Is Deng the Bulls' most indispensable player?

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Is Deng the Bulls' most indispensable player?

PHILADELPHIAWhen Derrick Rose has been out of the lineup this season, the Bulls have lost one game, to Memphis on Martin Luther King Day. With Luol Deng sidelined, theyve fallen twice, to Indiana last week and Sunday at Miami.

No ones suggesting Deng is a better player than Rose though Rose, last seasons league MVP, referred to Deng as the teams MVP but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau often says, the small forward is the glue of the squad.

Furthermore, while no one on the roster, or for that matter, the league, can duplicate what Rose brings to the table, backup point guard C.J. Watson (and even third-stringer John Lucas III) have shown the ability to thrive in Chicagos point-guard oriented offense, which is heavy on pick-and-roll play.

However, no disrespect to fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer, there is no way to emulate what Deng does. The versatile Brewer is actually as close as it gets, given that, like Deng, hes a capable slasher, moves well without the ball, takes pride in his defense and is a much-improved outside shooter.

But while Brewer has done an admirable job in a replacement role, Dengs size was missing when the Bulls took on the Heat. No individual player in the NBA completely shuts down LeBron James, but Deng makes him work for every bucket and team sources, while disappointed in the loss, are confident that with Deng in the lineup (not to mention Watson), they truly have the edge over Miami this season.

While the likes of Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer can certainly score the basketball, Deng is the teams clear-cut secondary scorer. Monday night in Washington, the small forward maintained his stance that hes still day-to-day with torn ligaments in his left wrist, though there have been multiple false alarms about his imminent return along the way.

With a day off Tuesday and no opportunity to take contact in practice something Thibodeau usually desires when a player returns from a layoff its unlikely that he plays in Wednesday nights contest in Philadelphia.

With a back-to-back Thursday in New York, the next time Deng takes the court could be either Saturdays tilt against the Bucks in Milwaukee (after a chance to check in with doctors in Chicago) or next Monday in his adopted home state of New Jersey, where he played high school basketball.

Regardless of when hes back in the lineup and by no means should he rush back, as Brewer has filled in capably and in this condensed season, the bigger picture is long-term health heading into the postseason, even if it hurts his chances for a debut All-Star Game appearance expect the Bulls to receive a boost from his all-around game.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Wojnarowski: Bulls-Celtics Jimmy Butler trade talks 'will loom over the entire week'

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

NEW ORLEANS — Every All-Star isn’t created equal, even by the slimmest of margins as the best 24 NBA players take their turn on the midseason stage.

So Jimmy Butler being announced among the first five as an All-Star starter had to represent some form of validation, now that he’s not a novice at the whole experience and he’s able to go through the motions of the hectic weekend without breaking much of a sweat.

But despite being a three-time All-Star and routinely mentioned as one of the game’s top 15 players or even top 10, he can’t shake the trade rumors that have seemed to follow him since this time last season.

As he finished up his All-Star experience at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, clarity was nowhere to be found—although heading to some tropical island for a couple days to actually unwind with clear water and warm air seemed to be the best therapy if he’s stressed by the uncertainty of the next few days.

“What’s Thursday? Oh, trade deadline,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Am I anxious? Come on, man. I don’t worry about it. It don’t bother or scare me none.”

“Hopefully I’m not going to get traded but I don’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”

Surely it has to be frustrating for a guy who’s elevated his game yet again, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Bulls in 51 games. But he refuses to let it damper his All-Star spirits, playing with some of the best players in the world and a few guys he calls friends, like DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant.

“Not for me,” said Butler of the potential stress. “Not saying I’m untradeable but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye to you.”

Moments after Butler made his statement in the media room, the floodgates opened for the trade market as fellow Olympian DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans for what seemed to be mere fodder, pennies on the dollar for the most talented center in the NBA.

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While Cousins is far more of a handful than Butler could be, the trade almost signals a consistent truth that always bears repeating—that short of a select few, anybody can be traded.

Even a franchise altering talent like Cousins, who was traded to the city he was physically in for All-Star weekend, and included in the package of players was a guy who hit him in the groin last week (Buddy Hield), resulting in a Cousins outburst and ejection.

Butler has made his name with the Bulls, although not necessarily on the All-Star stage, a player who values defense and doesn’t have as much flash as some of the game’s shinier players.

With a six-point outing in 20 minutes, Butler was an on-court afterthought despite being a starter for the first time.

“Six? Should’ve gone for eight,” he sarcastically deadpanned.

In a relatively jovial mood through the weekend, Butler joked about the talk surrounding him and tried to brush it off as mere chatter as opposed to the franchise not seeing enough in him to make a firm commitment for the long-term, as the Boston Celtics are always hovering.

League sources expect the Celtics to engage the Bulls in conversations for the next few days, but nobody has a great feel for what either side is truly looking for.

But as Butler insisted, he’s only controlling what he can control, which is making himself a fixture for All-Star games to come as opposed to some of the first-timers who don’t know if they’ll get back here again.

“I think I got two underneath my belt,” Butler said. “I know what they’re feeling the first time, It’s so surreal like maybe I do belong here. That’s how I was thinking. Now it’s how do I get here every year? I think that’s the fun part, that’s the challenge. A lot of those guys have done it 10-plus years, hopefully I’m one.”

The only question seems to be, which uniform will it be in because the crazy season has begun.