Aside from the attention that’s sure to be placed on Derrick Rose this season, the longest tenured player of the Chicago Bulls will also share some of the headlines, especially as the season plays out.
Luol Deng is in the final year of his six-year, $71 million deal and his agent has said that the small forward will explore free agency next summer.
“Luol Deng has obviously been an important part in what we’ve built up to this point and any success that we’ve had,” said Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. “And he will continue to be a big part in what we’re doing into the future. I don’t anticipate there will be any problems with that at all. Luol and I talked and he’s in a great place physically. I think he’s in a great place mentally. I think he’s ready to help lead this team as we go forward this year.”
It’s unlikely the team will move Deng at the trade deadline as it would be difficult to get something of value for a player who would have to agree to re-sign with the team he is traded to. The Bulls plan to give the core of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Deng one last chance to see if the team can live up to the sizable expectations that has been placed on it.
Deng doesn’t plan on doing any talking about his pending free agency, only wanting to focus on his play.
“I’m going to try and not talk about it and I’m going to try and do it in a nice way,” Deng said. “I would rather not talk about it. I would just rather play. It is the situation; you sign the contract and it ends. I’m in my last year and I just have to go out there and just do what I’ve been doing, just play basketball. We got a great opportunity ahead of us. Derrick is back, everybody is healthy. We love the makeup of the team, so the potential is great. I think I just have to focus on us as a team and how good we can be and I think everything will take care of itself. I know it’s going to come up here and there. But honestly, I just want to put all of my attention into the team and just see what happens after that.”
Deng looked like he regained the weight he lost last season after having complications from a spinal tap that was administered to him during the postseason and cost him to miss the final seven games of the team’s postseason. He said it took him a while to be cleared for running and working out after the season ended and he used that time to travel and host camps across the world.
Rose said that Deng has “always been the leader of the team” and coach Tom Thibodeau voiced similar sentiments of Deng’s only concern being the task facing the team.
“Luol will focus on playing and I know from my end, 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 for his teammates, his coaches and people that are around him. He’s a complete player, he does whatever you ask, he’s very disciplined, he stays in great shape, prepares himself to guard multiple positions, move without the ball. He does a lot of things that make your team better that never appear in a box score, so he’s a hard guy to measure statistically, even though his statistics are very good. But he’s invaluable to us.”