Even Deng himself acknowledged the possible truth behind trade rumors involving him, suggesting that he had not heard otherwise from Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. Thus, he took it as an unspoken understanding.
"If it's not true, a GM could always come out and say it's not true" Deng said in an interview Sunday. "But if a GM doesn't come out and say it, there are probably talks. And there should be."
But Forman, obviously privy to his player's unease, went on record Friday to reassure the media he was not seriously considering trading his starting small forward. He considers Deng part of the Bulls "core group," and finds him more valuable as a contributor than an asset.
And while Deng has certainly proved himself worthy of the rumors--he's consistently called the "glue guy" for the Bulls and was voted an All-Star for the first time in his career--there has been building tension between him and the Bulls' front office concerning his torn wrist ligament.
Sustained midway through the regular season, Deng's wrist injury clearly hindered his playing ability afterwards. He missed 12 games because of soreness and saw his offensive production dip slightly. He had the chance to undergo surgery immediately after the injury occurred, which would have made him unavailable until the playoffs, but Deng elected to play through it in order to help his team.
A valiant effort, sure, but by gutting it out earlier Deng has now put his team in a tough situation.
Because of his commitment to representing Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, Deng has refused to repair the ligament at least until after the conclusion of the games. However, pushing the surgery back means Deng must miss a good portion of the 2013 NBA season, meaning the Bulls would miss not only Derrick Rose, but Deng as well.
Perhaps in response to the above speculations, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said recently he believed Deng wouldn’t need surgery by the time Deng returned to training camp.
Thus, there is the possibility that Deng will opt to forego surgery completely and continue playing next season with the same injury.
Now I’m no surgeon, but I’m firmly of the belief that if an injury isn’t properly treated, it may never get back to 100%, even when “fully healed”. And based on the games he missed this season because of wrist complications, there is nothing to suggest the same thing won’t happen again. Having Deng miss the beginning of the season and come back completely healthy sounds far more appealing than gambling on the possibility of him sitting out intermittently throughout the season (not to mention the potential dip in offensive production when he does play).
Because Deng’s injury presents a potentially dangerous unknown, the Bulls should actually keep him on the block.
To make matters even more attractive, Deng’s hefty contract only has two seasons left, making it a low-risk deal for anyone with cap concerns (and I’m sure we’ll all be revisiting this topic after next season once his contract starts expiring).
If the Bulls were to trade Deng, they’d obviously need to find another small forward, something they could have addressed in the draft but elected not to. They could also use him to land a productive shooting guard, something they’ve been unable to do for the last two years.
But the Bulls seem intent on sticking with Deng, and with their apparent interest in retired shooting guard Brandon Roy, they may find themselves mired in more injuries next season. Rose will still be nursing his ACL, Richard Hamilton proved this season he’s made of glass, and Carlos Boozer’s health is always worrisome. (And the Bulls are lucky Joakim Noah didn’t break his ankle in that Philly series).
The Bulls front office tends to pride itself on thinking ahead (they have the Bobcats’ pick and European top prospect Nikola Mirotic coming in 2016). If this is really the case, then they should coerce Deng into having his surgery after the Olympics in order to preserve his health for the long term. Otherwise, they should think even further ahead and consider trading him while he’s still valuable in order to avoid potential ongoing issues with Deng’s wrist.