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Luol Deng’s injury gives Tom Thibodeau plenty to be scared about

Luol Deng watches game Monday with his wrist bandaged. The Bulls didn’t say how long he would be out. |

Luol Deng watches the game Monday with his wrist bandaged. The Bulls didn’t say how long he would be out. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 25, 2012 8:22AM

We all know what the definition of “scary” is for the Bulls. Scary is Derrick Rose missing a long stretch of the season because of injury.

If you let your fears take over, scary is Rose running with scissors or crossing the street without looking both ways or pretty much doing anything that involves leaving the safety of his home. But let’s not freak out coach Tom Thibodeau any more than usual.

Here’s what would best be called “sneaky scary:” the Bulls without the services of Luol Deng for an extended period. That might be enough for Thibodeau to check himself into a mental-health institution.

Deng has a wrist injury that could keep him out for a while. He walked into the United Center on Monday night with his left wrist heavily bandaged. If there were thought bubbles over people’s heads in Chicago, many of them would read, “At least it’s not Rose.’’ Uh, not so fast.

Rose is the NBA’s reigning most valuable player, which is a sufficient answer for how quickly the Bulls’ season would go down the drain if he ever were seriously hurt.

But the scariness of losing Deng, the team’s best defender and an excellent all-around player, was clear if you happened to be standing near Thibodeau on Monday morning. I was, and it was interesting to watch him try to keep his blinders on when asked about Deng’s importance to the team.

He had the dazed look of a man who had just found out that his wife had the remote and would be watching “Downton Abbey’’ instead of the Super Bowl.

“[Deng’s] a complete player, brings a lot to the team, but like I said, the versatility of our roster, we feel good,’’ Thibodeau said. “We feel like we have more than enough to win with. We’re of course disappointed that he’s injured for him because he’s put so much work into it, but yet you still know that the guys filling in are more than capable.’’

It sounded like a coach not only bracing for bad news, but also hoping to preach a gospel of faith to his bench players.

There is no one to replace Rose, obviously, but C.J. Watson can do a decent imitation on occasion. The Bulls don’t have anyone who can do all the things Deng does.

On Monday, they weren’t saying how long he would be out. Thibodeau said Deng was consulting doctors, plural, for multiple opinions. Is surgery a possibility?

“Ah, I don’t know. I don’t think so, would be my guess,’’ Thibodeau said. “There are people he wants to talk to. He’s gone down this road with an injured wrist before. My guess would be it will be day-to-day.’’

Is all that guessing scary enough for you?

Rose is the Bulls’ best player. Joakim Noah, when his game is right, is their heart. But Deng’s importance is so high, it’s almost impossible to quantify. He leads the team in minutes played. He can play several positions.

You might see some irony in all of this. Several years ago, Deng was the guy people loved dumping on. Remember? He was a waste of all that money the Bulls had given him. He was limited skills-wise. He was soft, wouldn’t play through injuries and probably was the reason the youth of America were so adrift.

But then he got healthy and became Thibodeau’s most-trusted player.

During his rookie season, he had surgery to repair a ligament in his right wrist. The only good news this time is that it’s not his shooting hand.

The Bulls are going through a tough time. Taj Gibson sat out Monday’s game against the Nets with an ankle injury. Noah and Rose played hurt.

Rose said he knows his turf toe won’t be 100 percent healed this season. That’s scary, too, but with less rest built in because of the compressed schedule, nagging injuries are to be expected.

If the Bulls lose Deng for an extended period, they’re going to have big trouble holding on to the top seed. It’s true that they have the best record in the league and that their schedule eases up in February.

But you don’t lose somebody of Deng’s ability and expect life to be the same. The Bulls can live with him being out a week or two. Beyond that …

“It would change a lot, especially how Lu’s been playing this year,’’ Rose said. “He’s been great for us.’’

Scary, no matter how you define it.

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