Can the Bulls, as presently constructed, win a championship?
Do they have a real chance of going toe-to-toe with — and prevailing over — Miami in hypothetical future Eastern Conference Finals, or with the Thunder in hypothetical future Finals? Should they even be considered a level above the NBA's other probable for-the-forseeable-future contenders — the Lakers, Dallas (which could soon employ Deron Williams), Indiana (which is losing Larry Bird) and the Clippers?
If you answered yes to each of these questions and did so with conviction, then by all means the Bulls ought to keep Luol Deng, who is reportedly a candidate to be traded. He's their second-best and second-most-important player behind only Derrick Rose. But if your answer is no to any of the questions I listed, as mine would be today, I think a Deng deal must at least be considered.
According to Blog-A-Bull, the Bulls are on the hook for over $63 million in salaries in 2012-13. That figure doesn't include options for Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, restricted free agent Omer Asik to keep him or free agents Mike James, John Lucas III or Brian Scalabrine. Beyond that, they owe $11 million or more to four players (Rose, Carlos Boozer, Deng and Joakim Noah) in 2013-14, and Boozer, Noah and Rose are signed for at least one additional year beyond that.
The salary cap is slighly over $58 million. Even with owner Jerry Reinsdorf's willingness to pay a luxury tax, the Bulls are severely hamstrung in their ability to add talent for the next several years. They're going to be too good to land a lottery pick. They could use their amnesty clause on Boozer to free up salary, but even doing that won't necessarily put them in position to add a difference-maker via free agency.
Unless the Bulls think they can win by picking guys like Richard Hamilton or Brandon Roy off the scrap heap (I don't), their only hope to get a difference maker is via a trade. And dealing Deng makes more sense than dealing anyone else. At 27 years old, he's in his prime; his value will never be higher. Fresh off an All-Star season, he'll bring something back — possibly a lottery pick, if the current rumors are to be believed. That could put them in a position to not only add a premium young talent they wouldn't otherwise get, but also to be able to sign Asik and Taj Gibson long term.
Look, GarPax, if you really think the current core is good enough to win a title, then keep the band together as long as possible. If not, the inevitable tough decisions may as well be now rather than later, especially when the value of a Deng is as high as it's going to get. Rose's uncertain health may have helped slam shut a championship window that seemed to be open a few short weeks ago, only heightening the need to make a long-term move like trading Deng.