Earlier this summer, the Chicago Bulls and Luol Deng started talking contract extension. He is set to make $14.3 million this season in the final year of his deal and there was interest on both sides to extend their 10-year relationship.
But when the talks were revisited, the Bulls opted to put those plans on hold for the time being and risk the team’s longest-tenured player becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
“We were optimistic,” the source said of the mentality Deng’s camp had heading into the late August meeting, approximately two weeks ago. “Our goal was to get an extension done this summer. If that’s not what they want to do, so be it.”
It leaves you wondering what the Bulls plans are long term for Deng, who averaged 16.5 points a game last season but shot just 42.6 percent overall (32 percent from three) and grabbed 6.5 rebounds a game. Deng missed part of the playoffs dealing with a life-threatening condition following a spinal tap.
There have been questions about whether the Bulls front office thinks Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Deng can be the cornerstones of a champion — and if not the Bulls already are committed to Rose and Noah for several more years.
The Bulls could let Deng walk next summer, amnesty Carlos Boozer and have the money to chase another player on the free agent market (likely not LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony; however Danny Granger, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and others are potentially on the market next summer). They could go after a different guy as the third piece.
Or, the Bulls could dangle Deng in trades closer to the deadline. Or they could just re-sign him next summer once the market sets his price.
Whatever happens Deng will land on his feet. On the open market he would be in the second tier of free agents out there next summer and likely would make north of $10 million a year (Sam has a source say he will get about $12 million).
In the short term, the Bulls get Rose back and with Deng, Noah, Taj Gibson and the rest to see if they really can compete with the Heat, Pacers and other top teams in the East. We’ve seen them do it in the regular season, but what will happen with a fully healthy Bulls team in the playoffs remains to be seen.