I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Not because Luol Deng was traded after, oh, four years of seeing his name in rumors.
I was shocked because he’s only 29 years old.
Luol entered this league the same player he is today: tough defender, secondary-to-tertiary scoring option, and above all else, an anchor. Somebody Bulls fans could love unconditionally, because there was nothing to dislike. From the get-go, his numbers were what they are now: double-digit points, 5+ rebounds, probably too many minutes. You could describe a lot of players, particularly forwards, with those vague numbers, but how many get those numbers when nothing else is expected of them?
Deng was never the star of this team, and everybody was fine with that. We had Ben Gordon, or Kirk Hinrich, or Derrick Rose, or Joakim Noah. Even Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson grabbed more headlines than Deng last season. He’s a high-level constant, a very, very good player who functions best as part of a three-headed monster. Was he important to the Bulls? Some would say so. I would say the fact that he’s getting replaced by Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, and/or whoever the tanking Bulls draft as a prime example that he wasn’t important. He was a nice asset, a very good player. A two-time All-Star, after having to play 40 minutes per game two seasons in a row. But not important, because noobody is going to look back on the past 9 years as the “Luol Deng” era. There were so many eras Luol played a part in, and that he was a contributor for. But that’s all he was, just a part. A very good supporting actor.
Make no mistake, Luol Deng could’ve been the star of the Bulls. There’s no box on the form he couldn’t check off. Scoring, rebounding, defense, charisma, toughness, etc., they can all be brought to the table by Luol. But he wasn’t that guy, on or off the court. He was quiet, sometimes expressionless, but still warm. He didn’t attract media personalities that derided him, nor vigorously defended him. Well, unless you count what happened last summer. Last summer, the lines were drawn.
To get you caught up, here’s mah dude @SBN_Ricky on what went down:
Deng was issued a spinal tap when doctors suspected meningitis during last season’s playoff run, an injection that had severe repercussions on Deng’s body and glued him to a hospital bed. Once he was there, the Bulls showed little concern for him. Deng didn’t even have a private hospital room, much less visits from team personnel. Tom Thibodeau had the gall to say Deng had “flu-like symptoms, whatever" when asked about Deng’s illness. It set the stage for another contentious negotiation process.
Read the whole article (please) and you’ll learn this was not the first mistreatment of Luol by the increasingly-hated Bulls front office, but it was certainly the death knell, particularly after the cash-strapped team offered the “hometown discount” extension. I knew from the second the news came out about that lowball contract that Deng wasn’t going to come back, and I’m glad. Not in a “good riddance” way, but in a “so long, and thanks for all the fish” way. He was a very good player who did a lot of things for the community, but with his injuries and likely diminishing returns, what was there left for him to do here? All parties involved, including many fans, were ready to turn the page, papercuts be damned.
Good luck Lu. Nothing but love.