The Bulls knew they’d have to replace Luol Deng in the lineup tonight, as the 6-foot-9 forward was traded to the Cavaliers late last night. But the Bulls will also need to replace Carlos Boozer, who will sit tonight’s contest against the Suns with a sore right knee.
Thibodeau hasn’t decided on a starting lineup, but it’s expected that Taj Gibson will fill in for Boozer, while Mike Dunleavy starts in place of the departed Deng.
It’s Boozer’s first missed game of the year, but playing without Deng is nothing new to the Bulls – they’re 4-5 without him in the lineup this season. Still, Tom Thibodeau expects his group to be ready for tonight’s challenge, just hours after the team learned of Deng being traded to the Cavaliers.
“Obviously Luol was a big part of the team, this is the nature of our league. Everybody has to move on, everyone has a job to do and we’ve got to get out there and get it done.”
They’ll need to get the job done against a Suns team that arguably has been the league’s biggest surprise. Expected to contend for the “Wiggins/Parker sweepstakes,” first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has his team at 20-12, good for sixth place in the Western Conference and 1.5 games behind the Clippers in the Pacific Division. The Suns will be without leading scorer Eric Bledsose, who has now missed three straight games with a knee injury.
For Thibodeau, regardless of opponent his team must continue to thrive short-handed and facing adverse conditions, something they have done much of the past three seasons.
“It’s the thing that I think is special about our team, and this hasn’t been a one-year thing. This has been a three-year thing. My second year we had a lot of injuries, Derrick missed half the season. They responded to that challenge. Last year, again, had a lot of guys down and bench guys stepped up and got the job done,” Thibodeau said. “So I’m expecting the same thing now. Whether it’s a trade or an injury, what it does lead to is guys get an opportunity. So when you’re called upon, get in there and the guys who are ready taken advantage.”
One young player who may get an opportunity to play more is rookie Tony Snell. The 22-year-old has averaged 5.1 points in 18.7 minutes per game to date, but with Deng gone the 22-year-old will move up in the rotation and see more time. Thibodeau hinted that Snell’s collegiate experience and nine starts will have him more ready when his number is called, presumably off the bench.
[DENG TRADE: Bulls gain financial flexibility in Deng deal]
“You have some younger guys, college guys, maybe coming in after one year and that’s where they come in and need more time to develop,” he said. “I think each case is different, but the important thing is you have to learn the NBA game and be ready.”
Competing without Deng surely will be a test for the Bulls, but for Thibodeau it’s simply another challenge he, the coaching staff and players must overcome to continue being successful.
“If you’re competitive, you have to look at every situation and view it as a challenge. That’s the way I want not only our coaching staff, but our players and organization, everybody, we can accept our circumstances as they are or we can to change them and turn them into something positive.
“It’s one of the things I admire about our team: they’ve responded to every challenge.”