Bulls

First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

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First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

CHARLOTTE Just sat there like its a regular thing, said Luol Deng, though his smirk betrayed his even tone. It happens every day.

Never one to be consumed with individual accolades, Deng said all the right things about debut All-Star Game selection, deflecting the credit to his teammates and coaches, reasoning that it just wasnt his time in past seasons. But all along, it was obvious that he was nearly bursting at the seams with pride.

Its a great honor. Im really happy. Its good to see. I dont really have the words for it, except the fact that Im really happy. I just want to go around and thank all my teammates because of the way were playing and the record we have is why Im getting the opportunity, he explained prior to the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. I think you get a certain feeling that youre going to make it. I had a feeling, I dont know why. I was still surprised to see it. Youre sitting there, youre watching it and youre just kind of relieved a little bit that you made it. But this year kind of felt different going into it. I think theres a few years that Ive watched it that I thought that I might get in, but this year, for some reason, I just thought it was going to happen.

Honestly and I dont want to go too much into it; dont get me wrong, its an honor and its a great accomplishment theres years in the past, where I felt like I played like an All-Star, but maybe some guys had a better year that year and made it over me. Its good to see. Its really been an up-and-down kind of career and to be there, a lot of people would see it as your best year. Thats just the way people see it because of the credit that you gain and I really think Im having a great year. I think its one of the best years that I had.

Statistically, that might not be the case, as Deng has put up gaudier numbers than he has this campaign. But now, with the Bulls recognized as a true title contender, while much of the spotlight falls on reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, Deng is finally getting the appreciation he deserves.

Its a great honor for him. Hes certainly earned it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau who might be joining Deng and Rose in Orlando for the event, though he typically downplayed that notion, saying, I dont even think about it. Im just thinking about us being ready to play Charlotte when asked about the possibility. I thought it would happen. The one thing about Lu, if you really look at his career, I think each year that hes been in the league, hes gotten better and better, and I think thats a sign of how serious he is, how he approaches the game and hes obviously a very well-rounded player. Theres not anything that he doesnt do well and obviously hes very significant for us, in terms of us winning.

I think that he certainly had a great year last year. I think this year he picked up right where he left off. If you look at his entire career, each year hes gotten better and better, so his experience, the way he studies, the way he prepares for each season, it lends itself to improvement and hes one of those guys who I think will continually get better throughout his career, and for us hes invaluable. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to our team unselfishness, hard work, cares about nothing but winning and how he can help and hes a great teammate, hes very coachable and theres nothing that he doesnt do well. He plays great defense, he moves without the ball, he shares the ball, he can hit threes, he can put in on the floor, he slashes, he can post. But its his leadership, its the way he approaches things every day, the example he sets. You cant say enough about him, he went on to say. Its great. I think its a byproduct of winning. We have a couple other guys who are deserving, as well, and hopefully the more you win, the more recognition the team receives.

Added Deng himself: It depends, really, from who. It depends who youre talking about. I think, to be a coach in this league, youve got to know the game and I think everyone has their own opinion. Coaches select every year and I think coaches appreciate what I do, and the way I play. I think maybe in the past years, whether its team record or some other guys had a better year, maybe thats the reason Im left out, but I always get a lot of compliments and talking to a lot of coaches around the league who appreciate the way I play, and to me, my coaching staff, my teammates and those who know the game, I think they see it. Im not so much caught up in people who dont know the game, who just want to see the flashiness.

Deng joked that he wouldnt reveal when or how he learned of the honor he said he found out from watching it on television, like everybody else, though people he trusted, wouldnt really joke about certain things if they dont know, indicated he would make the East team as well as his immediate reaction to it, but after raising his expectations in previous seasons only to be disappointed, he now finds himself having to figure out what to do while in Orlando, as he hasnt participated in an All-Star event since the second season of his career, when he played in the Rookie-Sophomore Game.

I think Im going to talk to Derrick about that, honestly. Since my rookie year, my sophomore year, which is way different, I dont know what youre supposed to do, I dont know how it goes, quipped Deng, who also joked that hopefully I wont get a breakaway layup, as hes not known for the high-flying aerial acrobatics that fans have come to expect in All-Star contests. Its the honest truth. I really dont know. Ill find out the schedule. Am I supposed to play D? I dont know. Well just see how it goes.

One thing is for sure: Deng, if Thibodeau is indeed coaching, is unlikely to play the high-minute totals he does for the Bulls.

I doubt it, he laughed. Coach is big on rest, so well use that right.

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

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USA TODAY

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

Rebuilds can be ugly, but the first quarter of Wednesday's Bulls-Thunder game was downright disgusting. 

The Bulls scored single digits(!) in the historically awful opening 12 minutes. Here's a closer look at the numbers: 

7 - Amount of points scored. That's the worst opening quarter in franchise history and just one point better than the worst overall quarter. 

8 - Number of turnovers, which included three shot clock violations. 

13 - The Bulls shot 13 percent from the field. Woof. 

2 - Consecutive games Fred Hoiberg's squad has trailed by 20 after the first. 

3 - Carmelo Anthony outscored the Bulls by three points in the opening quarter (10-7). 

It's safe to assume that the lineup of Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez was not ready to play.