Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng

Bulls' decision to deal Luol Deng prudent

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
9:28
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- Luol Deng made big plays and provided great moments throughout much of his 9½-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls, but it was one of his last decisions as a member of the Bulls that may provide the biggest dividends for the organization in the future. That's because when Deng decided to reject the Bulls' three-year, $30 million extension in January, Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson made the swift decision to deal Deng -- to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As much as the organization respects Deng, and as much he endeared himself to head coach Tom Thibodeau and his teammates, especially in the past few seasons, that was the right decision for Forman and Paxson to make. That was even clearer Sunday night as the Bulls faced off against Deng for just the second time, the first as a member of the Miami Heat, in a 93-75 win.

[+] EnlargeDeng
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsBulls coach Tom Thibodeau admires Luol Deng but his team may be better off without him.
Deng and his agents felt disrespected by what they considered a low offer from the Bulls, but in hindsight Forman and Paxson pegged Deng's value on the open market. The trade happened shortly after the contract rejection -- with Deng ultimately signing a two-year deal in Miami for $20 million later in the summer. But because of Forman and Paxson's decisiveness, they actually made themselves even better without the All-Star forward on several levels.

In the short term, the cap space money that was freed up in the Deng deal, which brought back Andrew Bynum's contract -- which was quickly waived -- took the Bulls out of the luxury tax. That's important given the fact that if they kept Deng they would have been over the luxury tax threshold for the second straight year and would have faced the punitive repeater tax moving forward.

From a broader perspective, the Deng deal, coupled with amnestying the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract, allowed the Bulls to chase hard after Carmelo Anthony, and ultimately, end up with Pau Gasol in the 2014 free-agent sweepstakes. Gasol has been arguably the Bulls' best all-around player over the first two months of the season, averaging a double-double and becoming a huge presence down low for Thibodeau. Deng was, and still is, a skilled offensive player, but Gasol gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket presence that Deng was never going to provide on the blocks.

Deng's decision also gave Jimmy Butler more of an opportunity to showcase what he can do. Butler has taken over Deng's role as Thibodeau's workhorse, racking up 21 points a game and taking the challenge of guarding the opposition's best perimeter player each night. After spending countless hours in the gym over the summer, Butler's game has reached a new level offensively. At 25 and in just his fourth year in the league, he doesn't have the mileage on his legs that Deng, 29, has piled up after 10 seasons in the league.

Deng's decision also helped pave the way for the Bulls to land two promising rookies. Nikola Mirotic still may have come over to Chicago on the mid-level exception, but the Bulls may not have chased as hard after Doug McDermott in a draft-day deal if they knew Deng was in the fold. While McDermott hasn't panned out up to this point, and is now expected to be out for 4-6 weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the Bulls are still confident he will contribute at some point.

Many fans voiced displeasure with the Deng move last season because they thought the Bulls, who got Bynum, one potential first-rounder from Sacramento and two future second-round picks, did not get enough in return for the former All-Star. But with Sacramento appearing to get a little better behind the play of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, that pick, which is top-10 protected for the next three seasons, looks a little bit better.

Deng said before Sunday's game that it wasn't difficult for him watching his former team, and said that he "had to move on," but it was clear from all parties involved that Sunday's affair was a little different because of the circumstances.

"I think it's always going to be strange for me facing the Bulls," Deng admitted. "Obviously because it's Chicago, but just the guys on the team. It's still really the same guys. You just got Boozer, Boozer's gone, now it's Gasol instead. But most of the guys it's still really the same faces. It's more than a game with those guys. So when I see them it's friends, it's family, it's guys that I've done a lot with. [They] know a lot about me, I know a lot about them."

The cold reality of the business of basketball is that Forman and Paxson knew that if Deng wasn't going to sign for their price, it was time to move on. They just didn't realize how lucky they got when Deng said no to their offer. The Duke alum is still a good player, and his presence is missed by his teammates, but he is on the downside of his career. With Gasol in the fold, and Butler growing into a star, the Bulls have a better chance of getting to their ultimate goal of winning a championship. Maybe that's why Thibodeau said it wasn't strange for him to coach against one of his all-time favorite players in Deng.

"I know the type of competitor he is," Thibodeau said. "We want to beat them, I know he wants to beat us. I think you guys know how I feel about him. I've got great respect for him, not only as a player, but as a person. His story is an incredible story and to be where he is, it's remarkable. Just the way he carries himself, he's a great guy."

But the Bulls had to take their personal feelings out of this decision, and they are better off for doing so. Deng's numbers have slid slightly in Miami as the Heat have struggled to string wins together. The Bulls, who have now won three straight games, appear poised to make a run towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

As much as the Bulls' players acknowledge how strange it is to face the man many considered to be like a brother, they understand the business of basketball. While nobody in the locker room wants to admit it, the Bulls are in a better place without Deng than they would be with him.

"Yeah, it's weird," Bulls guard Derrick Rose said of facing Deng, the first time he had done so in his career. "Especially with me and Lu and I think a couple of other guys on the team, we really have relationships with him off the court. Hanging around, going out to eat with one another, going to each other's house, stuff like that you tend to miss. But this is a business and you can do that in the offseason."

Thibodeau trumps Deng on reunion night

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
11:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- After all the pregame hugs and handshakes were over and the well-wishes and deserved praise for Luol Deng ceased, Tom Thibodeau offered up another clinic as to why the Chicago Bulls will always be all right no matter which players he has on his roster.

Wednesday's win over Deng and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls' ninth in their past 11 games, was another reminder as to why Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league.

The Bulls still miss Deng's presence on and off the floor and will surely miss him down the stretch of the 82-game season. But the void he left after being dealt to Cleveland earlier this month isn't nearly as big as it could have been, thanks in large part to Thibodeau.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Mark DuncanTom Thibodeau and the Bulls allowed Luol Deng but two makes on 11 attempts in their first meeting since his trade to the Cavaliers.
The coach was the one who devised the game plan that made Deng basically irrelevant on Wednesday, allowing him just two makes on 11 attempts. He's the one who made the adjustments that slowed down Kyrie Irving to the tune of just eight second-half points after scoring 18 in the first half.

Most of all, Thibodeau is the man who got players such as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to believe in the fact they could still win games after Deng left. Thibodeau made his leaders believe the season wasn't over when many others had given up hope.

"There's a resolve to our team," Thibodeau said. "There's a great fighting spirit, and there's a great will. I think if you have those things, you have a chance."

If you have a great scheme, the chances to win are even greater. Having been around Deng for so many years, Thibodeau and his players knew exactly what they wanted to do when they saw their former teammate on the floor.

"We tried to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Put a lot of pressure on him. We know both their bigs are rolling to the basket, so we were able to be more aggressive on Lu and put more pressure on him."

Bulls forward Gibson, who tied a career high with 26 points, knew what Deng's plan was and tried to keep him out of his comfort zone when he saw him on the floor.

"At times we just had to switch different guys on him," Gibson said. "At one point, he was getting a lot of foul calls, especially offensively. He got himself going at the foul line. I know Lu, too. That’s how he gets himself going. If he can’t hit a shot early, he attacks the rim and looks to get fouls. We looked to take that away from him. No long-range 3s; we were on his 3-point game. We just tried to make him frustrated. Because once he gets in his rhythm, it’s really tough to slow him down. We did a good job. D.J. [Augustin] even chipped in and guarded him some. It was a team effort."

For his part, Deng admitted what his former teammates knew going in: The entire experience was weird. Seeing Deng in a Cavs jersey, after spending nine years in Bulls jersey, was a little bizarre.

"It was strange," Deng said. "But it's the Cavs versus the Bulls. It's not so much about me. We could have played better."

This game was about Deng, though. His old teammates knew it, and his old coach definitely knew it. In order to win, the Bulls had to shut down Deng -- and that's exactly what they did.

"It felt weird because it was tension even before the game," Gibson said. "We wasn’t talking or nothing. It was exactly like how Thibs said: 'We love him but we’re going to go knock him on his butt when he tries to score. After the game, we can be friends.'

"But I felt like everybody stepped in and did a good job guarding him, taking him out of the game early, making it tough on him. And that was big because he’s been playing very well lately."

After it was over, the All-Star forward said he didn't believe he was trying to force looks against his old team.

"If I was forcing things, I would've shot 30 shots," Deng said. "I really try to play the game within myself. [Chicago] played good [defense] and I just missed shots. I'm not happy with my performance, but that's a good defensive team."

Deng knows better than anyone the Bulls are a good defensive team because of the effort their players show on a nightly basis, but mostly because of Thibodeau's will. He has the ability to get the most out of his team each and every night, and he proved again on Wednesday against one of his favorite former players.

"We're just going out there believing," Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said. "Whoever we have playing that night, we believe we can win. And that's the way we're playing, with that edge. And we're just going after every team we're playing against."

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:24
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 98-87 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

How it happened: Taj Gibson tied a career high with 26 points to lead the Bulls over former teammate Luol Deng and the Cavs. D.J. Augustin had another solid game, scoring 27 points, while Joakim Noah chipped in with nine points, 18 rebounds and six assists as Tom Thibodeau's team ramped up its defense in the second half. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 20 points, but he scored just two in the second half.

What it means: The Bulls still miss Deng, but they haven't missed him nearly as much as many fans thought because they have players such as Gibson and Noah who still play hard and produce. Most importantly, they still have Thibodeau. He's the one who devised the plan that shut down Deng all night and that made the adjustments to limit Irving in the final 24 minutes. No matter who is hurt (Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich didn't play) or which players may end up also getting dealt, the Bulls will continue to win games because of Thibodeau and his ability to get the most out of his players night to night.

Stat of the night: The Bulls obviously made it a point to contain Deng. He scored 11 points but was just 2-for-11 from the field and didn't have a major impact on the game.

Hits: Mike Dunleavy had 22 points off the bench, going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Misses: Jimmy Butler's shooting woes continue. He was just 4-for-12 from the field, including 1-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.

What's next: The Bulls take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night in Chicago.

OT: Butler excited to face Deng

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- Jimmy Butler always tried to emulate Luol Deng on the court. Since Deng was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month, Butler has been getting his chance more than ever to show how much he has learned from his mentor.

Specifically, Butler has filled the role for coach Tom Thibodeau as ironman of the Bulls. Night after night, Butler plays heavy minutes, hardly ever coming off the court much the same way Deng did. It's a role Butler is accepting with open arms.

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"I feel like that's what I wanted though," Butler said after playing 50 minutes in an overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. "My teammates trust me to do so, [as does the] coaching staff, so I have to be ready for it. And that's on both ends of the floor. I have to play extremely hard every possession and just go."

Wednesday's game against the Cavs will be emotional for a lot of Bulls given Deng's close ties to the organization, but it will be interesting to watch and see how Butler performs. He is one of many Bulls who developed a brother-type relationship with the All-Star forward and he's the man who probably will start the game off defending Deng. He's looking forward to the challenge of facing off against the man he learned so much from.

"More than anything, how you have to take care of your body," Butler said. "I think Lu played a million and some minutes, and he took care of his body the way you're supposed to, so I'm starting to do the same."

What's next: The Bulls face Deng for the first time. Thibodeau is hoping his players will stay locked in on the fact they need a win and not focus as much on the opponent.

The last word: Taj Gibson on the mentality of the Bulls:

"I know a lot of people talk about wanting us to tank, do all this, but we got too much pride in this locker room. There's guys coming from being No. 1 seeds a couple years ago, going deep in playoffs, battling with numerous things against us and we still have that same character. Thibs just says it's all about what we think in the locker room and we really believe in that. We really believe we can beat anybody."

What to do with Luol Deng?

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
9:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls are not planning to trade Luol Deng this season, according to a report from ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst on Friday morning.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAccording to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Bulls are not planning to trade Luol Deng this season. But should they reverse that stance?
But should they?

It's the question that Bulls fans continue to wonder about as another lost campaign rolls along. The question for the organization remains the same as it was the instant Derrick Rose went down Nov. 22 with a torn meniscus. How much is Deng, who will become a free agent at the end of this season, worth on the trade market -- and the open market?

Let's tackle the trade-market aspect of this first. I might be in a minority, but I'm still convinced that if the Bulls get the right package in return for Deng, they will deal him before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. The problem for them is that no team appears to be willing to give up a future first-round pick plus the expiring contracts it would take to get it done. The biggest hurdle for the Bulls in any potential Deng trade, aside from his impending free agency, is that he is making more than $14 million this season. That will take a lot of excess money to get something accomplished in order to make the numbers work. The Bulls love Deng, but they have a pretty clear indication that there is a wide gap between how they value him and how Deng and his agents value him in the future.

If the Bulls do indeed follow through and play out the year with Deng still on the roster, this is where things become even more interesting. The Bulls' biggest move this offseason will be to try to lure European star Nikola Mirotic over to Chicago. After that -- and depending on much money they'll have to use to bring Mirotic over -- they will need to decide what to do with Deng.

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Opening Tip: Snell looking for time

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
10:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Now that Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng have come back from injury, one player seems to have fallen out of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's rotation: Tony Snell.

[+] EnlargeTony Snell
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsRookie Tony Snell is poised to assume a larger role in the rotation if the Bulls decide to move Luol Deng in a trade.
The rookie swingman has started eight games this season, the first of which came Nov. 25 against the Utah Jazz, and has played with more confidence as the season has progressed. But he played just five minutes in Saturday night's blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors, and now he finds himself searching for playing time again with Butler and Deng back in the fold. When asked about the situation after Saturday's game, Thibodeau was noncommittal regarding Snell's minutes in the near future.

"We'll see," he said. "We'll see how things unfold."

Thibodeau isn't wrong for sticking with Deng and Butler at this point in time. Both are more established players and Deng is a two-time All-Star. They should get the bulk of the minutes. But Snell's development will be stunted if Thibodeau doesn't find more time for him, a fact that shouldn't be lost on the front office.

That's why the argument to get whatever they can for Deng will likely grow louder than ever over the next month if the Bulls continue to lose. If the organization isn't going to pay Deng what he wants and he's not going to take a serious pay cut, then why not give Snell opportunity to show what he can do in the middle of another lost season?

It's a question that Bulls GM Gar Forman must continue to wrestle with if Snell continues to sit on the bench.

Deng remains focused: After missing the past four games because of a sore Achilles, Deng was happy to be back on the floor with his teammates Saturday night. He still believes the Bulls can turn things around.

"I'm definitely confident," he said. "We're going through it right now up and down, guys getting hurt. We've had seasons where everybody was healthy and at the end of the year people got hurt. So hopefully, this year it's the other way around. We just got to stay positive. I think we're going to get better as the year goes on. Hopefully, guys can stay healthy. It's a long season. It's a long season, and we've learned in the past it's really who's the healthiest team and the team that has the best rhythm at the end of the year. Most of the time that's the team who's going to win it."

As a leader of the team, Deng admitted that he would talk to some of his teammates about keeping their head up if the situation presented itself.

"You just got to be an example," he said. "Guys are looking at you. You got to be positive. You got to talk guys and just staying positive and sticking with it. It's not always going to go your way, but being on both sides [in my career] -- the winning side and the losing side -- you just got to stick with it. And when things aren't going your way, you work harder and try to get things right. You can't just let it beat you up. Whether you get in the gym, watch film, try harder and harder until you get it right."

What's next: The Bulls take on the Orlando Magic on Monday at 7 p.m. CT.

The last word: Joakim Noah, after Friday's last-second win over the Milwaukee Bucks, regarding his emotional status.

"I was talking about it with Mike [Dunleavy]. It's crazy how levelheaded he is. Every day he comes with the same mindset, same mentality. Whether you win or you lose, he's the same. Derrick [Rose]'s like that. I'm like the complete opposite. I'm like an emotional roller-coaster, so I got to try and do a better job of dealing with my highs and lows and try to be more consistent with the next play, moving on, things like that."

Bulls seek positivity after latest loss

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:07
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- With the way the Chicago Bulls' season has gone over the past few weeks, Taj Gibson and his teammates have two choices with regard to how they could feel. They could cry because of all the heartbreak and injuries they continue to endure, or they could laugh at all the bad luck they've had and smile with the hope that better days are ahead.

[+] EnlargeMike Dunleavy
AP Photo/Kathy WillensDespite all the injuries and losses, the Bulls remain confident that things will turn around in the near future.
While the Bulls are understandably frustrated with the way they have been playing lately, especially after Wednesday night's 83-78 loss to the lowly New York Knicks -- their ninth in the past 11 games -- Gibson and most of his teammates chose the latter when it came to how they were handling their emotions.

"We just got to get guys back healthy, man," Gibson said. "Having [Luol Deng] out and Jimmy [Butler] out is real tough right now."

Then Gibson did something that has been rare to see around this team in recent weeks -- he actually cracked a smile.

"You can see I'm guarding 3's," he said. "I'm guarding twos, I'm even playing the three spot at times. It's kind of awkward, but we're just trying to find ways to win."

That's the thing about these Bulls. They are still broken-hearted over the fact Derrick Rose suffered another season-ending knee injury. They are still in an emotional rut because of the recent turn of events. But amid all of the bad things, they remain confident that at some point in the near future things will turn around. They came back from a 23-point deficit in Wednesday's game and almost pulled out a win. Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't do moral victories, but he knows his team is getting closer to turning things around.

"The fight is good and we're capable of doing better," Thibodeau said. "The important thing is for us to understand that every game is winnable. It always comes back to the three things that you talk about to be in position to win. Your defense, your rebounding and low turnovers. If you do those three things you'll be in position to win."

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Opening Tip: Injuries change Bulls' outlook

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
9:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- In a season full of low points, the Chicago Bulls hit another Tuesday night. Not only did they lose an ugly 78-74 game to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks, they appeared as lifeless on the floor as they've been in a while.

Hampered by injury problems throughout the season, the Bulls look and sound like a team that's just ready to play out the remaining schedule.

The problem is they still have 63 games.

There are a host of reasons why this once-proud team has fallen on hard times. Losing Derrick Rose for the season due to a knee injury has rocked Tom Thibodeau's team into an emotional rut from which they can't seem to dig out. The Bulls also are playing without Joakim Noah (knee contusion), Luol Deng (Achilles) and Jimmy Butler (turf toe).

Any team would struggle with that amount of talent out of the lineup, and the Bulls, as evidenced by their 8-11 record, are no different. But their collective mindset appears to have changed as the injuries have piled up.

No longer can Thibodeau sell his players on being able to contend for a championship this season. The Bulls have always been a prideful group with veterans like Deng and Noah leading the way, but pride is all they can play for the rest of the season, and that reality is starting to set in throughout the locker room.

So often over the last three years, several Bulls played through various injuries. They would find ways to be on the floor no matter how much discomfort they were in. They didn't want to disappoint Thibodeau or let down their teammates. They knew they were playing for something more every time they went onto the court; they knew they were playing for a shot at a championship.

When Rose went down in Portland on Nov. 22, the Bulls' championship aspirations went down with him. That's the part that Thibodeau, ever the motivator, is having a hard time getting his team past right now.

That's also what will cause Thibodeau more frustration than ever.

Players like Deng and Noah are too proud and have too much respect for the game to sit out a contest just because they don't want to play. Butler wants to be back on the floor to be in the fight with his teammates again.

But maybe Rose's injury has reminded all three players, and the rest of the Bulls' locker room, that there are more important issues at play than dragging yourself onto the floor for a relatively meaningless game in December.

If a player has an injury, maybe he'll listen to his body a little more in light of what has happened to Rose. That remains to be seen in what has become a lost season for this organization. Thibodeau would never intentionally make his players play if he knew they were injured, and almost all of the players in his locker room are too proud to sit if they aren't hurting badly.

But where is the line?

Every pro sports franchise deals with that question over the course of a season. But rarely does a team built around one superstar go from having championship expectations to really no expectations at all in one fell swoop, as has happened to the Bulls over the course of the past few weeks.

How hard are Thibodeau's players willing to push after going through the emotional roller coaster of last season?

Rose's possible return hovered over this team all year because the players and coaches were convinced that at some point he would bring them back to prominence. Now that he has been ruled out for the season, the rest of the players are trying to figure out exactly what they are playing for.

They killed themselves last season while trying to play through injuries. They gutted out a memorable Game 7 win against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round before being bounced in the second round by the Miami Heat.

The Bulls' players still respect Thibodeau for the job he has done and they still want to win, but are they willing to win at all costs and sacrifice their bodies the way they have in the past?

Are they willing to push their bodies to the max to possibly reach the second round again? Is that worth it to them?

Are they worrying more now about their futures than they did before?

Will Thibodeau be able to deal with the fact that his players may not want to play through all the aches and pains that they have put up with in recent years?

All of these questions will be answered in due time. But one certainty for the Bulls now is that the answers are more complicated than ever.

Injuries too much for Bulls to overcome

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
10:50
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah's only quote of the night, repeated almost identically after two different questions, summed up the Chicago Bulls' performance nicely in Saturday’s brutal 92-75 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

"We sucked," Noah said. "And we'll do better the next game."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Noah said it all after the Bulls lost to the Pistons at home for the first time in more that seven years: "We sucked."

The problem for Noah and the Bulls is that it's hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel after a game like this one.

Aside from Taj Gibson, the Bulls' starting five stunk. Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and Noah combined to go just 9-for-45 from the field. It appears as if the injuries that have come to define the Bulls' season to date are just too much to overcome right now. Playing without Derrick Rose (knee) and Jimmy Butler (turf toe) was tough enough, but losing Luol Deng to an Achilles injury appears to be the final straw for the Bulls.

They played the Pistons even in the first half, then played with no passion or fire in the last 24 minutes. Their defense wasn't tight and they didn't run the kind of solid sets that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau always barks about.

"There's a different story every night," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said of his team's struggling offense. "But tonight I just thought we had some good looks that we missed. We took care of the basketball. We didn't have too many turnovers. And the difference was the 3 pointers. They made theirs; we missed ours. We had some great looks and we'll take those every time. Next time hopefully they go down."

The Bulls had plenty of looks. They just don't have enough consistent talent on the floor to make them game after game.

For all the bluster from Noah and his teammates regarding the fact that a win over the Miami Heat on Thursday night was a turning point in their season, the Bulls regressed again on Saturday and couldn't fight through their own mistakes.

For as much mental toughness as the Bulls have shown over the past three seasons under Thibodeau, the injuries this season are finally breaking this team mentally.

Their veteran coach can talk all he wants about the Bulls having "more than enough" to win, as he said again after Saturday's loss. But the reality for the Bulls is that the players know better. They know unless they play a perfect game on most nights they aren't going to have a very good chance to win.

Energy and effort can only take a team so far in the NBA, as the Bulls have learned at various points over the past two seasons. Talent almost always wins out in this league, and the Bulls are finding that out the hard way this season. There are going to be some nights when they just don't have enough to win.

"We got a lot of guys out, a lot of guys hurt," Gibson said. "And it's real frustrating, because you never really get a chance to get a rhythm because there's always one guy banged up from the night before so it's tough but we just got to keep pushing."

GM hasn't ruled out re-signing Deng

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
4:47
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- General manager Gar Forman is still hopeful the Chicago Bulls can work out an extension with Luol Deng.

"We value Luol a lot," Forman said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" Tuesday on ESPN Chicago 1000. "And Luol is a big piece of the success we've had the last several years though we haven't gotten to our ultimate goal. We think Luol is going to continue to be a big piece, a big part of what we're doing. I know a lot was said about that we couldn't come to an extension last summer but if you guys really study the NBA, especially since this new CBA -- going into the CBA and since the new CBA has been in effect, it's very, very rare that extensions get done so the fact that one didn't get done was not an indicator of where we're at with Luol at all."

Deng, who is in the final year of his contract, couldn't get an extension worked out last summer. He told ESPN.com's Chris Broussard earlier this year that he would like to retire as a Bull but his name has surfaced as a possible trade target given the fact that the Bulls' championship aspirations evaporated when Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury.

"Lu is valued here and continues to be a big part of what we're doing," Forman said. "Obviously once we get into the offseason we're going to have to sit down with Luol and have to come to terms on another contract, but Luol is a big piece of what we're doing, and he has been, and our feeling is he'll continue to be."

Forman acknowledged that teams have been calling about some of the Bulls' pieces after Rose went down.

"The phone's ringing," Forman said. "And that's other front offices' jobs and our job to stay in touch with people and get a feel for what the market is and get a feel for who may be available and what teams are trying to do. Just like in any sport, there's buyers and there's sellers, so [we're] just trying to get a feel for what's going on out there. But I wouldn't say a whole lot more than usual."

Bulls have heart, but just can't close

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
1:09
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls' locker room looked and sounded exactly the way fans would expect it to after a gut-wrenching 131-128 triple overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans late Monday night:

Some players sat in their chairs in silence, others spouted expletives and a few others quietly walked back and forth between the shower and the cold tub with looks of depression written all over their faces.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLuol Deng must continue to acclimate to the role of closer for a Bulls team with missing parts.
Bulls assistant trainer Jeff Tanaka walked out to pay the ball boys some cash for their night's work and couldn't help but feel sorry for the young men.

"Sorry you don't get paid for the extra sessions," he said.

Monday's game encapsulated the entire Bulls' season to date. This team has plenty of heart and hustle, but it’s missing too much talent to close out games.

Whether it's making a shot down the stretch or finding a way to come up with a big stop, the Bulls are instead finding ways to lose games.

"Obviously it's tough," guard Mike Dunleavy said. "But it's nothing new, unfortunately. Whether it's triple overtime, single overtime, last-second plays, we've kind of gone through it all thus far.

"It's not going to change our approach. We're going to bounce back, and we've got one coming up on Thursday. And we don't know any better. That's the only thing we know is just to get over it and come back and try and get the next one."

The Bulls are not going to stop fighting under coach Tom Thibodeau. They haven't thrown in the towel on the season, despite the fact that so many different things have gone the wrong way.

The problem for the Bulls is that they don't have that one game-changing player who can close games for them like Derrick Rose did.

As solid as Luol Deng is -- and he was great on Monday to the tune of 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in almost 56 minutes -- he still doesn't have the type of game that can push his team over the hump late. He admitted he is still getting used to trying to fill the role that Rose played as late-game savior, and that was evidenced by his seven turnovers Monday.

"I'm fine with it," Deng said. "I got to make smart plays. I think I'll get better with it. It's something that lately we've been going down to the wire. We're going to be in that position a lot more. And every time I'm in that situation, I try to make the best out of it but at the same time learn from it. And next time try to really make a better play. And try to be smarter and get us a good look.

"Whether I miss or not or someone else gets the shot, as long as it's the best look out there."

The problem for the Bulls is that they aren't getting the best looks. They don't know where to turn down the stretch -- a problem compounded by the fact that they continue to give up head-scratching baskets in the most inopportune times. Jrue Holiday's driving layup with a couple of seconds left was the latest in some jaw-dropping miscues for a team that prides itself on its defense.

"We definitely have to get better executing down the stretch," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "But it's definitely a different team. We don't have Derrick. We don't have Nate [Robinson]. So other guys have to step up."

For now, Deng knows he must continue to learn how to be the kind of player he has rarely been asked to be during his nine-year tenure in Chicago -- a closer. It's a role he's starting to accept and one he knows he will continue to fill as long as he stays with the Bulls this year.

"I think we just got to expect it," Deng said of all the close games the Bulls have been playing. "You can't go into a game thinking you're going to blow out teams. I think having Derrick and having Jimmy [Butler], we're able to do that. I think when Jimmy comes back ... we'll be a better team.

"But as of right now every game we go to we got to expect that it's going to go to the wire and be mentally ready for that."

Thibs on trade talk: 'Get up, start fighting'

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:28
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Luol Deng was the winner in a contest that no player wanted to win on Wednesday.

He was the first player named in a trade rumor after Derrick Rose's knee surgery earlier in the week. Deng's name surfaced as a potential trade target of the Cleveland Cavaliers in their search to find a suitor for Dion Waiters.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsThe Bulls have been forced to deal with trade rumors in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury. Coach Tom Thibodeau advises his players not to get caught up in it: "What you have control over is getting yourself ready to play."
The report, from ESPN's Chris Broussard, is the first of many involving a Chicago Bulls team that had its championship aspirations flushed when Rose went down. It's not an ideal situation for any team, especially one that never expected to be there in the first place.

"To me, that's all part of the NBA," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the rumors. "In this situation, you're starting to hear about it now. Usually it's later in the season around the trade deadline. And for every 100 that gets talked about, one gets done. So the likelihood of something happening is small, but that's part of it.

“Many great players have been traded in this league. But you have no control over that. What you have control over is getting yourself ready to play, not get distracted, knowing that that's all part of it.

“I think the important thing for our team is to know the opponent well, be ready, do your part, understand what your job is, get out there and execute your job."

The difference for Thibodeau is that at no time have the Bulls been sellers in the trading market. The Bulls have always been the ones looking to add for a playoff push, not sell pieces with an eye to the future.

Thibodeau understands he must keep an eye on whether players start to get distracted by the chatter that trade reports bring, but he doesn’t expect Deng, or his other veterans, to be affected.

"Communication is a big part of coaching," Thibodeau said. "So you're always talking to players. You talk to them individually, you talk to them collectively, but you can never lose sight of the team, and that's the important thing for everyone to understand.

“Hey, look, in this league you've got to be able to take a punch. And you take a punch, you got to pick yourself [up] and get going again. And so that's all part of it. So I don't want us to wallow in sorrow. Just get up and start fighting. That's all we know."

The issue for the Bulls is that until Wednesday night's convincing win over the Detroit Pistons, they had been wallowing in sorrow for Rose over the past week. And it was Deng who helped pull the Bulls out of their funk with his steady play, as he has done so many times over the past few seasons under Thibodeau.

It sure looked like Deng wanted to send a message to the rest of the league that he wasn't going to let the rumors start playing with his head -- backing up a message he relayed earlier in the day.

"That's part of the [deal]," he said before Wednesday's shootaround. "Since I've been in the league, it's always; Every year it's a possibility [of being dealt]; anything can happen. It's unfortunate we're going through what we're going through, but it is what it is. It happens. You got to deal with it. But in terms of things changing, you can't worry about that as a player."

Deng has been around the league too long to think the speculation will have a major impact on his game. The same goes for the rest of the Bulls' nucleus. But for the younger players, Thibodeau knows he must keep a close eye on how they are feeling and what they are seeing.

"Occasionally, you may see it from a younger guy," Thibodeau said of a trade distraction. "But I think the guys that have been around, they know every year at the trade deadline most guys will be talked about. If I brought in all the clips the week before the trade deadline, there would be a million clips about who are being traded. And then after the trade deadline, usually in the entire league there's two guys that have been traded. So it's all part of it.

“You can use it if you want or you can just get ready, focus in on the next opponent, and get ready to play."

Thibodeau will have his players ready to play, as evidenced by the way they performed on Wednesday, especially in the second half.

The question is: As the speculation and rumors continue over the next few months, will that focus remain intact?

It's a tough question to answer at the moment, but Thibodeau is going to do his best to make sure his messages come through clearly.

"I think that's the nature of pro sports," Thibodeau said. "There's a lot of distractions if you allow them to become distractions. I think professionalism is critical and understanding how to prepare for each and every day, for each and every game, is critical to a team's success."

Rose injury could lead to roster turnover

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
5:32
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
SALT LAKE CITY -- There is no longer an untouchable on the Chicago Bulls roster.

Of all the different ramifications Derrick Rose's knee injury had on the Bulls organization, the biggest one moving forward is that every player on the roster now becomes available. The front office has some very difficult decisions to make over the course of the next few weeks and months.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsWith Derrick Rose sidelined for the rest of the season, will the Bulls now choose to trade core players like Luol Deng?
First and foremost, the Bulls are going to have to decide whether they can build around Rose. He still has three more years remaining on his max contract after this season ends. He has little trade value given that he has had two major knee surgeries in the past two years. The Bulls may decide they can no longer build around him in the future, but he will remain in Chicago for the foreseeable future either way.

The more pressing issues for the Bulls revolve around the rest of their core. In any potential deal, the Bulls must look to get younger and cheaper assets in the form of current players or future draft picks.

Out of all the pieces the Bulls have in place that could return a haul of those assets, Joakim Noah would have the most value in any potential deal. He is an All-Star center in a league that doesn't have many of them. More importantly, he still has two years left on a deal that will pay him a little less than $25 million -- a reasonable sum given some of the outlandish contracts around the league.

(Read full post)

Bulls' roster could be at crossroads

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
2:37
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Luol DengRob Carr/Getty ImagesLuol Deng enters what could be his final season in Chicago.
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Derrick Rose hasn't even taken the court in a regular-season game to make his comeback official and already there is talk is about this Chicago Bulls roster potentially having its last chance at glory.

At the end of the season, not only does Luol Deng's contract expire, but there is a chance that the Bulls go the amnesty route to escape the final year of Boozer's deal.

One day before the 2013-14 season was about to begin, Deng was asked if the Bulls are viewing the season as this roster's last chance.

"I'll answer that to you as a (general manager)," Deng said. " 'You know I would like to see everyone back here next year and give it another run no matter what happens this year.'"

Now what about answering as Deng?

"Yeah, I believe we still have a lot left," he said. "I think we have a great chance this year. You don't want to put your mind in a situation that you can't answer. I think right now we just have to worry about who is here, what we've got to do, and when that time comes we just figure it out."

(Read full post)

Thibs had good references for USA job

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
5:17
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski found it an easy decision to add Tom Thibodeau to his staff this summer, thanks to a scouting report from two of his former Duke Blue Devils.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer gave him the lowdown on how Thibodeau motivates them and the rest of the Chicago Bulls day in and day out.

“Before the announcement was made about him being one of the assistants I asked my guys who played for him. I have a couple guys who've played for him in Chicago, and they love him,” Krzyzewski told ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell on Tuesday. “They say, ‘Coach, we're unbelievably prepared. He's the best. We fight for him and we know he'd fight for us.’”

(Read full post)

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 3.4 1.5 40.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.5
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 2.0