Negotiations between the Bulls and Luol Deng’s camp surrounding a long-term contract extension have stalled, CSNChicago.com has learned.
Yahoo! Sports reported that initial discussions had been taken place between the two parties in separate late-June and early-July meetings regarding keeping the All-Star small forward in Chicago beyond this season, the final year of his current deal. But when the talks were revisited, the Bulls opted to put those plans on hold for the time being and risk the team’s longest-tenured player becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
“We were optimistic,” the source said of the mentality Deng’s camp had heading into the late August meeting, approximately two weeks ago. “Our goal was to get an extension done this summer. If that’s not what they want to do, so be it.
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“We’re not upset, Luol isn’t upset. We’re just looking forward to this season and next summer,” continued the individual, who acknowledged that Bulls management expressed how much they value the two-time All-Star, even stating their desire to see him retire in a Bulls uniform. “They were willing to wait and risk losing him next summer as an unrestricted free agent.”
While the likes of Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, other top players at his position, could opt out of the final years of their contracts and join Deng on the open market, he could still command significant attention as a free agent. A rival executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, previously told CSNChicago earlier this offseason that he could envision Deng being offered a multi-year contract extension in the range of a $12-million annual salary if he indeed became an unrestricted free agent next summer.
That would jibe with what comparable players, such as Golden State’s Andre Iguodala (four years, reportedly $48 million) and Detroit’s Josh Smith (four years, reportedly $56), received this summer. Entering his 10th NBA season, Deng will be 29 next summer, and beyond the aforementioned James and Anthony, he compares favorably to other potentially available small forwards.
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Younger than Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, more consistent than Toronto’s Rudy Gay (who, like James and Anthony, has an early-termination option on the $19-million final season of his present deal) and healthier than Indiana’s Danny Granger, who is coming back from virtually entire season missed due to a knee injury, Deng would hypothetically be a prime candidate for teams with significant cap room and a need at the position.
However, the Bulls, which traded up to draft him seventh overall out of Duke in the 2004 NBA Draft, then rewarded him with a six-year, reportedly $71-million extension back in 2008, seemingly have little impetus to sign a long-term pact with Deng at this point, given how the league’s collective-bargaining agreement has created an environment where besides max-level contracts, early extensions are a rarity. Instead, the organization can opt to let the market dictate Deng’s value, preserving some financial flexibility for after a season in which the team is expected to be a title contender.
Deng is currently in Hawaii, where he is working out in preparation for the upcoming campaign after a typical summer of travel, but also his first offseason in recent memory when he didn’t play for Great Britain in international competition. Given the Bulls’ lofty ambitions and Deng’s professionalism, his status after the upcoming campaign is unlikely to be an issue moving forward, but the reality of the situation is it looms as perhaps the team’s most pressing matter come next summer.