The Bulls officially waived Center Andrew Bynum, less than 24 hours after they came to an agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers to depart with Luol Deng, along with receiving three future draft picks from the Cavaliers.
The Bulls roster now stands at 12, one below the league’s minimum requirement.
By clearing Bynum’s $12.3 million salary off its books, the Bulls get below the luxury tax threshold as that combined with clearing Deng’s$14.3 million salary, will save the team more than $20 million.
Deng took to social media to thank the only city he has known in his 10-year NBA career;
"You will hear a lot of can't and a lot of won't, but you give it everything you can because you believe in yourself and your teammates. You push yourself with your heart, mind and soul, and smile every night knowing you put love and passion into it. Thank you, Chicago."
Speaking to the media on behalf of the organization and in place of general manager Gar Forman – who was on the west coast for the D-League showcase and couldn’t fly back because of inclement weather conditions – Bulls’ Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson addressed the trade and the reason for the move.
“When we started this year, we had really high expectations,” Paxson said. “With Derrick (Rose) coming back, we felt we would be in a position to be a top two or three team in the Eastern Conference to play in the Eastern Conference Finals and potentially get to the NBA Finals; that was our belief and goal. When Derrick had the injury against Portland and we learned that surgery was going to keep him out for the remainder of the year, at that time, our focus had to broaden a bit. We had to look a little more about the future and a little less about today, which is always a difficult thing to do in this business because you do want to win.”
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Bulls presented Deng with a three-year $30 million extension last week that the small forward turned down.
“When he didn’t take the deal and over the weekend, we realized how far apart we really were in terms of coming to any type of agreement,” Paxson said. “We had to have some very difficult discussions. Over the weekend, Jerry (Reinsdorf), Michael Reinsdorf, Gar Foreman and myself had lengthy conversations. We obviously talked to Tom (Thibodeau) during this process too and ending up making the deal, what was unusual and unique about it was the Andrew Bynum contract. The fact that we get him in the deal, waive him, and it gives us tremendous financial flexibility moving forward. The thing that we’re assured of in talking to Jerry in going through this process is that those things that we benefit from financially, we’re going to, in the future, put back into this basketball team.”
Paxson was careful to not accept the term “rebuilding” with a locker room full of prideful veterans and win-now coach in Thiboudea. He, instead, said the team would be “going in a different direction.” Deng’s absence will definitely make winning more difficult and him being traded comes at a time when the Bulls had won five of their last seven.
In a surprising revelation, Paxson admitted the organization's fault in mishandling Deng's health during last season, when Deng was administered a spinal tap to rule out viral meningitis. Complications from the procedure led to a near life-threatening scenario for Deng.
“You learn a lot from situations," Paxson said. "We did not handle that well as we could have and should have. We spoke to Lu and we didn’t understand the gravity of it in that moment from his perspective. That’s on us. Over the summer, we talked to both Lu and Herb (Rudoy, Deng's agent) and we apologized. That’s something we dropped the ball on and will hopefully learn from."
Jimmy Butler will get more of a chance to grow, along with rookie Tony Snell, who the organization is high on during the flashes he’s shown when given consistent minutes. The playoffs will still be a reality with how woeful the Eastern Conference is and the fight that is in the roster, but it’s clear that the future is underway for the Bulls.
Arguably one of Deng’s biggest supporters in the organization, Thibodeau, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, was against Deng being moved, but the organization moved forward with the deal. The coach got a chance to talk to Deng shortly after the move was made.
"I thanked him for all that stuff that he did. It's almost 10 years," Thibodeau said. "I think he was a big part of lifting the team out of the five or six years in the lottery before he got here. Then what he did for me. You couldn't ask anything more of a player. Practice hard, be a great leader, play for the team, be selfless. Whatever I asked him to do, he did. And he bought in from day one, from the minute I got here. So I appreciated that and I thought when you look at what he did, the way he worked and the way he performed, those are two things I value greatly."
Paxson addressed the notion that this move could cause a rift between management and the coach.
“Our working relationship with Tom is really good. It’s not realistic to ask Tom or his staff to be happy about taking a player of Lu’s caliber off the team,” he said. “Gar and I put ourselves in Tom’s shoes a lot, every day, really. We know what he’s facing and we’re not sitting up here saying ‘be happy about it.’ It’s hard, it’s difficult. What has to happen in an organization when decisions are made, as a group, you have to align together and you have to move forward.”
Paxson also said that Jerry Reinsdorf and Gar Foreman spoke with Rose regarding the move and there wasn’t a sense that he was unhappy with the direction that was voiced to him.
The focus now becomes what’s next for the Bulls. According to USAToday, the Golden State Warriors are interested in Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich and with shooting a valued commodity, Mike Dunleavy could also be included in a deal.
The Bulls are hopeful in bringing over star Spanish forward Nikola Mirotic this summer and it’s widely expected now that the Bulls will use their amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer to create more cap flexibility. In addition to their own pick, the Bulls own the Charlotte Bobcats 2014 first-round pick if it falls outside of the top 10.
“We are confident that we are going to take these resources, in the financial flexibility that it gives us, and put them back into our basketball team in the form of players and trying to get better,” Paxson said. “Obviously, the financial flexibility is big for us. The fact that we get the possibility of some picks… Ideally, you want to have something specific that you’re going to get. Luol is restricted at the end of this year. Teams are smart. You put yourself in their position a lot of times and you say to yourself, if we trade for this player and he’s not under contract with us next year, most teams aren’t going to offer you maybe what you think that player is worth or deserves.”