LAS VEGAS – Unless the Chicago Bulls can reach an agreement for a contract extension with restricted free agent Luol Deng before he departs to join the Great Britain national team in two weeks, he will end talks and tell management that he plans to leave the organization as a free agent next summer, a source close to Deng told Yahoo! Sports.
Deng is determined to come to terms on a long-term contract, but he has set an Aug. 4 deadline to reach an agreement. Once Deng, 23, leaves the country for the European Championship qualifying tournament, he will sign a one-year qualifying offer for $4.5 million and become an unrestricted free agent in 2009.
The message to the Bulls promises to be implicit: Unless the two sides come to terms soon, Deng will never again negotiate with them. He will not let the uncertainty over his future hang over another basketball season, and unless a sign-and-trade is worked out, Deng will play out his final season in 2008-09 and sign elsewhere next summer.
When reached on Sunday, Deng’s agent, Jason Levien, would only say, “We continue to talk to the Bulls and remain hopeful that something can be accomplished.”
Recently, negotiations with the Bulls’ restricted free agents, Deng and guard Ben Gordon, took a dramatic turn when owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided to take over the talks himself. The Bulls made offers of $57.5 million and $50 million to Deng and Gordon last summer, but both players turned down those deals. Deng changed representation and hired Levien, who scored a five-year, $55 million extension for Sacramento’s Kevin Martin last year.
So far, the Bulls haven’t returned to that $57.5 million figure and the sides have remained significantly apart. If the Bulls believe Deng is serious about leaving next year, they may have no choice but to broker a sign-and-trade with one of the numerous suitors around the league. The Utah Jazz and Miami Heat are expected to be two of the most aggressive pursuers.
After a breakthrough 2006-2007 season, Deng’s production dipped to 17 points per game this past season. After the contract unrest of last summer, Deng and Gordon were part of months of trade talks with the Lakers involving Kobe Bryant, and the Bulls never seemed to be past it all. Nevertheless, Chicago’s basketball executives have long wanted Deng as the franchise’s cornerstone. At 6-foot-9, he’s still considered one of the NBA’s most versatile and skilled young talents.
After meeting with new coach Vinny Del Negro, Deng has developed a renewed enthusiasm about staying with the Bulls this summer, the source said. Nevertheless, it appears time is of the essence for Deng’s future in Chicago. Once Deng gets on that flight for England, that could be the beginning of the end for him with the Bulls. Two weeks and counting now.