Deng's Africa tribute part of his responsibility


Deng's Africa tribute part of his responsibility

SAN ANTONIO Olajuwon. Mutombo. Deng?

Think about it: Bulls All-Star Luol Deng might not be the flashiest player in the league, but theres not a more high-profile African NBA player. Yes, future Hall of Famer Steve Nash was born in South Africa, but hes regarded as Canadian, where he grew up.

But although Deng spent much of his childhood in London before relocating to New Jersey in high school, theres no doubt that he represents not only his homeland of South Sudan, but the entire continent of Africa. For proof, rewind to Sundays All-Star Game in Orlando where Deng, when introduced, sported a T-shirt featuring a map of the continent, something Deng regards as the highlight of his weekend.

For me, I think when my name was called and I had my T-shirt on, it meant a lot to me, something that I felt great when I was doing it and Im sure theres a lot of kids back home who saw that, that had a big smile on their faces, he explained. I had the T-shirt with me and I just felt like it was the right time to do it.

I wouldnt do something thats negative and if you look at the T-shirt, its not a logo of anything, Im not advertising anything. I just felt like being where Im from and where I came from, its something that I always wanted to see as a kid. Now that Im here, I had a chance. Im sure theres a kid out there or a lot of kids, who really enjoyed it and it kind of made them happy to see that, continued Deng, who added that it would be worth it if the league office fined him for his individualism. We always say Africa. Thats what we do. Thats what Africans do. It wouldnt make sense for me to just be just Sudan. I want to do a lot of things for the whole continent of Africa in the future and I dont look at it as just one region.

While Deng hasnt reached the stature of the aforementioned all-time centers, his influence amongst fellow African players is evident when the Bulls face the likes of Oklahoma Citys Serge Ibaka and Milwaukees Luc Mbah a Moute, both of whom visit the Bulls locker room to pay their respects to and seek advice from both Deng and teammate Joakim Noah, who has roots in Cameroon. Deng takes the responsibility of being an African-born All-Star seriously, especially when its taken into consideration that unlike his predecessors, Deng isnt a big man.

Its a lot of responsibility. I appreciate the fact that Im in the position that Im in to do so. I just feel like its been Olajuwon and Dikembe and both were big men. Being a perimeter player, it hasnt happened before and I just felt like I didnt want the kids just to see it and just go by. I wanted them to remember where I came from and get something out of it, he explained. The whole thing was a great experience, for my family, for my friends to get experience the whole thing, the whole hype about the All-Star weekend and for them to see it youre always going to hear about it; you heard about it in the past, theyre going to hear about it in the future but they can always say they were here and experienced the whole thing.

While Deng was honored to be selected for the first time, he admitted that his fundamentally-sound game wasnt exactly a perfect fit for the highlight-filled exhibition.

I pass, I shoot, whatever. For me to be selected meant a lot more to me the whole weekend, being selected and being recognized as an All-Star meant a lot a lot more than what I was going to show or do tonight on the floor, he acknowledged. We planned to play more minutes to begin with. I knew I was going to play the last six minutes of the first quarter and I was going to play again in the second.

There was a play at the end of the quarter where I was backpedaling and I kind of tripped up, and nothing that didnt hurt or anything and he asked me about it, and I said, You know what? If its something that we could avoid and just get back to practice tomorrow, continued Deng, who tweaked his left wrist, but was obviously no worse for the wear as evidenced by his 14-point, 11-rebound outing in Tuesdays home win over the Hornets. But I really enjoyed myself out there, the time, the experience that I had out there.

However, as awkward as Deng may have felt on the court in that defense-optional affair, he knew that at least one other Bulls representative in Orlando was going through a similar experience: Tom Thibodeau.

I was feeling for him, man. Im not a flashy kind of guy; I dont think hes an All-Star type of coach. He got through it, he quipped. You could see at the end, we all wanted to win, but Im sure for him, hes more happy than anyone to get back to tape and coaching the Bulls and the positive out of this is I think hes going to appreciate us even more.

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.