Heavy Mettle: Losing Deng Steels Bulls

VIDEO: Joakim Noah leads Chicago to a victory against Phoenix

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah took a pass Tuesday night. He took a pass Tuesday morning, too, and then again on Tuesday evening an hour or so before tipoff. The news that his teammate, his friend, his brother Luol Deng had been traded hit Noah hard and he wasn’t ready in the first 24 hours after the deal to invite in the outside world. So no media ops for him.

And yet, for 2 hours 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns at United Center, Noah spoke loud and clear. Chicago’s emotional center scored 14 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and passed for six assists, a performance good enough to pay tribute to Deng, serve notice to the league about these dismantling Bulls and say pretty much whatever else he wanted it to say.

Considering the funk into which Noah might have gone, the Bulls were grateful he went the direction he did in the 92-87 victory.

“Jo is an emotional guy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s good. I think it’s also what drives him, so you don’t want to take that away from him. He was fine. He is close to Lu. Any time you’ve played with someone for an extended amount of time, and all the trials and tribulations that you go through, there’s a closeness there.

“He responded. I felt by tonight, he got himself together. He was ready to go. His defense was off-the-charts. Playmaking. He got into the flow of the game. He got us going. He’s one of the leaders fo the team, so I think that’s important.”

There was a gloom at the start Tuesday, the reality and the finality of Deng’s departure hitting home. The Bulls had played plenty of games without the two-time All-Star, but those had owed to injuries, temporary absences vs. the permanence of this one.

Piece by piece, what began as nothing less than a championship-focused season has come undone. Derrick Rose was lost for the season, again. Carlos Boozer was out again Tuesday with a sore knee. Now Deng belongs to Cleveland. This team has weathered all sorts of ailments in recent years but this roster-eating bacteria, in the name of cap space and “financial flexibility,” trumps them all.

“It’s tough. Y’know, we lost our best player, and our leading scorer got traded,” guard Kirk Hinrich said.

Seeing Deng’s empty locker, and no one over there stretching in front of it during pregame, drove home the loss, Hinrich said.

“The guys who’ve been around, they’ve probably experienced something like this,” he said. “Obviously it was a big deal because Lu had been here for so long and had such great relationships with everybody on this team, the organization, the community. He’ll be sorely missed, but I mean, what can you do? We had to move forward.”

Some of the Bulls spoke with Deng after the trade overnight, Monday to Tuesday. Jimmy Butler sounded a little embarrassed when sharing Deng’s comment that he would miss Butler. They mostly joked and rarely had talked so seriously. And then came Tuesday’s game.

“It was weird,” Butler said. “We’re so used to hearing Lu say, ‘Bulls on 3!’ and then counting us out. When he’s not there… ”

So who did it instead?

“Me. It was weird,” the third-year swingman said. “But new roles, new leaders. Got to step up.”

The Bulls will hear, and probably already have heard, plenty about building-by-teardown, losing their way into the lottery and hoping – with some of the assets they got in the Cavaliers deal – to start fresh next spring with a couple of guys currently in college and others who’ve yet to attend senior prom.

It’s nothing that plays well in their locker room. There have 49 games left and aren’t inclined to toss away any of them yet.

That might have been part of what was balled up in Noah’s emotions Tuesday, the stuff he didn’t want to let out while letting people in.

“I feel like Jo feels we have a lot to prove still,” Butler said. “People count us out, and Jo’s not someone to go for that – at all. So if people overlook us, Jo’s going to put that game face on and go out there and compete. And produce and play well.”

The acid-reflux Thibodeau must feel each time he thinks of Deng now can be eased by the likes of Noah’s play against the Suns, and the Bulls coming together for a night at the end of a very long day.

By the end, the Bulls’ coach could have been standing in front of a huge U.S. flag as he talked of the challenge and the mettle he’s seen before and needs to see again.

“It’s ‘whatever your circumstances are, make the best of those circumstances,’ ” Thibodeau said. “There’s constant change in this league, whether it’s injuries, trades, free agency, whatever it might be. Then the challenge for the team is to not get distracted with all that other stuff and get locked into what you have to do for your team to be successful.

“That’s what I like about our team. This team has been good a lot of different ways. But they always get up. They always get up.”

VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks about the departure of Luol Deng and the Bulls’ victory


  1. okc2014 says:

    I thought it was stinky when they showed Deng all holed up in his hospital bed, very unattractive look for Deng, this was the Bulls fault for putting him out there like that, I had him for dead. He deserves better but don’t count on him staying in Cleveland. He has higher aspirations and many other teams will want him come free agency. Best wishes Deng.

  2. Christoph says:

    Bulls organization is so cheap. I cat stand it. They let so many good guys go: Robinson, Watson, Belinelli, Korver and now Deng. I love nba and live in Chicago but won’t go see Bulls as this is another slap in fans face.

  3. Too Greedy To Think says:

    Hey Deng! where’s Ben Gordon now?

    Good Luck!

  4. Bruno says:

    You can tell Taj is forcing himself to stay off-topic so not to bash management.

  5. RelltheKing says:

    Look this a move that finally shows that the bulls are trying to get D-Rose the help hes going to need next season, this move saves them about 15 million or so I like what the Bulls are doing. Derrick Rose isnt done but hes not going to be 100 percent next season even tho it wasnt another ACL or MCL injury. The head coach is one of the best in the NBA in getting his players to play at a 110 percent each night no matter who goes down so this team isn’t done. The NBA is a business things like this happen with a team trades one star player to add more picks for the draft

  6. Melo says:

    The Chicago Bulls are one of the worst organizations in the NBA. They deserve everything that is happening to them and more.

    Remember 2009???The Bulls misdiagnosed what turned out to be a stress fracture in his right leg and publicly challenged him to play through it. A STRESS FRACTURE!!! they wanted to end Dengs career there and then.

    Remember when doctors suspected meningitis during last season’s playoff run??? Deng was glued 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!!!

    No Wonder why Jordan hated Reinsdork

  7. LOLakers says:

    LOOOSERS!!! LOL!!! What are you in 6th in the east?!? LOL!!! Just stay out of the way as we in Miami get our next 8 championships while you idiots keep treading water!!! LOL!!! Oh and stop crying!!! Save some of those tears for when we demolish you!!!

  8. Say, whaat?! says:

    Call me stupid, but i ain’t counting the bulls out just yet… they’re built to consistently overcome all odds.

  9. Paolo says:

    Did the Bulls release Bynum?

  10. Yussuf says:

    Will!!!! it is very sad I like Lu, but next year if I am right there is a player they say he is the best in Europe will come to play for the Bulls any thought on that?????

  11. jdub455 says:

    losing deng?? o cmon… he deserve a spot in that team more than drose does (no offense to bulls fans, but its sad to say, d rose is done… done ala penny, tmac, and ghill)… but i think it wud be exciting to see kyrie playing with a professional all-star…

    • Allen Jay says:

      I agree. It would be nice to see Loul Deng in this scenario but believe me when I say this is only temporary. Why? Its because Deng has been in a situation like this before with a point guard, in D Rose. So the conventional thinking is that Irving at some point in his career will have knee problems like Rose, Parker, Paul, Westbrook and a host of guards. This is the era when if your a cutting guard is hard to stay on the floor. In hindsight, Deng will test the free agency market, and end in a different situation ( perhaps a already championship caliber team.

  12. ernie boateng says:

    Iam an Knicks fan but Loul Deng’s trade hit me so hard. i just admire his versatility in the game of basket ball and wish him all yhe best with the cavs.

  13. jumppong says:

    I don’t know if it is good or Bad for the bulls. cause their draft picks from bobcats and now kings.. always have this so called “protected” this trade will not land them the top 3 in 2014 nba draft. this bulls are slow when it comes to action. look what the blazers did.. they trade Gerald wallace. to nets for their pick and get lillard. no protected pick or what so ever. compare to this bulls org. their draft will end up 2015 2016 2017 etc. hey will not getting younger

    • BIGMatta says:

      yeh I know what you mean…this Bulls team that goes to the playoffs every year as opposed to your Blazers who dont. You’ve mentioned one trade for the Blazers that worked out for them and that’s only because the Nets owner has deep pockets and Billy King is an idiot.