AUBURN HILLS, Mich.—Being the Bulls’ leading scorer, even before Derrick Rose’s season ended, Luol Deng will assuredly get more defensive attention focused upon him.
But it won’t match the attention he’s receiving in the rumor mill. The All-Star small forward, in the final year of his current contract and set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, has become a name bandied about as a player the Bulls could seek to trade, now that the team’s championship expectations have diminished in the wake of Rose’s knee injury and subsequent surgery.
However, the consummate professional isn’t the type to think about what will come next in his career, prompting a very direct response to an out-of-left-field question from a reporter about whether or not he’d like to remain in Chicago in the future, right in the midst of the Bulls’ four-game losing streak.
“I don’t even have to answer that question,” Deng pointedly responded, prior to the team’s morning shootaround at Detroit Country Day, as they prepared for Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons. ”I think if you think I want to leave, then you think I want to leave. If you think I want to stay, then you think I want to stay. There’s no need to answer that, but people know where my heart is.”
[NOTES: 3-point shooting a concern; Snell starting again]
Regarding the prospect of the team’s potentially being broken up via trade, Deng was less dismissive and provided some insight into the team’s collective mindset.
“That’s part of it. Since I’ve been in the league, every year it’s a possibility. It’s unfortunate we’re going through what we’re going through, but it is what it is. It happens, we’ve got to deal with it. But in terms of things changing, you can’t worry about it as a player. You’ve just got to focus on your job and do what you do,” he explained. “I don’t know if you would call it a distraction. It’s almost disturbing. But it is what it is. I think it’s part of what we do. It happens, it’s going to cause attention for the right reasons, wrong reasons, whatever it is. But in terms of players, I think you’ve got to have the same drive and the same work ethic and the same belief that you did before. It’s just a situation that you can’t handle either way, so you’ve just got to do what you can.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was less vague about the situation.
“You can’t worry about any of that stuff and that would be true whether Derrick were playing or not. Derrick could have been here and the same would have held true, so you can’t get distracted and think about those things. All you think about is, ‘Okay, we’re playing Detroit. We’ve got to know them well.’ What goes into winning? Get into your routine, understand what it takes to win, be prepared,” the coach said.
“You can’t look backwards, you can’t look ahead. You’ve got to look at exactly what’s in front of you. Again, it’s the same thing. It’s very easy, I think, in this league to get distracted and the important thing is not to allow it to happen, and we have more than enough and I’ve said many times, we’ve got great character. We’ve got great guys on this team.”
[MORE: Thibodeau, Cheeks go back to days as assistant coaches]
When it comes to the focus of his team’s new top option, a role Deng also played last season with Rose out, Thibodeau doesn’t need to worry.
“I’ve just got to play my game. I don’t have to change anything,” Deng said of tackling more of the Bulls’ offensive burden. “I don’t think any of us have to. I think we’ve just got to be more consistent defensively. I think offensively, we’ll still manage fine. We’ll do what we do, run our stuff. But we just can’t get caught up and change anything.”
The same goes for his commitment to the Bulls.