Previous ArticlesLuol Deng leaves a powerful Bulls legacy
Tough decision on Deng made with Bulls’ future in mind
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Jan 7
Monday night’s move that sent longtime Bulls forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers was one made with the team’s long-term future in mind.
Yet it was hardly an easy decision to make.
As he explained the process of how the trade came to fruition, Exec. VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson in his opening comments on Tuesday at the United Center praised Deng but illustrated why parting ways was best for the organization.
“Lu has gone above and beyond anything we could have ever imagined,” said Paxson of Deng, whom he brought to Chicago in 2004 via a draft night trade in his second year as the team’s general manager. “He represented himself and the Chicago Bulls organization in a wonderful way and we appreciate that and respect that. I want to convey from our organization to Lu, publicly, what he’s meant to us and how difficult a decision to move him this has been. It has not been easy.”
Deng leaves as the fourth leading scorer in team history. And for all he did on the court, Deng’s character and how much he gave back to his community were equally impressive, which is exactly why Paxson and the Bulls were faced with such a challenging dilemma.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau echoed that sentiment.
“It’s tough,” Thibodeau admitted. “Lu did an unbelievable job for us. He embodied everything that we believe in: high character, intelligent, mentally tough, great humanitarian. He worked extremely hard and performed well. We wish him well.”
Carlos Boozer spoke about the trade after Chicago’s morning shootaround.
“Luol is a brother to us,” said Boozer. “He’s been here for a long time and we’re a close group of guys. To have him get traded is tough on us. We have heavy hearts right now.”
It was an emotional day for many in the organization, but as Paxson explained, it came as a result of doing what needed to be done.
Paxson started by looking back to the beginning of the 2013-14 season when expectations were high with Derrick Rose’s return. The Bulls were considered to be among the elite in the Eastern Conference with a chance of returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1998.
“That was our belief and our goal,” stated Paxson. “When Derrick had the injury against Portland and we learned that surgery was going to keep him out the remainder of the year, at that time our focus had to broaden a little bit.
“We had to look a little bit more about the future and a little less about today, which is always a difficult thing to do in this business because you want to win,” Paxson continued. “All of us are competitive people. We made decisions the last few years to field the best basketball team that we possibly could. But the reality is that Derrick’s injury this year did force us to look at things in a broader perspective.”
Paxson explained that no immediate decisions were made in light of Rose’s injury. Furthermore, as the season went on, the team remained open to the possibility of retaining Deng, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. He said there were brief discussions about a possible extension last offseason, “but those did not go anywhere.”
In the last “five to six days,” Paxson said, the Bulls made Deng an offer to remain with the team beyond this season, one in which Paxson described as “competitive and very reasonable in a lot of ways.”
The Bulls were searching for a way to keep Deng while maintaining the ability and resources to build the team for the future.
“The offer that we made was rejected, which is absolutely Lu’s prerogative and his right to do so,” stated Paxson, who acknowledged Deng’s ability to become a free agent, saying he wouldn’t want a player to accept a deal unless he is comfortable with it.
It was over this past weekend, explained Paxson, when the Bulls recognized the distance between the parties with respect to arriving at an agreement. That put into motion what ultimately resulted in the deal.
“What was unusual about this, unique about this, was the Andrew Bynum contract,” Paxson said. “Obviously we get him in the deal and will waive him. It gives us tremendous financial flexibility moving forward. The thing that we are assured of in talking to Jerry in going through this process is that those things that we benefit from financially, we are going to in the future put back into this basketball team.”
As for the present, Paxson knows what he expects out of the team.
“The reality is that we still have some really good basketball players and some very competitive guys,” said Paxson. “We also have a coach who prepares our team daily better than any coach in the NBA.”
Paxson has always placed a premium on character when it comes to adding players to the roster. Now more than ever, he believes that the Bulls will continue to go about their business in a professional way.
“Our guys will still compete,” promised Paxson. “They will play to win.”
While removing Deng from the roster will present challenges, Paxson also sees opportunities with Jimmy Butler’s continued growth and Tony Snell’s development. The Bulls will also rely on veteran Mike Dunleavy to pick up the slack from Deng’s departure.
“I would never ever discount what our basketball team will do this year,” said Paxson. “Rebuilding is not a word that you use when you have players like Joakim Noah on your team and you still have Derrick Rose, who we fully expect to come back healthy [next season]. You don’t rebuild when you have a coach like Tom.
“This deal makes a lot of sense,” Paxson added. “We believe it puts us in the position to be aggressive going forward when given the opportunity, and we will. The onus is on us. When you get financial flexibility, you have to use that in the right way. When you have draft picks, you have to make good basketball decisions.”
Just after noon on Tuesday, Deng used social media to say goodbye.
“You will hear a lot of can’t and a lot of won’t, but you give it everything you can because you believe in yourself and your teammates,” wrote Deng. “You push yourself with your heart, mind and soul, and smile every night knowing you put love and passion into it. Thank you, Chicago.”
While Deng embodied many of the things this organization stands for, as Paxson noted, there are still a number of high character players in the Bulls locker room. They’ve been through adversity before, but they continue to show up and do their jobs. There’s no reason to expect this time around will be any different.
“We’ve had a tough season to say the least,” said Boozer. “It’s still very early and we’ve had a lot go on in the first half of the season. It’s been a very difficult situation for our guys. Unfortunately we’re put in this position, but we’ve still got to play games. We’ve still got to win. We’ve still got to make the playoffs and strive for excellence.”
Audio—Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau discusses the deal that sent Luol Deng to Cleveland (01.07.2014):
Audio—Bulls forward Carlos Boozer on the Luol Deng trade (01.07.2014):