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Bulls’ Luol Deng doesn’t sweat flying under the radar

Bulls forward Luol Deng gets loose for two points second quarter Chicago Bulls 101-95 loss BostCeltics Monday November 12 2012

Bulls forward Luol Deng gets loose for two points in the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls 101-95 loss to the Boston Celtics Monday November 12, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:35AM


That’s the culture for many NBA players.

Not as recognizable as the statistics scream you should be with the fans?

No worries. “Pockets.’’

An under-the-radar All-Star?

The “pockets’’ don’t lie.

“Outside this city, to the causal fan, yeah, Luol [Deng] is definitely under the radar,’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But to the players around the league, they know him. And you know what? A lot of people might not know you, but as long as you got that good paycheck in your grasp … his pockets aren’t hurting, that’s for sure.’’

And if that’s all Deng was about, maybe that would be enough. Maybe being in the shadows of more popular small forwards such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce would be just fine. After all, Deng still has two more years on his current contract, bringing in $13.3 million this season and $14.3 million next.

Meanwhile, amongst small forwards in the East, Deng was fourth in scoring (17.6 points per game), and rebounding (7.4). That doesn’t even take into account that he leads the league in minutes played, as well as the fact he usually draws the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis.

“You can’t say enough about this guy,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau. “I mean he’s tough, he’s physically tough, mentally tough, he’s a winner, does whatever you ask, never complains. He puts the team first, and you need that. That’s the best type of leadership you can have. This is not something that’s new. It’s something he’s done for the three years that I’ve been here. He’s just a winning player.’’

Again, flattering comments that should satisfy Deng, if that’s what the last few years have been all about.

“I can’t control if fans know me or not’’ Deng said. “I’ve got good teammates, playing for a great organization, and trying to get a title, but all this isn’t just for me.’’

He made that evident in his first All-Star appearance last year, when he came out in the player introductions with a T-shirt that had the continent of Africa on it. Then this season, he changed his home introduction from Duke University to the independent nation of the Southern Sudan.

“I’m just trying to give some people some hope,’’ Deng said.

Deng’s story is well-documented, as civil war in the Darfur ­region of Sudan forced his father to flee with his wife and children. Now that Southern Sudan is an independent country, Deng wants that celebrated,

“Not just for my country but the whole continent of Africa,’’ Deng said. “I’m glad that I really have the opportunity to be doing what I’m doing, and that people will get to recognize where I’m from.

“I knew there were a lot of ­African kids that were watching [the All-Star introduction] and I just wanted them to get an opportunity to look at someone who has been through what they’re going through, and now I’m here.

“I know what I’ve been through and where I came from, and to be in this locker room is amazing and a blessing. I know there are a lot of people more talented than me but will never get the opportunity to do what I do, live the life I live. I’m ­always grateful for that.’’

“Pockets?’’ Yes, Deng has those.

But some things run much deeper.

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