When Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman made the decision to trade Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum (who was immediately cut) and three future draft picks midseason, I don’t think he expected the amount backlash it caused on all fronts: players, coaches and fans.
The former Bulls wingman had spent his entire career in Chicago and had earned All-Star selections in back-to-back seasons. But more importantly, the veteran forward personified what this Bulls team was and is all about: tough defense, do your job and out-work your opponent. That’s where I think Forman’s decisions were questioned. With the Bulls last season, he averaged 19 points (career best), seven rebounds and nearly four assists (career best) per game through 23 games. After he was traded, those same averages dipped to near career lows.
Yes, Chicago is clearly a better team than the Cavaliers. Yes, Cleveland struggled to incorporate Deng offensively through his 40 games with the team. But Deng never wanted to leave Chicago in the first place, and I think that’s why his numbers plummeted. Unhappy players don’t produce well; history tells us that.
Obviously, Forman’s decision was based primarily on his cap concerns and the money that Deng’s agent was asking for. He felt that Deng was not worth the $12 million per year that Deng’s agent was looking for. After rejecting a 3-year, $30 million offer, Forman felt he had no choice but to move Deng.
However, if things don’t go as perfectly as planned this summer in regards to signing a top tier free agent (Carmelo Anthony), Forman may be able to appease his team and fanbase with an attempt to bring Deng back to Chicago. That would at least suppress some of the uproar if the Bulls fail to make a “superstar” splash this summer. After his below-average performance in Cleveland to close out the season, his free agency stock is much lower than anyone expected. Forman may be able to sign him for the price of his initial offer or possibly even for less. A Deng return could also serve as a launching point to repairing his much talked about relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau, who was furious when told Deng had been traded last season.
Obviously, the bigger name free agents are first priority during the start of the free agency period, but Deng and other second-tier free agents (ex: Zach Randolph, Lance Stephenson, etc.) would not be a terrible plan B. With the cap space available, the Bulls have the ability to be flexible this summer if need-be.
Deng never wanted to leave and we didn’t want that either. His return to Chicago would not only bring the locker room together in a big way, but it would ignite a fanbase that’s begging for a deep, championship contending run this coming season.