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Should the Chicago Bulls Trade Luol Deng or Joakim Noah?
The 2012-2013 NBA season was a wild ride featuring huge highs, horrible lows and a fan base gaining a deeper appreciation for how resilient and tough their team is. The Bulls didn't have enough healthy bodies to beat the Miami Heat. Derrick Rose never found the right moment to return from his knee injury. Kirk Hinrich couldn't get over a lingering calf problem. Even a bout of illness struck the team at the worst possible time. Yet they still made the defending champions work for their victories. The question that lay ahead now though isn't about what was lost. It's about who will stay.
It's a sad reality for Chicago heading into the off-season. The surprise success of their latest reincarnation of the Bench Mob remains bittersweet since the group will likely split due to steep salary cap issues. Tiny spark plug Nate Robinson who played a pivotal role in the teams' impressive playoff run showed his value as a scorer and performer in the clutch. That virtually guarantees a team will offer him a multi-year contract, instantly making him too expensive. The same goes for Marco Belinelli who showed his offensive prowess off the bench, not to mention some surprise improvement on defense. His price figures to go higher than the veteran minimum. That should scare the Bulls away from bringing him back. Aside from that most of the other bubble players like Nazr Mohammad, Vladimir Rodmanovich, Rip Hamilton and Daequan Cook all figure to hit the market.
Chicago fans have already pulled out their "Amnesty" signs for Boozer. What makes that so unfortunate is the veteran power forward actually had a really good year. He was the primary source of offense for the team, didn't miss any games and showed great leadership alongside Noah and Deng. The problem is the contract he signed was way too expensive and it has handcuffed the Bulls ever since. Using the amnesty clause to buy it out sounds logical so the team could gain some breathing space but it isn't realistic. Chicago would still have to pay Boozer the rest of his contract which amounts to $28 million. Considering Jerry Reinsdorf only just paid the luxury tax for the first time since buying the Bulls, it's likely he won't give away that amount of cash for nothing in return. The best the team could hope for is clearing enough space next year to sign a mid-level contract. Those don't usually make the difference between challenger and champion. Boozer, for his faults, averaged 16 points and nine rebounds this season. While he is overpriced, the Bulls are better off keeping him for one more year.
The T word
Unlike baseball and football, trades are a regular thing in the NBA. Not even superstars are above getting dealt if certain requirements are met. Dwight Howard left for Los Angeles this season. Chris Paul departed New Orleans for the Clippers. Only the very best tend to stick around on the same team for the bulk of a career (LeBron James references aside). That is why nobody should feel comfortable about the futures of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah in Chicago. There is no doubt they were two of the biggest reasons why the Bulls competed so well this season. Their All-Star selections were clear evidence. However, a lot of things are beginning to work against them sticking on the roster.
First is obviously price. Together they will count over $26 million against the salary cap next season. The second part, which makes the first part worse, is health. Though only 28-years old, neither has made it through an entire season with some sort of injury or ailment. Deng played the full season with a banged up wrist and finished it in a hospital bed with some sort of flu. Noah suffers from chronic plantar fasciitis in his foot, making him a risk in spite of his ability on defense and rebounding.
If Chicago will ever have a chance to get value from them in a trade it is this year. Noah showed his toughness and ability to carry a team in the Nets series. Deng is already a proven defender whose shooting ability has improved the past few seasons. The Bulls would have to find a team in need of their particular talents with enough money to absorb their current contracts. Atlanta and Cleveland are two teams that come to mind as outside shots. Still the likelihood is minimal.
This season proved the Chicago Bulls are more than the sum of their parts. While the roster will look different next season the core they still have in place deserves one more year to get it right. Noah and Deng aren't going anywhere, and fans shouldn't cry about it.