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.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.