Bulls have to mourn and start all over again


Jan 7

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There is only so much grief anyone can go through. It has to have an effect.

That’s perhaps the biggest issue facing the Bulls now not only in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee surgery in November, but after Monday’s late night trade of Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Though Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before Tuesday’s game with the Suns he spoke with the players and reminded them of their jobs and responsibilities, it’s more theoretical than in reality.

The reality is Bulls players are naturally stunned.

Carlos Boozer addressed that earlier in the day, saying while he understood on some level the team’s need for financial flexibility and to look forward, this was personal.

Boozer remained out with a sore knee. Mike Dunleavy was to start in Deng’s place with Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler at guard along with Taj Gibson for Boozer and Joakim Noah at center. Thibodeau said he would use D.J. Augustin with Hinrich and Marquis Teague was expected to be called back from the D-League.

“Luol is a brother to us,” said Boozer. “On a personal level, we love Lu. We miss him already. He’s been here a long time and we’re a close group of guys. We’ve had a tough season, to say the least. We’ve still got to play the game, still got to win, play, strive for excellence, the playoffs. But it makes it more difficult for all of us. We have heavy hearts.”

It’s a business; the players always say that. But it’s also a business where character and commitment is cherished. These are the questions that have to be circulating among the players after losing Rose, seeing Deng traded for future considerations and not knowing who goes next. What or whom do they play for?

The answer is both obvious and ephemeral.

You have personal pride; you have a job. You are paid to perform.

But you also are celebrated and taught to make your commitment to the whole, to be unselfish and give of yourself for the group, that the whole is greater than the parts.

But what now?

It’s the dilemma Thibodeau faces as he tries to get the team ready for 50 more games.

It’s also why most of the players, some even violating league guidelines, requested not to speak with reporters Tuesday. Like after a tragedy—and the trade of Deng feels like that to so many of his teammates—most people want to be left alone with their thoughts.

The NBA schedule doesn’t provide for that.

“We know what he’s facing,” Bulls executive John Paxson admitted in a morning press conference about Thibodeau’s challenge without Deng and the direction of the team in the larger picture. “We’re not sitting up here saying, ‘Be happy about it.’ But what has to happen within an organization is that when decisions are made, as a group you have to align together and move forward.”

Thibodeau is good at that even as everyone knows how highly he regards Deng.

“(I) talked about what (Deng) did,” Thibodeau said about his message to the team. “But then how important it is for us to be ready to meet the challenge tonight. Obviously, Luol was a big part of the team. This is the nature of our league; everybody has to move on. Everyone has a job to do and we have to get out there and get it done.

“This hasn’t been a one year thing for this team,” said Thibodeau. “This is a three year thing. Each guy stepped up and got the job done. I’m expecting the same now. Whether it’s a trade or an injury, what it does is give other people an opportunity. When you are called upon, get in there and the guys who are ready will take advantage.”

Certainly in theory; but in practice it’s much more difficult when so many questions and so much sadness envelopes you.

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