Bulls

20 in 20: Determining Luol Deng's true value

259085.jpg

20 in 20: Determining Luol Deng's true value

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010
5:55 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

7. Is Luol Deng underappreciated or overrated?

Depending to which Bulls fan you talk to, Luol Deng is the team's weak link, despite his averages of 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season.

Entering his seventh professional season, the Sudanese native -- via London and New Jersey -- was regarded as a potentially elite small forward just a few years ago. However, injuries and the emergence of teammates Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have caused him to lose his status as arguably the team's best player. And with the offseason acquisition of fellow Duke product Carlos Boozer, Deng is now fourth in the pecking order when it comes to Chicago's marquee players.

None of that has anything to do with his actual game. Regardless of the general perception, having a player of Deng's caliber as part of a team's supporting cast is a luxury many NBA organizations would love to enjoy.

At 6-foot-9, he possesses excellent size for his position, creating mismatches with smaller wings on offense and also carving out a niche as a reliable finisher and shooter from the mid-range area, if not a dynamic, breakdown ballhandler. While Deng isn't necessarily a lockdown defender, he's more than adequate, as he gives a solid effort on that end of the floor. And although quicker small forwards can give him problems on the perimeter, he makes up for it by being one of the better rebounders for his position throughout the league.

So why do so many people take him for granted? Why do many Bulls trade fantasies usually include Deng? And why do some believe the team would be better off without him?

Much of it has to do with his contract. Deng is currently in the midst of a six-year contract -- which he signed in 2008 -- that increases his yearly salary each season. The Bulls still owe him over 51 million of the initial 71-million deal, making trading him -- if the franchise was so inclined -- a difficult prospect, especially with teams loathe to take on additional salary in anticipation of a new collective bargaining agreement next summer.

Then, there's the issue of Deng's durability. The 70 games he played last season represented the third-most regular-season contests of his career and while he played well, memories of the Bulls' inspiring 2008 playoff series with the Boston Celtics -- which didn't involve an injured Deng -- led to the widespread belief that the team would be just as competitive without its highest-paid player in the lineup.

Whether it's resentment over him supposedly being overpaid or questions about him being brittle, fans just don't seem to think the Bulls are getting enough bang for their buck from Deng. Since he gets what could be considered star money, it's reasonable to expect him to produce like a star, common logic would dictate.

The truth is, Deng is more of a secondary star. In fact, with Boozer's presence, he's now Chicago's third option on offense. But that could be a role in which he thrives, as opposing teams that must focus on Rose's penetration and Boozer's low-post presence -- and to lesser extents, an ever-improving Noah and the outside threat of new Bull Kyle Korver, who gives the team a dimension they haven't had since Ben Gordon's departure -- now have to play Deng honestly.

After starting out last season as the team's go-to guy, Deng settled into a comfort zone as Chicago's No. 2 option, as Rose gained confidence throughout the season. Still, Deng was able to carry the team for stretches and even dominate games on occasion, matching up favorably with the likes of fellow small forwards Paul Pierce and Danny Granger, and even holding his own against MVP LeBron James (once upon a time, Deng was ranked behind only James, as far as top high school prospects), all of whom are considered some of the league's best at the position.

Another thing to consider: Deng is only 25 years old. Has it really been that long since he was the toast of the town following the 2007 playoffs, after which many league observers believed he was a potentially elite player? No, Deng isn't and will likely never be a superstar or a player capable of leading a team to contention on his own. But even with his hefty contract, is there a better complementary piece with his talent and at his age who would be realistic for the Bulls to acquire?

Sure, if he could be exchanged for Denver Nuggets All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony, that's an opportunity the Bulls would be crazy not to consider. Denver, however, isn't likely to trade Anthony before the season and sources say new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau -- a staunch advocate of defense, may be less eager about Anthony's indifference in that area, as opposed to Deng, who is at least solid -- wants to coach the team as currently composed, and both Rose and Noah also feel the present squad is more than suitable.

Furthermore, the Nuggets -- if they indeed acquiesce to Anthony's reported wishes and deal him to the Windy City in the coming weeks -- would likely request that not only second-year forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson be included in a package, but Noah, as well, thus gutting the team.

For now, it looks like Chicago is stuck with Deng -- who, by the way, is now the longest-tenured Bull on the roster -- and that's not such a bad thing. A scorer who can reliably produce 15-20 points per game, contribute on the glass and defend at a relatively high level isn't easy to come by, and without the burden of being the main offensive focal point, what used to be expected performances from Deng will now seem like an added bonus.

On nights when Rose or Boozer struggle, it's not as if Deng isn't capable of pouring in 25 points or snatching 10 rebounds; it just won't be necessary all the time.

That doesn't sound like a player who needs to be shown the door.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

1020_bobby_portis.jpg
AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”