Deng, Bulls ignore tenuous contract status
by Sean Highkin, USA TODAY Sports
DEERFIELD, Ill. — While Derrick Rose commanded the lion’s share of the attention during the Chicago Bulls’ media day Friday, another uncertainty loomed large in the background. Forward Luol Deng, who has been with the Bulls for his entire nine-year NBA career, is set to become a free agent next summer, and how that will affect team chemistry remains unclear.
“I’m going to try not to talk about it,” Deng said. “That’s the situation. You sign a contract and it ends. I’m in my last year, so I’ve just got to go out there and do what I’ve been doing and just play basketball.”
Deng, 28, has been a defensive force since being drafted in 2004 and now has made consecutive All-Star teams. He is the ideal anchor for defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls.
Thibodeau was effusive in his praise for Deng on Friday, stressing his importance as a leader on and off the court.
“I look at Luol, and I see a special player,” he said. “I don’t think you can win a championship without a player like Luol. He does so many things for our team that probably go unrecognized by most, except his teammates and his coaches that are around him.
“He’s a complete player. He does whatever you ask. He’s very disciplined, keeps himself in great shape. He can guard multiple positions, he’ll move without the ball, he does a lot of things that make your team better that will never appear in a box score. He’s a hard guy to measure statistically, even though his statistics are very good. He’s invaluable to us.”
Thibodeau is attempting to put Deng’s contract status out of mind, like his small forward.
“That’s the business side of the game,” Thibodeau said. “That’s something that (Bulls owner) Jerry (Reinsdorf), (vice president of basketball operations) John (Paxson), (general manager) Gar (Forman) and Luol’s agent (Herb Rudoy) will take care of. Luol will focus on playing.”
Deng will make about $14.3 million in the final season of a six-year, $71 million contract he signed in 2008. In 2012-13, he averaged 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and a career-high 3.0 assists … [For more on Luol Deng, Bulls try to ignore tenuous contract status, click here.]