Luol Deng is a winning player, but whether or not he’s a winning investment is what the Bulls are trying to determine.
In the four games the Bulls have played since losing Derrick Rose to a knee injury. Deng has averaged 25 points, 6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
The two-time all-star is living up to that status, yet his future with the Bulls seems very temporary.
Especially with rookie Tony Snell off to a good start, it seems as though the team’s future will include Snell and Jimmy Butler at the wing positions.
Nothing is set in stone, so it’s probably not right to say Deng’s days in Chicago are numbered. If he’s not traded before the February deadline, though, there’s a good chance the Bulls would lose him in free agency for nothing in return.
“If you really study what he does, he’s one of the few guys that’s a huge plus on both ends of the floor in the league — probably top 10,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng. “He’s a great defender. He’s a great offensive player and he’s a winning player.
“So I know the impact he has on a game. We certainly appreciate all that he does.”
There was an interesting case study Wednesday when the Bulls played Detroit. Deng dominated a matchup with Josh Smith. He outscored Smith 27-13 and the Bulls won the game by 20.
Over the summer, Smith signed a four-year deal with the Pistons worth a reported $13.5 million per season. Deng is making $14.3 million this season, and the price tag might be the biggest reasons he’s not likely to play for the Bulls next year.
Will Deng be able to match Smith’s payday in free agency next summer? That’s tough to say. A good argument could be made that Smith is overpaid. He might settle in with the Pistons with time, but as of Sunday he was averaging 13.8 points and had the most 3-point attempts (77) by anyone shooting below 30 percent from behind the arc.
Smith still has a perception of carrying untapped potential, which teams may not see in Deng.
The biggest complaint with Deng’s game also was on display this week — he never has been a late-game finisher. Finishing close games figures to be an issue all season for the Bulls, and maybe someone on the roster will get better at it with experience.
But based on this first week playing without Rose, Deng’s stock should be rising. And the more he can get on the open market next summer, the less likely it is that he stays with the Bulls.
The Bulls will owe Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson more than $42 million in 2015-16. They’ll be adding contracts with care during the next few months.
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