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Bulls need to dash Luol Deng’s Olympic hoops

Luol Deng.

Luol Deng.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:28AM



This seems like a no-brainer, but the heart is involved, complicating something that shouldn’t be complicated.

Luol Deng wants to play in the Olympics. He shouldn’t play in the Olympics.

He has a torn wrist ligament that needs attention, and if he participates in the London Games, as it appears he will, he could miss the first two months of the 2012-13 NBA season. Given the way things seem to go for the Bulls, complications likely will set in that lead to bubonic plague.

I don’t want to call Deng’s desire to play in the Olympics selfish, because it’s not. In fact, there’s something very selfless about his decision to play for Great Britain, the country that took in him and his family when they were refugees from the turmoil of Sudan. Deng’s wearing of the colors of the British flag would be a big thank-you to his adopted country.

What it would say to the Bulls is not quite as gracious, a sort of ‘‘thanks, but no thanks’’ to common sense and priorities.

The NBA is a serious business involving serious money. Deng is getting a lot of that serious money, $13.4 million alone for next season. The Bulls could be without Derrick Rose for the entire 2012-13 schedule while he rehabs a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They need Deng.

I hope they have expressed their deep concern and asked him not to play in the Summer Games. There is nothing for them in his Olympic involvement, and if you’re of the belief that the team is everything, then the Bulls should be at the center of any decision Deng makes.

And it is his decision. NBA teams can’t force players to take a pass on the Olympics. But I hope the Bulls have told Deng in no uncertain terms that what he is about to do could be damaging to the team. That’s their prerogative, and if it has upset Deng, well, too bad. It needed to be said.

I hope they’ve piled on, too. I hope they’ve played dirty. I hope they’ve said, ‘‘Do you realize the interest in basketball in England is similar to the interest in ski jumping in Samoa?’’

When the Bears played in London last season, it was another opportunity to see how little the English care about American football. While the NFL was doing its best to spread the gospel of pigskin, the sports pages were filled with stories about soccer, followed by extensive coverage of rugby, followed by some auto racing, cycling and tennis. American football found itself so far back in the newspapers, it was as if it didn’t exist.

Basketball didn’t exist. If there were stories about the sport, they must have been with the steak and kidney pie recipes in the food section, because I didn’t see a hint of them.

Deng wants to help grow his sport in England. It’s a noble sentiment, especially in a league filled with players who can’t see beyond their own needs. But there are causes worth fighting for. Playing for a country that doesn’t give a whit about basketball doesn’t seem like one of them.

You can make the argument that next season very well could be a lost one for the Bulls and that it doesn’t matter when Deng comes back if Rose is going to be, at best, something short of whole. Why obsess about Deng’s status?

Because you want your players as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Because Deng has struggled with significant injuries in the past and there’s no point in playing with fire.

Because the Bulls aren’t going to win a championship without a healthy Deng.

And an NBA title, not the spread of basketball into Liverpool, is the goal.

If there’s one thing we learned from this season’s huge disappointment, it’s that players need time to heal. Rose’s injuries seemed to build on one another. The preference is to be able to do your healing during the offseason, not the regular season. Given the Bulls’ luck, Deng will rush back too soon from his post-Olympics recovery or surgery and, well, you saw this movie too often last year.

His stubbornness about playing for Great Britain seems misguided — misguided for an honorable reason, perhaps, but misguided nonetheless.

Here’s the question Deng needs to ask himself: Do you want to risk your NBA season on a game against Angola? There’s only one right answer if you’re using your head, not your heart.



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