The Chicago Bulls traded All-Star Luol Deng for Cleveland Cavalier’s Andrew Bynum and three draft picks late Monday night. The Bulls immediately waved Bynum on Tuesday before the second half of his $12.3 million contract became guaranteed, dropping the team below the luxury-tax threshold.
The move was a good long-term bet for the Bulls, whose season was spoiled by Derrick Rose’s early knee injury (after he spent more than a year recovering from an ACL injury). But that doesn’t mean fans have to like it.
Though the Bulls insist that trading the fan favorite will benefit the team in the long-term, the town is hesitant. Coach Tom Thibodeau, a long-time Deng supporter, said he was consulted on the trade but did not say what he recommended.
“We discussed it, and I’ll leave it at that,” Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s tough. Lu did an unbelievable job for us. He embodied everything that we believe in: high character, intelligent, mentally tough, great humanitarian. He worked extremely hard and performed well. We wish him well.”
Teammate Taj Gibson was incredulous. “I didn’t believe it,” he told ESPN Tuesday. “‘That’s just talk. I’ll wait ’til I go to the locker room.’ And then I go to the locker room and everybody’s just sad-faced, worse than me. My immediate reaction was, it sucks.”
“To have him traded is tough on us,” teammate Carlos Boozer added at the United Center. “Luol is like a brother to us.”
Addressing the coach and teams’ concerns, Bulls vice president John Paxson said, “Look, it’s not realistic to ask Tom [Thibodeau] or his staff to be happy about tkaing a player of Lu’s caliber off your team. [General manager] Gar [Forman] and I put ourselves in Tom’s shoes a lot. Every day, really. And we know what he’s facing. We’re not sitting up here saying be happy about it. It’s hard. It’s difficult.”
General Manager Gar Forman addressed season ticket holders’ concerns in a personal email: he called Bulls fans “the smartest fans in sports” and assured them that “this trade represents a rational evaluation of where we are right now.” He even pointed to the Bulls’ history of great draft picks (Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah) as justification for the trade.
Nonetheless, fans have taken to Twitter to grieve for the loss of Deng: