Bulls

Deng's valiant season should give him pass for the future

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Deng's valiant season should give him pass for the future

PHILADELPHIA - Fighting back his emotions on the podium when talking about Thursdays Game 6 defeat to the 76ers, playing in pain throughout the season and his teammates, when the subject turned to his injured wrist and the upcoming Summer Olympics in London, Luol Deng turned defiant.

No, he said, voice steady and unwavering. Im going to play in the Olympics.

Before letting his own words explain the reasoning behind it just moments after the his season ended at the hands of an eighth-seeded team think about this: Deng, a native of South Sudan - a nation in its infancy - and his family were exiled when he was a child. After a stint in Egypt, he ended up in London for his formative years, the city where he began to excel at basketball, leading to him coming to a prep school in New Jersey, developing into one of the nations top high school prospects, starring at Duke for a season and then coming to the Bulls, where he reached All-Star status this season. And in his mind, he traces that journey back to emigrating to England.

Its expected that Deng will join Derrick Rose on the injured list to start next season, since hell play for host country Great Britain in the Olympics, meaning that surgery for torn ligaments in his left wrist, something hes played with all season, will be postponed. To some, that might seem selfish, but its not just about the glory of playing on the big stage for the 27-year-old.

I just know that Im looking forward to playing the Olympics. Im excited about it, something I wanted to do since I was a kid and Im going to prepare myself for it, he explained. Ive got to see how my wrist feels throughout the Olympics, how it feels from now going into the Olympics and right after the Olympics, Ill make the decision, whether my wrist is good enough that I dont need the surgery or if I need it, so I havent really ruled out not getting the surgery or getting it. I just havent made that decision. Just know that Ive got the Olympics ahead of me. Since I was a kid growing up, its something I always wanted an opportunity to be a part of and the fact that its in my hometown that I grew up in, in a country that gave me the opportunity to even be here, Im looking forward to it.

But just because he might decline surgery doesnt mean that it isnt still bothering him. However, the sacrifice it took to play through the injury, to Deng, was its own reward.

Honestly, my whole career, its the toughest thing Ive done and I look back at it, and Im glad I did it. I really hope, in the long run, its going to make me a better player, he said. I learned a lot of things to be capable of doing that in the NBA, but Im glad I made the decision. We had the best record and we were going into the playoffs with the best team, so it was definitely a great decision. Unfortunately, other things happened.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, arguably Dengs biggest fan, understands and appreciates the versatile players importance to the team, perhaps even more so after this series, in which, the last two games at least, he did everything humanly possible to give his undermanned squad a chance. Thats what hes not putting any pressure on him to make a decision.

You can never overlook this: Luol is a terrific player. To play a majority of the season with torn ligaments says a lot about him. He couldve chosen to sit out. Hes a great leader with great toughness. He does whatever is necessary to help you win. I thought he improved a lot from last year. Even though his scoring dipped a bit, his all-around game was terrific, said Thibodeau. I really havent talked to him yet about next year. I want to have a chance and sit down and see what his thoughts are. I know he has given us everything that he has. I have a lot of respect for that. Well come up with a plan.

That plan, whatever it is, should be respected.

With Rose already sidelined to start next season, Deng will be missed if hes also shelved at the beginning of the campaign. But what he gave up this season, even if it didnt manifest itself in the teams ultimate goal due to other calamities, gives him the right to make a choice. And if that isnt enough, his significant connection to the country hes representing in the Olympics pushes it over the hump.

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

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USA TODAY

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

Here’s something you’re going to hear quite a bit this season: the Bulls are underdogs tomorrow night. The official start to the rebuild begins as the Bulls travel to Toronto to face the Raptors tomorrow night on NBC Sports Chicago. Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. with Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill.

The Raptors bring back Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and a host of other talent that helped Toronto earn the No. 3 seed in the East last year. They’ll be there this season, so the Bulls open the season with a daunting opponent. But fear not! The Bulls are underdogs, but there’s no opponent they’ve had more success against the last four seasons than the Raptors. The Bulls have won 11 of their last 12 games against Toronto, including 11 straight victories before last season’s late loss in Toronto.

Take a trip down memory lane and see how they did it, and then check back tomorrow night and see if they can get back to their winning ways against Dwane Casey’s group.

1. Feb. 19, 2014 (94-92)

The streak of 11 straight wins begins with an almost-awful collapse. The Bulls lead by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before a frantic comeback from Lowry and DeRozan, who combined for 14 points in a 4-minute span to pull within two points late. But DeRozan can’t close the deal, missing two shots in the final 3 seconds, securing a Bulls win.

2. Nov. 13, 2014 (100-93)

A back-and-forth first half includes five ties and nine lead changes. Then the Bulls decide in the third quarter they don’t care much for see-saws and take over. They close the quarter on a 17-5 run and lead by double-digits until late in the fourth quarter. The Raptors pull within five in the final minute but five Bulls free throws ice the game. Pau Gasol (27), Jimmy Butler (21) and Derrick Rose (20) combine for 68 points.

3. Dec. 22, 2014 (129-120)

Let’s just cut right to the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulls erupt for a franchise-record 49 points to take the come-from-behind win. Ironically they miss their first three shots of the period. After that? Tom Thibodeau’s group goes 14-for-17 and also makes 16 free throws. Derrick Rose goes 6-for-6 for 15 points in the stanza. Who said Thibs’ offenses don’t score?

4. Mar. 20, 2015 (108-92)

The two teams enter this late-season matchup just one-half game separating them. But the Bulls make a statement, taking the lead late in the first quarter and holding it the rest of the way. Rookie Nikola Mirotic continues to put a bow on his remarkable month of March, scoring 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. He even blocks a career-high four shots in the win.

5. Mar. 25, 2015 (116-103)

The Bulls continued pulling away in the East standings less than a week later. Mirotic is solid off the bench, scoring 15 points, but it’s reserve Tony Snell who makes the most noise. He erupts for 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 18 minutes, including nine points in a fourth quarter that sees the Bulls outscore the Raptors 39-21 to secure the win.

6. Dec. 28, 2015 (104-97)

The Bulls’ bench continues to star against the Raptors. This time Snell, Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks combine for 51 of the Bulls’ 104 points. The five starters score 53 points. The trio of Snell/Portis/Brooks shoots 20 for-37 from the field, outscoring the Raptors’ reserves, 51-27.

7. Jan. 3, 2016 (115-113)

Jimmy Butler struggles in the first half, scoring just two points. But the second half is a different story, to say the very, very, very least. Butler scores a franchise-record 40 points after halftime, leading the Bulls all the way back after they trailed by as many as 14 midway through the third quarter. When you play for the Bulls and accomplish a scoring feat that Michael Jordan never did, that’s says something.

8. Feb. 19, 2016 (116-106)

Doug McDermott can't match Butler’s heroics, but he puts together a career night nonetheless. The sharpshooter goes off for 30 points, making 13 of 17 from the field in 31 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the fourth quarter, his last coming on a 3-pointer after the Raptors had cut the deficit to just three.

9. Mar. 14, 2016 (109-107)

Dwane Casey begins having nightmares of Doug McDermott (probably). That’s because the Creighton legend goes off once again, scoring 29 points on 9-for-11 shooting and somehow getting to the free throw line eight times. The Bulls nearly collapse (just like their first win in the streak), but DeMar DeRozan is blocked by Jimmy Butler in the closing seconds (just like their first loss of the streak).

10. Jan. 7, 2017 (123-118)

Jimmy Butler lives at the free throw line in the only overtime game of the streak. The Bulls, like plenty of these games, make a wild comeback in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Ratpors 33-21 to force the extra period. Butler plays hero with seven points in overtime, and Jerian Grant ices the game with a pair of free throws.

11. Feb. 14, 2017 (104-95)

The Raptors do not ask Doug McDermott to be their valentine. That’s because he once again goes off, scoring a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Jimmy Butler adds 19 (with 15 coming on free throws) and adds 12 assists and five steals in the wire-to-wire victory.

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

One of the fallouts from the fight between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic is that it unfortunately leaves a void at power forward for the Bulls.

Mirotic suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures, while Bobby Portis was suspended for eight games on Wednesday. Both players will be out until the calendar flips to November, opening up minutes at power forward.

In the short-term, at least, the starting role will be filled by Lauri Markkanen, Hoiberg said.

Markkanen will join a list of eight other Bulls who started in their NBA debuts. Before Markkanen takes the floor tomorrow in Toronto, here's a look at those other rookies fared.

1983: Ennis Whatley, PG

The first underclassman selected in the 1983 NBA Draft (13th overall), Whatley scored six point on 3 of 6 shooting and tallied eight assists and two steals in his debut. He committed four turnovers but it didn't hurt the Bulls in their 104-97 win over the New Jersey Nets. Whatley wound up setting the Bulls rookie record for assists in a year (662; 8.3 per game) but was traded after two seasons due to substance abuse.

1984: Michael Jordan, SG

The highly anticipated debut of the Bulls' future was inauspicious. Jordan scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, but he did stuff the box score: he added six rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks in a team-high 40 minutes. The Bulls, led by Orlando Woolridge and Quintin Dailey, cruised to a 109-93 win over the Bullets. Jordan bounced back nicely, though, averaging 28.2 points in the following 14 games. You know the rest.

1999: Elton Brand

Brand debuted against the Knicks on Opening Night, scoring 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting. He went 8-for-10 from the free throw line and added to his line with eight rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes. The Bulls, entering some of the uglier days in franchise history, lost to the Knicks, 84-74. Brand wound up splitting Rookie of the Year honors with Steve Francis, averaging a double-double (20.1 points, 10.0 rebounds) for the 17-65 Bulls. He was traded for high school star Tyson Chandler a year later.

2000: Khalid El-Amin

The only second-round pick on this list, El-Amin started at point guard against a Kings team that wound up winning 57 games. El-Amin held his own in the 100-81 loss, scoring 11 points and handing out three assists in 27 minutes. He shot 4-for-7 and connected on his only 3-point attempt. It was one of 14 games El-Amin started before being replaced by none other than Fred Hoiberg. It was El-Amin's only season in the NBA.

2002: Jay Williams

What could have been. The No, 2 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft shined in his NBA debut, going for 13 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 33 minutes. The Bulls topped the eventually playoff-bound Celtics, 99-96. Williams played 75 games as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists. A motorcycle accident that following offseason derailed his career far too soon.

2004: Andres Nocioni

Nocioni signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and the 25-year-old was ready to play out of the gates. His 17 points were the most of anyone's debut on this list, but he shot 5-for-19 and committed five turnovers in 42 minutes. It wasn't all bad, though, as he grabbed 14 rebounds and had two steals before fouling out in the final minute of double overtime against the Nets. The Bulls fell, 111-106. Nocioni struggled in his rookie season after that, finishing with averages of 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds.

2004: Ben Gordon

Not exactly the greatest debut for the 3rd pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Gordon missed all six of his shots from the field and made three free throws in 17 minutes. That was it outside of one turnover and one personal foul. And there's some irony in the fact that Gordon started this game; he only started two other games that rookie season, and was named the Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 15.1 points on 40.5 percent shooting from deep.

2008: Derrick Rose

It was a quiet debut for the eventual Rookie of the Year. Rose, the overall No. 1 pick that June, scored 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting and handed out nine assists in the Bulls' win over the Bucks. Rose went on to average 16.8 points and 6.3 assists in 37.0 minutes that season, and he'd be named an All-Star the following three seasons after that. Ah, the good ol' days.