossibility of trying to maintain a consistent winner.

    Football doesn't guarantee contracts & top 10 rookies make more than any veteran at their position. The hard cap and high rookie salaries construct an environment that limits sustained success and causes veteran players to lose their job.

    Here in Chicago we saw what the hard cap can do to a team in hockey. Enough said.

    Basketball really is the best of both worlds. If it were hockey they would have undoubtably lost Joe Johnson for nothing. Football they would have given him the deal with only a percentage guaranteed and cut him as soon as his production tailed off. They still would take a cap hit if they did, but for the team the end result is not too bad. However, because the NFL has to comprimise to not allow guaranteed contracts, they end up giving in to the players union on other issues, like the rookie scale for example.
    In baseball, once Joe Johnson became a free agent, he would be out the door. 2-3 of the richest teams would bid on him and he'd make 25 million a year.

    If Atlanta felt like they were being stuck with Joe & his huge salary, they could have always traded him at the deadline for some value, and tried to make it look like they were still competing. The NBA best allows for you to keep your own players.

  • In reply to Edward:

    The Bulls better keep Deng. And I bet when salaries of the top 10 small forwards are compared to his--he could not be considered as overpaid. Let's not forget that team chemistry is also important, and the Bulls with two players from Duke, and the connections of the Utah player element--the team has a potential cohesiveness that could be very productive. Also, realize that the season ahead may be an all star season.

    No one scores and averages 18 pts a game in the NBA, and cannot be called an offensive weapon. People forget how Deng made open shots, finished at the rim and had regained his explosiveness as well as his ability in rebounding and in playing decent defense.

  • If a player cannot be traded(because of his contract) except for the year when he becomes an expiring contract then he is overpaid.

    You have constantly maintained that Luol Deng is absolutely untradeable even as a pure salary dump.

    Apparently, the Bulls haven't been able to give him away, or even bribe a team with a draft pick like they did with Hinrich.

    Therefore, by definition he is massively overpaid, according to you and at this point every GM in the NBA.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Bigway, your points are very logical and your definition of 'overpaid' has merit, in my opinion.

    Some say if a team was willing to sign that contract, then that was the market value and the player is not overpaid. However, this definition means it would be impossible to EVER overpay a player. That is foolishness and folly.

    If Deng were being paid 8, 9, 10, 11 million for the next 4 years he could likely be traded. But at 11, 12, 13, 14 million he cannot be traded even with a 1st round pick included. Very difficult to argue with that evidence.

  • In reply to BigWay:


    Why did the Chicago Bulls start following Carmelo Anthony today?

    Just curious. (B.I.G)

  • I am virtually certain that Bulls fans will enjoy watching Boozer play far more than they enjoy watching Deng, I know that I will because I like guys who play physical, rebound and know where the rim is located.

    For me the biggest problem with Deng is that there is nothing about his game that gets me excited or that particularly enjoyable to watch.

    As a kid I was a huge fan of Bob Love, who was essentially a mid range jump shooter, but for some reason I enjoyed watching him play and rooting for him. Was it only because he was a better scorer than Deng, I don't know.

    There is just nothing fun about watching Luol Deng play basketball.

  • Hopefully, Deng will be limited to 30 minutes max, and TT won't panic everytime he loses a game and decide to play all the starters 40mpg. I hope that is among the many things that he learned from being around Doc Rivers and a veteran team.

  • That argument would run contrary to the apparent fact that the Bulls cannot trade him even as a pure salary dump.

    If teams were willing to pay him more than his current contract they would certainly trade for him if all they had to give up was expiring contracts and garbage.

    As we have seen there is no line at the door.

  • You have essentially hit on the reason that most players are indeed overpaid. The salary cap limits what the truly great players can be paid, and everybody with a pulse thinks that he is a max player so they end up getting a few million less than max and thus appear to be overpaid relative to what the truly great players are paid.

    That being said, without a cap guys seemed to be even more riduculously overpaid.

    If I were in charge I would require 1 or 2 year contracts with only 1 year guaranteed for everyplayer.

    Basically pay for production and nearly total free agency every year. That would be fun and the ultimate competitive environment.

  • The differences in financial systems are very relevant. You can have a lackadaisical approach to that money if you want, they are totally different systems. He overpaid for players on both teams. And please tell me when Reinsdorf has gone over the luxury tax in baseball??? You are talking about a guy who shut down his baseball team and got rid of players when he was in first place! When has he ever done that with the Bulls?

  • The differences in financial systems are very relevant. You can have a lackadaisical approach to that money if you want, they are totally different systems. He overpaid for players on both teams. And please tell me when Reinsdorf has gone over the luxury tax in baseball??? You are talking about a guy who shut down his baseball team and got rid of players when he was in first place! When has he ever done that with the Bulls?

  • conotations aside, the definition of max player is pretty cut & dry. People's opinion of who should be a max player varies, a lot of people say there are 10 or so in the NBA who are true max players, but what is that based on? Your market value is what you are earning. Its a free market.

    I agree that Deng would have gotten more money this year than 2 years ago. Look at New Jersey which pretty much got shut out. There were a couple more losing teams like them that couldn't really attract any big names. Look at the guys that got huge deals, a lot of injury risk & unproven players.

  • That sounds like a good start, but wouldn't that sort of guarantee parity or mediocrity.

    Each team could probably only afford one great or even very good player, many of whom might take up half or more of the cap.

    You could never sign a second guy and still field a team, unless there were still "exceptions" for teams at the "hard" cap

  • I could be wrong but my sense is that the league does not value Deng as much as they do Rudy Gay.

    Most feel that Memphis overpaid(as the home team often does)to keep Gay.

    If both of these things are accurate, then Deng would have gotten less than Gay, which means he would have gotten no more than his current contract.

  • oh yeah you're right. Interesting how that works. I like it for rookies, but outside of your first 2 contracts, maybe even just your first, I think it should be all the same max

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