Why Mike Dunleavy might be the Bulls' only trade chip
John Paxson has come out and stated that his team, the Chicago Bulls, are not likely to make another trade before the trade deadline.
He is probably right. Chicago have already made two deals thus far this season, trading Luol Deng to Cleveland and Marquis Teague to Brooklyn, and they have got themselves below the luxury tax. They also have little to trade - the team currently has only a 12 man roster, and while they own all of their own draft picks as well as multiple picks from others, they own them for a reason. Joakim Noah is basically untouchable, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer are unwanted, and everyone else is either a valued contributor at a competitive price, a useful expiring contract, a young player to keep for the future, or Nazr Mohammed (Who, fittingly, has the right to veto any trade he is in).
Circumstances, then, agree with Paxson, and Chicago will likely not be sellers at this deadline. They still have a season to play for. Despite being seven games under .500 at one point this season, a friendly stretch of schedule has Chicago armed with a 27-25 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They and all the other teams are still far short of the top two, Indiana and Miami, yet there remains plenty to play for this season. The fact that Deng was traded so as to not be bound by the obligation to overpay him in the summer does not mean a firesale is forthcoming.
Moreover, they are also unlikely to be buyers at the deadline, as evidenced by the Deng trade. Chicago has pretty much done their business. Nevertheless, should they still seek to sell, one particular Bulls player seems to be far more of a candidate than any other.
The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a two-year, $6,509,235 fully guaranteed option-less contract this offseason, and it was one of the better bits of business across the league this summer. Dunleavy has followed the logical and well-trodden path of NBA wing players as they progress into their 30's, and become a much better outside shooter, to the point that he is now one of the NBA's better ones.
As his physical tools wane, his once more diverse offensive game is increasingly limited - his abilities to get to the rim off curls, and finish within the arc, are declining to the point that they are now a minor part of his game. This physical decline also worsens his man to man defensive skills, which were never too good to begin with. Yet Dunleavy now shoots 38% from three point range on a fairly high volume of attempts despite being one of only two recognised three point shooters on the team (the other being D.J. Augustin), a significant but confirmed improvement on a skill he was never actually that good at as a youngster (despite once being a productive scorer, Dunleavy was never that good of a three point shooter in his twenties). A high IQ player and still 6'9 tall, Dunleavy knows how to get open for the shots, can almost always get them away, and also knows when not to take them. This, plus the unquantifiable but always reliable value of "veteran experience", makes Dunleavy a tempting addition for other teams.
Nevertheless, Chicago is under no obligation to trade Dunleavy now. He can be traded in the summer, should Chicago amnesty Boozer and opt to pursue a cap space plan - there will be a market for Dunleavy then just as there is now. The same reasons for which other teams may wish to trade for him are also the reasons Chicago will wish to keep him - every team needs 38% three point shooters, particularly the Bulls, who are one of the league's worst three point shooting teams and last in the league in points per game even with Dunleavy.
However, right now he represents a terrific rental for a team, particularly a competitor. Oklahoma City are a logical candidate; they have the trade exceptions, and the expressly stated need for a shooter. Washington are also looking for reinforcements in the midst their best season in ages, and while Dunleavy is somewhat similar to Martell Webster, he would nevertheless help the team (as could Kirk Hinrich, a less likely trade candidate on account of the Bulls's valuation of him and his expiring contract, but who nevertheless likely has some suitors). Houston certainly could use him and might offer up Donatas Motiejunas or Greg Smith in return, offers not to be sniffed at. Golden State might not have the picks to get a deal done, but would perhaps welcome a Dunleavy return, and as much as Memphis have already re-designed their wing positions during this season, they could certainly use one more.
If Dunleavy is made available, there will be bids. There will be assets offered, and assets are always welcome. Chicago would also stand to benefit this season financially, as a trade of Dunleavy likely eases their 2013/14 luxury tax concerns, which are sufficient to have them scrambling to stay under the threshold. And while they certainly have something to play for this season, Chicago must nevertheless remember to keep one eye open the future. Dunleavy is not it, but he might yield something that is.
It is unlikely Chicago has enough leverage to get a first rounder for Dunleavy, not with perhaps also sending a second rounder in return. But if they can, they ought.