CHICAGO – LeBron James would have to get past the flaming jerseys, the Comic Sans and the instant chasm that opened between him and Dan Gilbert, owner of the team for which he performed and amassed profits for the first seven NBA seasons.
Luol Deng would have his own set of baggage with which to grapple if he were to consider returning to the team that drafted him 10 years ago.
Putting to the test the old Thomas Wolfe-inspired aphorism “You can’t go home again” might seem quaint when the likes of Jason Kidd and others involved in last week’s Brooklyn-Milwaukee sleight of hand kept repeating “this is business”. But then, this is business, so maybe – somehow, some way – James can go back to Cleveland. And Deng can go back to Chicago.
While the former possibility (however slight) has the NBA and its fan base intrigued, maybe even fixated, the latter is generating nary a peep in the vast Chicagoland sports media market. Despite all those airwave hours and blank Web pages to fill, the idea that Bulls VP John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman would turn to the third-most desirable small forward in 2014 free agency (after James and Carmelo Anthony) seems to captivate no one.
The Bulls claim to be committed to goosing the roster and changing the movie of Derrick Rose‘s second major comeback from knee surgery in as many years. But the prospect of bringing back Deng, the two-time All-Star who toiled longer and harder than any Bulls player over the past decade, hasn’t garnered a blip on the radar.
Blame the baggage. The steamer trunk in that set came in January, when the Bulls came at Deng with a 1-2 punch in a hurried-up bit of contract-extension negotiating. They offered him a reported three-year, $30 million deal that wasn’t so much take it-or-leave it as it was take it-or-leave US; when Deng declined, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for draft picks and payroll relief via Andrew Bynum‘s contract.
It was an abrupt parting considering all Deng and the Bulls had been through together, his status as one of the team’s leaders, his skill set and the way Tom Thibodeau relied on him every way an NBA coach can. The locker room shook that day, emotional center Joakim Noah went into a temporary funk and, on the heels of Rose’s latest injury six weeks earlier, it looked like a tank job and felt even worse.
Being banished to the Cavaliers was no prize for Deng, either. His production and enjoyment faltered, and the “the Bulls don’t miss Deng” stories coming out of Chicago didn’t help. (They were 10-13 with Deng, 38-21 without or after him.) (more…)