Luol Deng is Bulls’ glue, but contract demands might be too high
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter December 29, 2013 9:41PM
BULLS AT GRIZZLIES
The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 26, 1000-AM.
Updated: December 29, 2013 9:41PM
Coach Tom Thibodeau thinks forward Luol Deng is a superstar.
He snaps back at any media question that would imply otherwise.
“Lu is the glue,’’ Thibodeau has said numerous times, “does whatever is asked of him.’’
Agent Herb Rudoy thinks Deng is a superstar, too.
That’s why he stuck to an asking price of $12 million to $13 million a year for his free agent-to-be. The Bulls, however, ended contract talks late in the summer and haven’t revisited them.
Deng’s teammates don’t hesitate to call him a star.
“[Deng’s] a winner,’’ reserve big man Taj Gibson said. “There are a lot of guys that are superstars that aren’t winners. That’s the first thing that stands out with him: winner. He’s a star, a superstar in my book, on my team.
“The thing about Lu is that everyone has an opinion on him.’’
And that’s the problem the Bulls have in committing to Deng. Sources told the Sun-Times at the start of the season that they slotted Deng at $7 million to $8 million a year.
He’s their third piece behind Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
In talking to several NBA scouts, the Bulls aren’t the only organization that feels that way. Deng’s name doesn’t put butts in seats. He doesn’t do anything flashy. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s that perfect third piece on a team pushing for a title. And unless your name is Chris Bosh, a third piece doesn’t warrant max money.
“I get why that’s said, but the way his game has developed over the years, yeah, that’s a superstar,’’ Gibson said. “There are a lot of guys in this league that have that star title but don’t understand a damn thing about winning and being a team player.’’
Deng is averaging 19.6 points, seven rebounds and 4.1 assists, so Gibson’s argument has some validity.
The “winning’’ aspect of Deng’s game merits a bit more scrutiny. The Bulls are 3-5 without Deng and 8-12 with him.
In 2012-13, the Bulls were 3-4 without Deng in the regular season, but in the playoffs, they lost Game 6 against the Nets when Deng was sidelined with complications from a spinal tap, before winning Game 7 as well as the first game against the Heat.
The Heat then won four in a row, but would Deng have been a difference-maker?
And while his player-efficiency rating is 17.72 — second only to Noah’s 18.03 — last season his PER was 15.12, behind Noah, Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler. The NBA average is 15.
The Bulls haven’t lifted a finger to trade Deng and appear committed to seeing how the rest of the season plays out.
So is Deng.
“You are what your record is,’’ Deng said. “But I’m looking forward to everybody being at full strength and seeing how good we can be.’’
Maybe then the Bulls will have a clearer picture about what to do with Deng. Maybe they’ll pay him closer to superstar money.
There’s no question Deng is a player with multiple talents. And there seems to be a different opinion about each one.