Welp, Bulls fans:
The story of The Luol Deng Era has come to its anti-climactic conclusion, with the Bulls doing themselves (and him) a huge disservice by dealing him to the suddenly upswinging Cleveland Cavaliers for nothing more than future draft picks. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement in the NBA complicates matters for fans eager to reminisce romantically about their loyal hero who’s been playing his heart out for the city’s basketball faithful here in Chicago for almost a decade. But this is business…as usual. He’ll be ok though, paired again with one of the best young point guards in the league. The Bulls, on the other hand, might not be so. They now find themselves at a turning point, in limbo once again, crunched between a proverbial rock and proverbial hard place. Do they pin hopes on winning the draft lottery at season’s end? Do they make a serious pitch to LeBron in the offseason? Are they done dealing? Do they really think now will be any different than years past, when big-name free agents spurned them for other teams?
The Eastern Conference is rather pathetic though, with only one team outside of Miami and Indiana sporting winning records. That’s absurd. Had the Bulls made a deal involving a valuable contributor like Deng for someone equally valuable, they still could have contended in their cuckoo conference, but the initial point is that the Bulls brass could’ve gotten more than a scrub and some draft picks for a player of Deng’s caliber. Was he an elite player? No. Did he endear himself to those of us paying attention to his intensity? Abso-fuckin-lutely.
He was a two-time All-Star, and his career averages of 16 ppg and 6 rpg are hardly elite statistics, but the intangibles Lu brought to the court night in and night out are what we’ll appreciate most. The toughness. The winning mentality. The leadership. The countless ways he improved the image of Chicago Bulls basketball during his tenure here en route to leaving Chicago as the franchise’s fourth leading scorer all-time, behind only Jordan, Pippen, and Bob Love. Recognize.
I always liked Luol Deng. We all did. He was in charge of the high character core of winning collegiate players John Paxson and Co. brought in during the early aughts along with fresh-off-a-national-title-at-UConn Ben Gordon, Final Four regular at Kansas Captain Kirk Hinrich, and 2-time National Champion at Florida Joakim Noah completing the core in 2007.
But Luol Deng always stood out as the best of that bunch, not just on the court, but more importantly for his work off the court and around the world as a philanthropist. He was an All-Rookie first team member in his first year in the league, but by the time he took his first shot at the United Center, Deng was already a world-class citizen. His unlikely journey to the NBA exemplifies the global reach basketball can have.
Born in Sudan, he fled as a toddler to escape the country’s civil war. He made his way to the streets of North London by way of Egypt, and then took the flight to the United States for a year at Duke with Coach K before a draft day trade with the Phoenix Suns brought him to Chicago, where he would go on to bring the Bulls back to respectability–respectability that had gone missing since the Jordan-era.
It only took a couple years for Deng to win this city over, and it was his scoring average of 26.3 points per game in the 2007 playoff sweep of the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat that put him in position to take this team to the next level, but that just never was meant to be, I guess. It bears mentioning that that output was the highest playoff series scoring average by a Bulls player since the aforementioned Jordan.
When we won the 2008 Draft Lottery and subsequently drafted Derrick Rose, the future looked beyond promising, but a litany of injuries to the two stars of the team thwarted those aspirations.
Now Luol is a Cavalier, and Derrick gets to model suits on the sideline all season.
Lu: we wish you the best, but we wish you could have won it all here. We all thought it was going to happen. The familiar ring of built up expectations and broken hearted follow through has become the norm in Chicago sports, but it’s not your fault. You were a warrior as a Bull, and I hope Cleveland appreciates the trade “r” they’ve just executed.
We are sitting on that 6th seed as we go to print today…