Beyond the Arc: Deng, Noah on Upcoming Season

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Beyond the Arc: Deng, Noah on Upcoming Season

Tuesday, September 22nd

I had a chance to sit down with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah today to get their thoughts on the start of training camp and the upcoming season. You can watch my conversation with Luol here on CSNChicago.com. I'll let you know when the interview with Joakim will be aired.

I was very impressed with Luol's candor about his injury, and the criticism he received in some circles for not finding a way to get back on the court for the Bulls' playoff run. Deng told me the criticism never bothered him because once he looks someone in the eye and tells them the truth, he can't force them to believe what he's saying. He says the stress fracture in his right leg was serious, and he won't be sure he's 100 percent recovered until he gets out on the floor during training camp and competes with his teammates. Luol says he's been playing fullcourt games and doing all his conditioning work without any restrictions, and he's confident he can come back as strong as ever for the upcoming season. He also is looking forward to an expanded role in the offense with Ben Gordon moving on to Detroit, and he's optimistic the Bulls can be an excellent team with a full season of John Salmons and Brad Miller, plus improved play from Noah and Tyrus Thomas.

As for Noah, he told me about his summer vacation trips to France, Las Vegas and his college campus in Gainesville, Florida, but he also spent a lot of time in the gym working on his game. Coaches at the I.M.G. basketball academy in Florida raved about his work ethic and his improved jump shot. Joakim told me not to say anything about his improved offensive arsenal, because he wants to catch the rest of the NBA by surprise. Well, sorry Joakim, but if you're ready to unleash an expanded offensive game, Bulls' fans want to know about it! Joakim also raved about the summer work put in by Tyrus, Derrick Rose and the rest of the Bulls' players. He says the hard work will pay off in better play during the regular season, and more consistency throughout the year. He also believes he's ready to take a big step forward in his career and can't wait to get the season started after the classic playoff series against Boston.

I can't tell you how much I was impressed by the players dedication and optimism for the season ahead. Luol told me most of the team has been back at the Berto Center, doing their conditioning and weight-lifting and also scrimmaging in preparation for the start of camp. Both players said they'll miss Ben Gordon as a teammate, but theyre confident the Bulls have the firepower to replace his offense. Every team in the NBA has reasons to be optimistic heading into a new season, but it sounds like the Bulls believe they're building something special. Only time will tell if they're right, but it should be a fun and entertaining season ahead.

One other Bulls' note, Aaron Gray accepted the team's one year qualifying offer, and he'll return to back up Noah and Miller this season. The Bulls have a well-rounded and versatile roster with 4 centers (including the injured Jerome James), 4 forwards and 5 guards. It's time to get to work with Media Day at the Berto Center on Friday, followed by two-a-day practice sessions on Saturday.

As always, feel free to drop me an e-mail with your questions and comments.

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Most NBA players have to let their adrenaline come down before the reality of what's coming next begins to hit them, but Robin Lopez had his moment of clarity at the oddest time during his altercation with Toronto's Serge Ibaka on Tuesday night.

When asked when he knew he would be serving at least a one-game suspension for his missed punch in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Raptors, Lopez said, "When I threw a punch."

The process from the NBA to Lopez was pretty straightforward, and Lopez called the one-game suspension "fair."

Ditching the caveman look for a clean shaven appearance at Friday morning's shootaround, Lopez seemed at ease with what happened and wasn't going to contest the one-game decision, especially since the NBA could've gone with two or three games as no precedent has been set for fighting this season.

"I mean, that's what the league gave. I'm going to stick with it," Lopez said, adding, "I didn't change my story."

The multiple camera angles would've made it impossible to believe a different recollection of the events had Lopez attempted to finagle himself out of the one-game suspension that stopped his 71-game starting streak with the Bulls this season.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

His matter-of-fact statement after an emotionally charged incident didn't hurt the Bulls. They beat the Pistons by 20 as Lopez was serving a banishment that ended his streak of 187 consecutive games played. But he was happy Joffrey Lauvergne got a chance to prove his worth.

Lauvergne had 17 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night, and he'll be behind Lopez against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night as Cristiano Felicio is recovering from a hard fall late in the Raptors game.

"He's very versatile. He's a playmaker, he can score from a lot of different spots on the floor. He's a really smart basketball player," Lopez said of Lauvergne. "I always want to be out there with the guys. But they took care of business and did their thing. So I was pleased to see them pick up the win."

Picking up two in a row shouldn't be a monumental task against the 76ers, though they are 3-3 in their last six games and the Bulls haven't won two in a row in nearly a month as their grip on a playoff spot has loosened.

For the moment, the Bulls sit ninth in the East, a full game behind the surging Miami Heat, with a 34-38 record. Teams with nothing to lose can be playoff spoilers, and the Bulls have lost more than their share of games to lesser teams this season.

"Those teams do play loose," Lopez said. "They kind of just go out there to play basketball, and that can be a bit dangerous. But we've got something to play for, so we've got to be more motivated. The Sixers especially, they play really well, they have a lot of energy. So we've got to go out there, we've got to play motivated."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?