Leave it to the Bulls’ longest-tenured player to be the voice of reason in this era of good feelings surrounding the team.
All-Star small forward Luol Deng, now in his 10th NBA season, all of which have been in Chicago, isn’t being a downer when he doesn’t feed into all of the hype about the Bulls. Even with teammate Derrick Rose’s return and many observers regarding the team as legitimate title contenders, the Bulls’ workhorse refuses to be anything other than realistic.
“It’s a long season, but we know what we’re focusing on and I think we’re more committed this year. It seems that way,” he said, treading cautiously with his words. “It seems that way now, anyway.
While Rose’s presence drastically improves the offensive firepower of a team struggled to score last season, Deng believes that the team’s growth in the former league MVP’s absence and commitment to the defensive end of the floor could actually be the keys to success.
“A lot of it has to do with growing up and also what we went through. Missing Derrick, going through a whole season. I think individually, we all had to step up and I think we all played a different role, and I think we kind of we respect the role we play now and we’re old enough where we just want to win,” he explained. “I think we’re a lot better defensively. If we could get back to that [level of] three years ago—I thought we were really dominant defensively—it’s just the mindset of the team. I think it’s different. I think guys are mature. “
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After a year of being an observer, coming into this season, Rose shares Deng’s view about the Bulls’ focus, saying that is what could propel the squad to new heights.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever played on a team where guys are focused in and keyed in on what we need to do to win. Everybody’s professional, I’m professional and I’m just fortunate to be on a team like this,” the point guard said. “We’ve got a huge opportunity ahead of us. We could really contend for a title, but we’ve got to take every practice, every shootaround, every day serious, so we can get there.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah concurred: “Everybody has the right mindset.
“I think that we’re a work in progress. We’re just going to keep building, keep getting better and I think the final result is going to be pretty good,” he added. “We’re a work in progress, we have a ways to go and overall, I think the attitude of the team’s really good. I think if we strive for improvement, I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”
Deng doesn’t anticipate it will take long for Rose to regain his rhythm together and resume his previous role on the Bulls, as his unique skill set and function as a primary ballhandler on an unselfish team lends itself to being able to come in and pick right back up where he left off.
“I don’t think we have guys who really need the ball, so it makes it a lot easier for him to get back into it and it’s also easy for us to get used to him,” said Deng, 28. “We don’t really have anybody [else] who dominates the ball that much. We do a good job moving without the ball, just having outlets. He’s going to do a good job of putting pressure of defenses and it makes the game a lot easier.”
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After leading the team in scoring last season and being a primary target of opposing defenses, Deng welcomes being able to slide under the radar on offense, particularly with the Bulls’ multitude of scoring options, including the emerging Jimmy Butler alongside him on the wing and fellow Duke product Mike Dunleavy Jr. off the bench. But maintaining health, consistent efforts on a nightly basis and every member of the roster finding their niche are what will drive the team, in his opinion.
“I think it will be a lot easier for me. When everybody’s healthy, it’s a lot easier for everybody. I think the biggest thing is really going to be consistency. Whatever really the role is, I think as the season goes on—beginning of the season, then the playoffs—you’re really trying to find what the team is trying to do. I think we have a good idea of what we’re trying to do. It’s never about scoring,” said Deng, in the final season of his contract. “We can win games, but just everybody doing their job, night in and night out, whatever that is. Whether it’s defense or scoring, whatever it is that night.”
“We’ve got to get everybody on the floor, I think that’s the first thing. But like I said, I think the way we’re made up as a team, we care about winning. We don’t really care about individual stats on this team and it makes it easier for the next guy. When you look down the bench, you see guys who can play, who can score, but they’re really just doing what’s asked of them for the night,” he continued. “It feels good. We’ve got to get Jimmy back, but it’s a brand-new year. It’s good to have Derrick back, obviously. It’s good to see Joakim get healthy and it’s fun when everybody’s healthy.”