It seems as if almost every offseason the Chicago Bulls are usually in the mix to sign a big name free agent. This offseason will more than likely be no different when they throw their hat in the ring for the services of free agent Carmelo Anthony. But if Anthony doesn’t come to Chicago, the Bulls will have to look elsewhere in order to fill their void at small forward.
Other than Anthony, the top two unrestricted free agents at small forward will be Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng. The players have a lot of similarities in their game: they’re both athletic and long, are exceptional defenders, and are respectable scorers at their position. However, both players also come with flaws that could hinder their chance of signing with the Bulls.
Deng, who recently spent nine seasons with the Bulls, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January after turning down a three year, $30 million extension to stay in Chicago. Deng apparently wanted a similar contract to that of fellow small forward Andre Iguodala. Last offseason Iguodala signed a four year, $48 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. It’s unclear if Deng will even be able to sign a $10 million per year contract in free agency.
As for Stephenson, he may be more trouble than he is worth and his antics during the 2014 playoffs is just small evidence of that. First, he starts the playoffs by fighting with Indiana Pacers teammate Evan Turner. Then he fuels the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals by making comments about LeBron James‘ trash talking. Finally, to top it all off, Stephenson was fined twice for flopping in the playoffs. And this all happened over the course of a mere six weeks.
Deng would be the safer option if he is willing to return to the Bulls. He already knows head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s system and had great chemistry with team leaders Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Deng’s relationship with the players, the city of Chicago, and the teams coaching staff could lead him back to the Bulls, where it all began.
The Bulls usually have no problems re-signing or trading for former Bulls, and it has worked out extremely well in the past. For example, the team signed Kirk Hinrich in 2012 after trading the guard to the Washington Wizards just two years earlier. The Bulls also traded for former Bull Brad Miller in 2009 after shipping him off to the Pacers in 2002. As a result, Miller helped the Bulls reach the playoffs a few times, and also helped mentor Noah during his second stint in Chicago. Deng could be the latest player to return after spending some time on another team.
Although the Bulls could benefit greatly no matter which players they decide to sign, Deng seems like a better fit than Stephenson at this point. However, it would be up to Deng if he is willing to swallow some pride and return to a team that traded him several months earlier. Nevertheless, it should be an interesting summer for the Bulls.