The early Tuesday morning trade of Luol Deng was a serious blow to the Bulls coaching staff and the team as they were finally mostly healthy and playing with a consistency they hadn’t since early November, when they went on a season high five-game winning streak.
Their was a somber mood around the United Center on Tuesday as players tried to prepare themselves to move on without the team's longest tenured player. Joakim Noah apologized to the media through team pr for not feeling up to talking and Jimmy Butler found himself leading the count before the team hit the court, the honor of which belonged to Deng.
As in most times when the team has faced adversity, when the ball goes up, they were ready to play.
While the move weakens them from a talent standpoint, it appears like it will only strengthen their resolve as they showed in cooling off a hot Phoenix Suns team just hours after the move for their third straight win and sixth in their last eight.
“We still have enough to win in this league,” Taj Gibson said after scoring a team-high 19 points along with pulling down 10 rebounds. “It’s all about taking it one game at a time and having the right mindset. It was rough before the game because you’re so used to having Lu in the area. It was kind of different. This happened in my rookie year. It was a trade, I had to learn to adapt and overcome it.”
From an opportunity standpoint, Butler, Tony Snell and Taj Gibson all become benefactors as the increased opportunities should help strengthen the growth and development – more so for Butler and Snell – of what will comprise the new core, along with Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, going forward.
“Just to be extremely aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Butler said of his mindset without Deng. “Take shots to try and make shots, don’t get down on yourself if you miss. I try to tell Tony the same thing. Don’t settle and keep trying to stay better.
“I was shocked (at the trade) because I didn’t know it was going to happen. It came out of the blue for me. I wish Lu the best. Lu’s going to be great with whatever team he’s on and he’s definitely going to help his young guys. We got to play against and guard him now. “
Snell, also a Deng pupil, said that he idolized his former teammate for his work ethic and admired the work he put into taking care of his body; all things he will carry forward as his career progresses. Much like Butler last season and Gibson in his rookie season, he will be thrown in the proverbial fire, which will only accelerate his development.
“Tony is an asset,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Tony’s length is an asset and as he continues to learn and grow, we’ll be able to do a little more with him.”
The shock of losing a great teammate and highly productive leader for, what’s viewed in the short term as nothing will soon subside as the games will keep coming. The Bulls will rally around one another just as they have the past three seasons, when injuries diminished the chances of achieving their ultimate goal.
What that means from now until the trade deadline, with the team still being open to making moves, up until the seasons end, in terms of where they stand, is anyone’s guess. What everyone can be sure of is that the team will compete and play hard for one another as they have no matter what the challenge has been.
“I feel like that’s the Chicago Bull way and that’s what this city loves about us,” Butler said. “We’re going to fight and we’re still expected to win games, so we’re going to compete. Nobody can overlook us, that’s for sure.”