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Bulls sad about losing Deng

Updated: January 9, 2014 9:41PM



At last check, Luol Deng was alive and well in Cleveland.

He’s upright, walking and actually breathing.

That bit of news seems to have eluded his former teammates even though it has been four days since he was traded to the Cavaliers for 12 hours of Andrew Bynum’s contract, three draft picks, financial flexibility and a whole lot of hope.

“It’s still strange not having [Deng] around,’’ Kirk Hinrich said after practice Thursday at the Berto Center. “Just coming in today, his locker is next to me here. I had a lot more room today, but I was getting a little nostalgic just looking at it, seeing it empty for the first time.

“Shoot, I have played with Lu for nine years, so we kind of grew up as players and young men together. We miss him as a team and miss him as a person. He’s a great guy, but at the same time, we’re trying not to dwell on it. We have a job to do, we’re trying to move forward and we’re trying to build some momentum here to dig our way out of the hole we have already dug for ourselves.’’

They’re trying.

It just might not be working for all of them.

Joakim Noah still wasn’t talking to the media, the latest excuse being he was a bit under the weather.

That’s a flat-out no, one polite decline and an under-the-weather for Noah and interviews since Deng was shipped out.

“Jo’s an emotional guy,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He got himself ready to play [in the victory Tuesday over the Suns]. He’s playing at a high level. He played a great game. Now the challenge is to come back after you have a good game to play another good game. You can’t feel good about yourself. You have to be ready for the next one.

“Jo has been around. He can handle things. Luol is not the first player that was ever traded from the Chicago Bulls. The same thing when we get a new player: We always embrace whoever that new player is. That’s the way it is. We just focus on our team and improvement.’’

But there’s another focus that could be creeping into the locker room, and that is, which player, if any, could be the next to go?

First, there’s Carlos Boozer. With Deng gone, the Bulls exercising the amnesty provision on Boozer seems like a foregone conclusion.

“I’m sure I’ll talk to them if I need to,’’ Boozer said, referring to the front office. “They’ll talk to me, but that’s something you have to talk to them about.’’

And then there’s Hinrich, who’s being looked at by several teams as a veteran who can be a competent backup point guard.

“I think it’s always a possibility,’’ Hinrich said. “We know that as professional basketball players. We just try to focus on what we can control and do the best we can.

“I’m probably not the right person to ask about that. We all kind of know that things can change quickly in this league.’’

That’s why Thibodeau continues to act as a grief counselor.

“You have to be ready to adapt to any and all changes,’’ Thibodeau said of his players’ psyche. “I like the way our team has responded to every challenge this year.

‘‘We have to keep building, keep our concentration on improvement and chase excellence. If everybody does that, we’ll be fine.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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