Was Bulls' secondary scorer there all along?

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Was Bulls' secondary scorer there all along?

SAN FRANCISCOWhile Derrick Rose was busy adding a new chapter to his legacy Sunday at the Staples Center, Luol Deng was erasing a page of his own.

For too long now, Deng has been unfairly considered everything from an overpaid choke artist to simply a player incapable of being a teams leading man, let alone a legitimate sidekick.

Its time for that perception to end.

Now, the jury is still out on whether Carlos Boozer will ever justify his own massive contractkeep in mind that its still very early in the season, but from getting torched by Tyler Hansbrough in the preseason to displaying an inability to elevate, finish around the basket or score, despite his offseason weight loss, Boozers mission for redemption has gotten off to a rocky startand Rip Hamilton is still fitting in after only a handful of practices with his new team, but theres no reason to believe that Deng cant approximate his Christmas Day performance on a regular basis.

Because hes done it before. Maybe nothing as dramatic as his run of clutch plays down the stretch against the Lakersa fast-break dunk to quietly start the eventual comeback, a traditional three-point play after snaring his own missed shot, knocking down pressure-packed free throws and of course, stealing Kobe Bryants pass that led to Roses go-ahead floater, then continuing his tough defense on the Lakers superstar in the waning moments of the game and blocking the attempted game-winnerbut look back to last season and its evident that Dengs reputation of disappearing when it counts is a falsehood.

His defense on Bryant, ailing wrist or not, shouldnt surprise anyone who closely watched him battle LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, James was dominant against the Bulls (Chicago fans probably wish whatever overcame him in the Finals against Dallas had afflicted him one playoff round earlier), but Deng made him work for every bucket, unlike most defenders, who get demoralized when the Heat star makes one of his typical game-changing plays.

In fact, outside of James, is there a better two-way player at small forward in the league than Deng?

No, Deng isnt the most prolific scorer at his position, but his versatility should move him up a few notches in the unofficial rankings, past non-elite talents who somehow garner more recognition.

Take a guy like Indianas Danny Granger. Not to pick on the Pacers small forwardwho Deng regularly makes life miserable forbut if Deng was the go-to scorer on that team, is there any doubt hed put up similar scoring numbers, as well as contribute more in other facets of the game?

When Deng was in that situationthough he shared the primary-scoring role with Ben Gordon, who usually had the ball in his hands when the game mattered, adding to the idea that Deng wasnt clutchboth he and the Bulls had their ups and downs, but at least they made the playoffs multiple times, even advancing to the second round.

Obviously, he doesnt have to worry about that these days, with Rose clearly established as the teams alpha dog (remember when, in Roses second season, then-Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro seemed to be unsure of whether Rose was ready to take on that burden?), but as a secondary scorer, the Bulls could do a lot worse.

With Boozer and Hamilton in tow, opponents have to at least respect the abilities of the pair of proven veterans, deflecting even more attention from Deng.

The strength of his game isnt necessarily breaking down his man in isolation and creating off the dribble, but instead his efficient mid-range shooting, using his size to his advantage, running with Rose in transition, cutting without the ball for easy baskets and knocking down open shots from beyond the arc -- something much improved from the early days of his career -- are his hallmarks.

However, a summer with Great Britains national team, where he was the squads offensive focal pointand only legitimate scoring optionin the FIBA EuroBasket tournament forced him to handle the ball more and create offense for himself, a trait that should help him and the Bulls down the road.

Reporting back to the Berto Center in great shape after playing in every game of last season and ranking third in the league in minutes per game, the Mohawk-sporting Deng appears to be picking up where he left off last season and unlike some of his teammates, the season didnt end, at least for him personally, on a low note, as he battled through postseason aches and pains and didnt cower in the spotlight.

If fans expect himor Boozer or Hamilton, for that matterto score 20-plus points a night, that probably wont happen, as Rose will get his numbers and the supporting cast will fall in line, with the three other proven veteran scorers routinely rotating who picks up the slack on a given night.

But all-around performances like Sundaysin addition to his 21 points, he also grabbed seven rebounds, swiped four steals and dished out three assistswill again be the norm for the longest-tenured member of the team, as will sparking the Bench Mob when hes in the game with the second unit and making plays at the right time, something both Rose and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau undoubtedly appreciate more than gaudy scoring numbers.

In other words, while Boozer is being counted on to be a low-post presence, Hamilton will be relied upon to help extend the defense and Noahs energy and offensive development is vital to the teams success, the Bulls already have a clear-cut No. 2 to Rose in Deng.

If you didnt recognize that, then maybe you havent been paying attention. With all the criticism hes faced over the course of his career, its unlikely he cares; after all, hes trying to win a championship.

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

After the Bulls got off to a 3-0 start, it looked like this would be a team that might be able to give LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls proceeded to lose their next three, tempering those optimistic expectations. What those first six games proved is that they're an inconsistent bunch, and it's been a microcosm of their season past the halfway mark.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Entering Thursday, the Bulls were slotted in as the No. 8 seed in the East with a 21-22 record through 43 games.

Former Bulls forward/center Horace Grant, who was named a special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf last year, joined SportsTalk Live on Thursday to talk about the team's current state, and why Bulls fans shouldn't panic just yet.

Check out his comments in the video above.

See what else he had to say during his SportsTalk Live appearance and on In The Loop below:

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."