Trade Deng? Luxury tax issue could make Bulls deal him

By Mike McGraw

When John Paxson first took over as Bulls general manager in 2003, he mentioned an early piece of advice he received from a more experienced colleague: “Never trade an established player for a nonestablished player.”

Paxson has given way to Gar Forman, but surely that advice has been passed along in the Berto Center board room.

So why would the Bulls even think about trying to trade Luol Deng for a high draft pick?

That does appear to be one of the strategies under consideration right now, league sources confirmed. A draft camp meeting with North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes was mentioned on the team’s website, but there’s probably no single target.

And yes, it does seem odd that Deng would go from leading the NBA in minutes per game to trade bait. That can be explained, however.

The Bulls are disappointed Deng is planning to wait until after the London Olympics to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. Really, though, missing the first month or two of next season is irrelevant in the long run.

The Bulls have plenty of love for Deng. The issue here is being backed up against the luxury tax and trying to create flexibility for the future.

Next season, Deng, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah will make roughly $56 million combined. If those four could lead the Bulls to the NBA Finals, there would be no problems. Even forgetting about how injuries might spoil next season, the team’s greatest strengths the past two years were Rose and depth.

The Bulls will have to ditch the depth unless they can move one of the high-salaried players. Rose is going nowhere, obviously, and there’s virtually no interest around the league in Boozer. Of the other two players, Noah is arguably tougher to replace as a mobile 7-footer who can anchor the defense.

So that leaves Deng as the best candidate to be shopped. A trade is no sure thing, since Deng has two more years left on his contract at a hefty $27.6 million and could miss the start of next season.

The ideal trading partner would be a team with cap space and a roster full of young players who could benefit from Deng’s veteran presence. Minnesota is a nice fit, but the Timberwolves traded away their lottery pick long ago.

Golden State, with No. 7 selection, could use a player with Deng’s winning history. The problem is, the Warriors already have four high-priced players in Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, with an extension for Stephen Curry coming in a year or two.

Toronto, picking No. 8, might be interested. The Raptors have cap room, but they haven’t been able to lure many free agents to Canada in the past, so trading for Deng could make sense. In 2004, the year Deng was in the draft, Dallas got the No. 5 pick in exchange for Antawn Jamison. It doesn’t seem likely the Bulls could get a pick that high this summer.

There is no shortage of teams to engage — Sacramento at No. 5, New Orleans at 10, Milwaukee at 12, Portland with sixth and 11th picks. Besides Barnes, the Bulls could target a shooting guard such as Duke’s Austin Rivers, Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb or Syracuse’s Dion Waiters.

The whole point is creating flexibility to make more moves in the near future, without paying the luxury tax for a team that may struggle to make the playoffs.

Trading Deng for a draft pick is by no means the only option being considered this summer. But it does show that Forman won’t be content just waiting for Rose to recover. The plan is to retool the roster and hope the team is better equipped to reach the Finals when Rose returns to his old form.

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