Luol Deng hears yet another rumor (Getty Images)
Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls, is a very smart man. A very, very smart man. And he's about to, as the Bulls wade through a tough offseason factoring in all manner of payroll and personnel concerns, remind all of us what a cunning, quick, cerebral, and calculating man he is. Of course, none of those things translate directly toward winning a basketball game or taking home an NBA championship, but that doesn't take away from Reinsdorf's significant intelligence.
The reason we bring this up is in part to address the word out of Chicago camp, that the team would be amenable to trading do-it-all forward Luol Deng for a high pick in this month's NBA draft. To hear the Bulls coaching staff tell it, the All-Star is just about irreplaceable in the team's defensive schemes, but his eight-figure yearly price tag, lingering injury woes (following Deng's play in the Olympics, he'll undergo surgery to the chagrin of his employers, costing him the first month or so of 2012-13), and Chicago's 12-4 record last season without the "irreplaceable" Deng in the starting lineup has the team at least considering a move to grab a high lottery pick. From Mike McGraw at the Arlington Heights Daily Herald:
So why would the Bulls even think about trying to trade Luol Deng for a high draft pick? That does appear to be one of the strategies under consideration right now, league sources confirmed. A draft camp meeting with North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes was mentioned on the team's website, but there's probably no single target.
There are a few ways, as per usual with these things, to take this. For one, this could be the Bulls throwing off the scent — they're not happy Deng is playing in the Olympics with his injured wrist, and recovering from the eventual surgery on company time. Especially with Derrick Rose out for a massive chunk of the upcoming regular season. Deng kindly told the Bulls to go stuff it, regarding their concerns, and we're in his corner there.
The team is lacking, though, even with Rose on board. Though Chicago made a significant and surprising jump to fifth in overall offensive efficiency in 2011-12, riding on the relative health of Carlos Boozer and the offensively underrated Joakim Noah, the team still struggles to find shot makers even when Rose is wowing all onlookers. Deng, though a straight shooter from the outside, sometimes struggles to be that second option, and a deal sending his defensive-minded touch to another team for a scoring wing would seem to work in some weird, alterno-world.
The real point is that Jerry Reinsdorf has stated that his Bulls will pay the NBA's luxury tax, but only for a winner of his own design. The various permutations that go along with that "winner" are left up to Jerry's own thought process, so it isn't as if we're aware of what counts and what doesn't while the owner decides what to do with a team that is about to field four players (Deng, Rose, Noah, Boozer) making eight figures per year, with badly needed role players like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson all possibly about to be let go as the team rubs up against the tax for a second consecutive season.
As is his typical custom, SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell was smart to point out that the team's real future lies in the eventual pairing of Rose with 2010 draft pick Nikola Mirotic, and that hemming and hawing about outlying bits of this particular roster will feel like ages-old news by the time Rose hits his prime and Mirotic comes stateside. This comes on the heels of a fantastic column O'Donnell put together last week challenging the Bulls to think on their feet as the situation warrants. A move involving Deng suits Reinsdorf in disparate ways — it could lead to a more dynamic club, while shifting one eight-figure deal for another eventual eight-figure contract as the team prepares for another decade of Derrick Rose acting the on-court badass.
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We're not saying this is a bad idea, and that's where Reinsdorf's genius comes into play. Because every one of this guy's moves, in order to keep his team from paying the tax, can be argued away. And though any Deng deal is a massive long shot for several reasons (the biggest of which, the NBA-legal concerns, is out of Reinsdorf's hands), passing yourself off as proactive in the face of two failed attempts at a title with the Rose-Deng-Boozer-Noah crew isn't to be completely dismissed. Especially when Rose might miss just about all of the 2012-13 regular season.
This is what Reinsdorf does, while he decides not to pay the tax. I'll pay it for a winner, he says, but I get to decide what's a winner. And every time he comes close to having to eat his words, something pops up. Scott Skiles' crew full of plucky defenders falls flat, like in 2007-08. Jalen Rose can't lead the would-be Baby Bulls to the playoffs. Eddy Curry's health concerns preclude a massive contract extension he seemed in line for. Tyson Chandler disappoints in his first year following his extension. Minnesota and Memphis wouldn't play ball in dealing Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol. Rose tears up his knee. It isn't that Reinsdorf is rooting for any of this, because he truly would like to win, but it's always something.
And he wants to win on his terms. Always. Whether that means fielding a money-making near-champion that doesn't pay the tax, or leaving his players and coaches feeling like dirt following a money negotiation that — by all accounts — Reinsdorf "lost" in terms of dollars and cents compromise.
Toss in the stricter luxury tax penalties, the ones that have even the Los Angeles Lakers firing scouting staff and hamstringing their own attempts at getting back to the Finals, and Reinsdorf has every excuse needed to work this way. Damn, he's good.
So are the Bulls. And while spending endless amounts of money on personnel doesn't guarantee anything in the win/loss column, the team's fans are just fine to wonder if the team will ever be "great" again as long as Reinsdorf is mindful of that tax. And constantly tossing out giant deals (to Ben Wallace, to Boozer, to Chandler, to Deng) to players just to leave himself free of any "he doesn't spend!" criticism. Damn, he's good.
He's smart, and he's doing it again.
A deal involving Luol Deng probably won't happen next week, if at all. The Chicago Bulls won't pay the luxury tax this summer, if at all. And if they do, I'll have to be on the hook for something. One can of Spam per day, for a week. My first purchased baseball cap in 20 years, and I'll have to actually wear it in public. Pigtails. You name it.
But only if Reinsdorf signs off on it. And he won't. Clever guy, that Jerry.
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