Since his debut during the 2004-05 NBA season, there haven’t been too many constants in the league more prominent than Luol Deng in a Chicago Bulls jersey. Although Deng, 28, doesn’t compare to a player like Kobe Bryant, the other consensus constant in that period who will forever be remembered as one of the greats, he is just the kind of talent that fits right in the thick of things in the conversation of the “wall of very good” where players like Peja Stojakovic, Richard Hamilton and Michael Finley reside in basketball folklore. Since entering the league, the former Duke Blue Devil has been consistently reliable in providing what he brings to a basketball court. He will never fool anyone into thinking of him as a great scorer, yet he has worked tirelessly to become one of the better mid-range shooters in the NBA which has translated into career averages of 16 points per game on a very respectable 46 percent from the field. More importantly, the tools he brings on the defensive end make him one of the few players that are able to actually disrupt LeBron James and the elite small forwards playing in the league. This is just something that can’t be overlooked when you play in the same conference as James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, three of the best in the association and all incredibly difficult to guard man to man. Although the title has never been presented to Deng in Chicago, he has been as close to a serviceable Robin to Derrick Rose that we have seen since the Bulls began their ascension into the elite of the league. Unfortunately, with the upcoming season only a few short weeks away, speculation as to whether Deng, in the last year of his year of his six-year, $71 million deal, will be shopped around the league is quietly gaining steam.
Although the development of Jimmy Butler into one of the more promising young shooting guards in the NBA is certainly something worth taking note of, one cannot overstate the importance of experience within any walk of life. You could be the next Robert De Niro in Hollywood, but until you get your feet wet as a supporting actor, you’ll remain someone that simply shouldn’t be trusted to carry a big budget flick. Just as the pressures of The Godfather: Part 2 and Goodfellas were prepared for with Mean Streets and Bang the Drum Slowly, the pressures of performing well while competing for a championship are best prepared for by taking a backseat to the more experienced veterans. As such, for the Bulls to be successful not only this upcoming year but for years to come, the role of understudy to Deng must be passed down to Butler to ensure he learns from the player that has already done what he’s destined to do one day. Simply put, not only is the presence of Deng one that cannot be replaced on the basketball court, his tutelage and presence are key to bringing Butler along slowly in order for him to become the player that fans in Chicago are hopeful to see.
Unless a player comparable to Deng can be gotten in a deal, I truly believe that shipping Deng out of Chicago would be a horrific mistake for the Bulls. For one, largely ignored last season were the marathon seasons that were put in by Bulls players because of the absence of Rose. In the case of Deng, he saw the court an average of 38.7 minutes during the regular season and saw that figure spike to 44.8 minutes in the postseason. Although the minutes have been something of a trend over the past three seasons, the toll that it takes on your body when you’re asked to do more during them can’t be ignored. In the case of Deng, a season without Rose meant a season with a lot more lifting during his time on the floor, something that led to injuries to not only Deng but the rest of his teammates as well. With the return of Rose approaching, having a player that has proven invaluable when alongside Rose is an element that any championship aspirations the Bulls will be greatly strengthened by. Although uncertainty resides over the long term future of Deng and the Bulls, his presence is something that is vital in order to reach the mountain peak that the Bulls are about embark towards this season.