HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Few teams in the league have shown a better understanding of how to survive without a key player than the league-leading Chicago Bulls.
They lose reigning MVP Derrick Rose for a few games with that bad toe and don’t miss a beat.
So while it’s obvious that the Bulls know exactly what to do when one of their big dogs is out of the lineup, it will be interesting to see what they do with Luol Deng on the shelf with that “Kobe Bryant” (torn ligament) in his left wrist.
It’s strange how Deng and Bryant’s names have criss-crossed over the course of Deng’s career. Don’t forget, it was reportedly Deng that the Bulls tried to send to the Lakers in a deal that would have brought Kobe to Chicago years ago. Reports that Bryant was objecting to any deal that included Deng (he wanted to make sure the Bulls had enough talent to compete for a title) is a testament to the value Deng’s peers place on his game.
That’s impressive for a player with no All-Star appearances on his resume yet and is one who is often overlooked when the conversation of the best small forwards in the game comes up.
Even more impressive will be the Bulls’ continued ability to grind through the avalanche of nicks, bumps and bruises that they’ve been able to brush aside so far (16-3 and atop the Eastern Conference and the league). They host the Pacers tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV.
“I know it’s a bad injury and it sounds terrible, but really, I think it will fine,” Deng, who is trying to avoid surgery, told reporters yesterday. “We’ve got a good team, and I think I’m going to be fine.”
In addition to Rose, and now Deng, the Bulls haven’t exactly played at full strength this season. Both Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah have dealt with their own injury issues this season. We’re only a quarter of the way through the regular season and the Bulls have half of their regular rotation guys dealing with nagging injuries.
If they thought it was a rugged road to the Eastern Conference finals last season, with all the pressure Rose had to deal with in what turned out to be his first MVP season and (a Coach of the Year season) in Tom Thibodeau‘s first run through the league in the first chair, this season could prove to be even more challenging.
Sam Smith of Bulls.com raised some interesting points in his assessment of how the Bulls could, and perhaps should, handle things going forward:
Although coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t said, it’s possible Deng might get rested between games as teams around the league are doing with growing frequency with some of their main players. There have been a large number of injuries around the NBA this season and players sitting out games, and it looks to me, though I have no actual proof, that to counter the increased schedule some players are choosing to sit out an extra game or two before returning.
In some places with veteran players, it’s obvious and admitted, like with Tim Duncan with the Spurs.
Actually, I think that’s reasonable as there’s nothing wrong with usual reserves getting some playing time, and it should help the quality of play later in the season and into the playoffs as players pace themselves somewhat.
And it’s really not like there’s all that much complaining from the teams, and certainly not the Bulls.
I liked what Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters this week: “All this [complaining] about the compressed schedule is coming from you [media] guys, it’s not coming from me. I haven’t [complained] about it once. It’s a reality that we have to do our best with. The attitude you take towards it goes a long ways towards how you’re going to deal with it.”
Even in shortened marathon, the wear and tear of the season makes it tough on any team with championship aspirations. The Bulls will have to dig deep to make it through and continue to get the extra effort they’ve gotten from the likes of Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, to get them through.
They have continue to step up because the injuries both Rose and Deng are dealing with won’t go away over the course of the season. How much pain the Bulls’ top two players can deal with throughout the course of the season will require our scrutiny from now until their last game of this season, whenever that day comes.