Regardless of his present contract situation, don’t expect there to be any drawn-out saga with Deng this season.
The longest-tenured Bulls player is too professional and focused on winning to let the fact that he’s in the final year of his current deal and set to become an unrestricted free agent affect him. Rather, it’s only equipping the two-time All-Star small forward with more motivation to excel — in the hopes that, barring injury, he enters next July as the top option at his position, unless league MVP LeBron James or, in a more likely scenario, Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony exercise their respective opt-out clauses — and with Rose back in the lineup, getting the brunt of foes’ defensive attention, he’s poised to have a stellar campaign. That said, although Bulls management is unlikely to bring him back at the price point he could command on the open market, don’t expect Deng to be traded either, as his value as a one-year rental is lower than they’d probably prefer and besides, his presence is key to the team’s title aspirations.
Playing alongside Butler, another strong defender, could save the 10-year pro’s legs, though Thibodeau will still rely on Deng, his safety blanket, to play major minutes again, something he’s been preparing for while working out in Hawaii leading up to the season.
But the league’s top ironman’s efficiency and shooting numbers should also reap the benefit of the Bulls’ balance and with his all-around play, quiet leadership and ability to perform in the clutch, he will be vital to team success, yet have less of an individual burden than in previous years. As this could be the final go-around for Deng, who was unfairly maligned in the past and dealt with some serious health setbacks — from the leg fracture that kept him out of the 2009 playoffs to the spinal-tap procedure that sidelined him this past spring, something that remains a lingering issue of some degree of acrimony, though not physically — his subtle talents, growth as a player and representative in the community, as well as internationally, that’s been witnessed since he was a 19-year-old fresh out of Duke should be fully appreciated while still here.
Make sure to check out all the Bulls previews, each spotlighting this season's expectations for individual players and head coach Tom Thibodeau: