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.
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."