Back at site of 'lowest point,' Deng now at peace


Back at site of 'lowest point,' Deng now at peace

BOSTON Back at the site of what could have been, Luol Deng is now at peace. Still, although recently named a first-time All-Star, the Bulls small forward is over the past missing the epic 2009 Bulls-Celtics first-round playoff series due to injury but hell never forget.

I think when I had the stress fracture and had to watch one of the best series Boston against us that Ive ever seen and to know that Im on that team, but I couldnt dress up and play, and then sitting there and reading everything, the papers, the fans and everyone saying that I wasnt really hurt, which is, to me, the lowest point and the craziest thing that I ever had to go through. To hear people saying things like that, he said.

I think thats the first time I really went through something like that and I think it really helped me a lot in bouncing back and just knowing how things were. Before, I felt like I was kind of loved by everyone. Thats how I really felt. Through my whole life, I never really experienced that if you want to call it hate or whatever it was until that point and sitting there for seven games, to me, thats the toughest thing Ive ever done through my whole career.

However, as much as the criticism stung, one thing Deng didnt pay attention to was the constantly swirling trade rumors, instead choosing to focus on improving his game.

Thats the one thing, my whole career, Ive kind of controlled. Ive never really allowed the trade rumors or anything else really get to me. There were times when I wasnt happy, but I always believed things would change somehow, he said. But I was never really caught up in, If I leave, what happens then? Whatever I cant control, I kind of allowed that and just left it alone. I kind of really focused on, How do I get better as a player?

I remember I just spent a lot of time in the gym. Went in the gym in the morning, took my lunch with me, ate there and then worked out again, then went home, Deng recalled when asked how he overcame the criticism and reinvented himself as a player. I really just stayed in the gym because I didnt want to be anywhere else.

It paid off. Chicago was an eighth seed the following season also, but after the ouster of Vinny Del Negro, now with the Clippers, Deng came through with one of his best all-around campaigns last seasons, under the direction of novice NBA head coach Tom Thibodeau.

I think the whole coaching staff Coach (Thibodeau), of course since they came along, I kind of feel like my career turned around. Just believing in me, being in the right role and just the teammates that I had, guys that are really fun to play with, he said. Even when I had the recent wrist injury which sidelined him for seven games, when the injury first happened, I think the toughest was not playing with the guys. It wasnt so much anything else, it was just not being out there with them. It kind of, in a way, felt bad, that it happened and I wanted to be back so bad. So really, its a bunch of things. Coach has been great, but its everything around. Everything around, just making it easier for me to come in and play.

From Thibodeaus perspective, even before he arrived in Chicago, Deng was always a great player.

We always thought he was very difficult to guard, from the standpoint of if you lost track of him, he was going to make you pay, the coach said of his view of Deng from afar, when he was a Celtics assistant. When you look at what hes done in his career, each year its been very good. So, when we were playing against him, we were always concerned about him and I think the thing that probably set him back a little bit was the injuries, and you dont have any control over that. The last two years have been relatively good, been very durable last year and this year you cant say enough about him coming back as quickly as hes done that and hes been terrific for us.

Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin, a former teammate of Deng and now the staffer who works with the teams wing players, has marveled at Dengs development, perseverance and now, league-wide recognition.

Im very ecstatic, just to be a former teammate, on the coaching staff and just to see how far hes grown as a player, and hes always been a professional, even at the age of 19, when he came in the league. He always took his craft seriously and hes one of the guys that I work with that I really dont have to monitor because he really self-monitors himself. Just a constant pro, so I was so happy because if anyone deserved it, it was Lu, Griffin told

Hes been overcoming injury. Hes overcome criticism from him, I guess not playing through injuries or whatever people said about him Oh, hes not this type of caliber player and I think this proves everyone wrong, that he is an All-Star in this league. He plays on both ends of the court. Hes definitely, along with Derrick, our MVP of our team. Just the things that hes done he guards the toughest guy every night, runs the floor, defends, scores he does it all for us.

All the credit has to go with Tom Thibodeau and his system, and just with Luol Deng and his constant professionalism. I had very little to do with it. I think if you look at just the progress of everyone since Tom has come here, just the hard work and ethic that hes brought to this team, everyones been able to benefit from it and I think, no more than Luol Deng. Its just a great pleasure to be part of it.

For Deng, going through those difficult times were well worth it, considering the position that him personally and the Bulls as a team are in now. He considers the past two seasons the best of his eight-year career.

The last two years have definitely been that. I think just the record last year, going to the playoffs, the attitude, the mindset that we have, it makes basketball a lot more fun. It makes it really so much easier to be in this locker room, knowing that youve just got to do the little things and youll win. Some nights, you dont do much and you still get credit for it, he explained. It just shows how much depth and the players that we have.

"There are nights that I know that I havent played well, but because of the teams success, you get a lot of credit for it and in the past, theres nights where you give everything and you work so hard, and you go play and you dont get any credit, so its really great to be on this side and this kind of team, where everyone in this locker room kind of give it their all for everyone when we go out there.

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Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

College teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder made plans to go to dinner after Thursday’s game in Chicago but for a few short moments they weren’t just competitors but unexpected combatants, getting tangled up in the second quarter.

There looked to be some harsh words exchanged after Butler took a charge on an unsuspecting Crowder near three-quarter court, with Crowder putting the basketball in Butler’s chest while Butler was still on the floor, causing players on both teams to convene for some tense moments.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got involved and then before Butler could blink, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo joined the proceedings, as pushing and shoving ensued before technical fouls were assessed to both teams after an officials’ review.

If one wondered whether these Bulls—a team that touts itself as young with so many players having three years or less professional experience—could play with some bark and bite, perhaps the season opener provided a bit of a positive preview for the next 81 games.

Nearby, an unbothered Dwyane Wade took a practice 3-point shot, much to the delight of the United Center crowd, as observers witnessed the first sign of tangible proof the Bulls have intentions on regaining a bit of an edge on the floor.

Wade joked and took it as a sign of respect between the two teams.

“It looked like it, right? Yeah. It was a little something out there,” said Wade when asked if there was some chippy play. “Every time we play them it’s gonna be like that. Two teams finding their way in the Eastern Conference. We know we gotta see each other a lot. They never give up. They can be down 30 with 15 seconds left and they’re still gonna fight.”

The Bulls have externally preached toughness from the start of camp. Although Wade didn’t participate in that meeting of the minds, he isn’t exactly running away from such matters.
And Rajon Rondo is competitively ornery enough to have his voice hard no matter the setting.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s been a big theme of practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We want to play with physicality and toughness. I think it was evident on the glass tonight.”

Yes, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 19, but that could’ve been a by-product of the Bulls’ crashing the offensive glass on a porous shooting night. And yes, the slightly tense moment between Butler and Crowder probably won’t be an expected occurrence.

But when’s the last time one had multiple examples to dissect to discern this team’s level of toughness—or lack thereof.

“That’s something to show that the guys are out there fighting for each other,” Hoiberg said. “That they were playing with an edge. It happens with this game. You have to be competitive.”

Competition boiled over slightly, but considering the NBA isn’t exactly UFC, one doesn’t have to do much to display a little physical resolve.

“The fact that nothing escalated was good,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that those guys are out there and playing for each other and have each other’s back, that’s a huge thing right now.”

Too many times last season, it seemed the Bulls would submit in situations like those. Not that they were particularly soft, but it didn’t appear they had the collective will to fight for one another if an altercation arose.

Half the time, they looked like they could barely stand to be in the room with each other.

“It’s people’s will to win. Not saying a bad thing about anybody from last year,” Butler said. “To tell you the truth, I study the game and put in a lot of work but Rondo studies the game a lot. Every time I’m in the gym, he’s in the gym. That lets me know, these (dudes) are going to war with you. Every day. When I hit that deck, Rondo was right there. I wanna play with guys that’s gonna play hard, that’s gonna fight.”

And it didn’t take long for Butler to realize he has at least a couple teammates willing to jump in the foxhole with him.