Luol Deng is a favorite among Chicago Bulls fans these days. An unsung hero who found his way out of South Sudan to become a 7th overall pick. He became the workhorse for a team resurgences in the mid-2000s and finally emerged as an All-Star in 2012 and 2013. Not only somebody who could score but also one of the better defenders in the league.
So it’s hard to imagine the team that drafted and developed him to that level would consider casting him off right when he was reaching his peak. Yet that is what almost happened. Brian Windhorst of ESPN did a superb article covering the wild sequence of events that led Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James to signing in Miami. Something the Bulls were heavily involved in.
As things took shape, the team felt they had a good shot to nab both Bosh and Wade. The problem was they also wanted to play with James. Could Chicago find a way to bring him in? This led management into a tough decision.
“To pull off the three-star bonanza, the Bulls needed an extra $16-18 million in salary-cap space. After looking at their options, they realized that any strategy to accomplish that would require trading Luol Deng, either by getting a team to take Deng’s remaining four years and $48 million in salary without taking any salary back or via a sign-and-trade with Cleveland, Toronto or Miami…
…They tried to move Deng to the LA Clippers, sources say, but were turned down. They talked to Toronto about a sign-and-trade for Bosh — the Raptors began discussing Deng’s fit and possible parameters of a deal, sources say — to leave room to sign Wade and James.”
Luol Deng likely would’ve been traded if James hadn’t shut things down
It really was that close. Wade had wanted to play in Chicago since he was a kid. Bosh also told Bulls insider Nick Friedell he’d verbally committed to joining the team. So what happened? Well, King LeBron happened. He wasn’t impressed by the team’s recruiting pitch. Derrick Rose had little involvement beyond a video. Joakim Noah tried to step up but James didn’t care much for the young center.
When it became clear the superstar wasn’t going to bite, both Bosh and Wade backed out. Eventually, all three landed in Miami. The rest is history. The Heat knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2013. Many were left to wonder what could’ve been if things had gone differently.
Deng doesn’t regret it though. He was able to carve out his own little piece in team history.