Is Luol Deng’s contract year going to be a problem?


Luol Deng says he’s not going to be distracted by his impending free agency.

Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

There is very little to feel upset about after the Chicago Bulls finally opened the preseason against the Indiana Pacers, especially with Derrick Rose appearing completely healthy after his long absence. But this is the preseason, and it’s the first game, so it’s time to overreact to even the smallest of problems. First up: Luol Deng’s impending free agency and how it might affect his play.

We touched on this very briefly when we tried to suss out what we learned from the game, but it bears more thinking on, at least as long as we’re going to overreact to all of one game. But let’s clarify a couple of things first. Number one, I’m a big fan of Luol Deng. He’s longest tenured Bull by a wide margin, he’s a warrior and he’s really, really good at what he does (defense, mostly). So this is not about him personally in the slightest. Second, Deng is one of those guys that you can describe as professional and really mean it. So this isn’t about him being upset and screwing up the dynamic of the team or anything.

Now, having gotten all that out of the way, let’s look at Deng’s play on offense on Saturday. Defensively, he looked just like he always does, so let’s not waste any time there. Deng took 16 shots (making just 4 of them), along with 8 free throw attempts in about 25 minutes. That’s not inherently bad — Deng’s pretty solid offensively and it’s usually nice to see him being aggressive when the other team leaves him open. But it definitely seemed like he was being aggressive to the point of actually being detrimental to the team as a whole.

Case in point: One of the most memorable moments — for me — from Rose’s first game back was a play that didn’t happen. Deng pushed the ball up the floor off a miss and had Derrick on the wing. He was open for a lob, and I’m pretty sure he signaled for one — I don’t have the ability to actually rewatch the play at the moment or I’d check — but Deng declined and forced a layup that he missed badly.

Am I reading too much into this by blaming it on Luol’s contract? Maybe. But Deng’s basketball IQ is pretty darned high, and he should know that Rose has a much better chance of scoring on that play than he does. And yet, there he was trying to score it himself.

We were also treated to one possession where Deng shot the ball three times in the space of about 8 seconds. He missed a layup, got his own rebound, missed again and then hit a long jumper after someone else — Taj Gibson, I think — got the second offensive rebound and kicked it out.

Do I really think this is going to be an issue? No. Deng’s one of the most dependable players in the league, and I’m sure Tom Thibodeau will take him to task at some point if he doesn’t like what he sees. But it did seem like Deng had a bit of a chip on his shoulder after 1) people insinuated that he was soft for missing the Bulls’ final seven games last year after his botched spinal tap, 2) the Bulls’ team doctors abandoned him in the hospital after said botched spinal tap, and 3) the Bulls offered him a below-market extension and then declined to negotiate further.

Also, it really does seem like are setting up a situation this summer where they insist that Deng take a very low dollar value to stay while pointing to Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell as evidence that they don’t really need Deng. When Deng then — somewhat justifiably — tells them to shove it and leaves, the Bulls will paint him as greedy and not willing to sacrifice in their inevitable post-departure smear campaign. This hasn’t even happened yet and I’m already disgusted by it.

And now I’ve depressed myself. Sigh. Here is a gif of Derrick Rose doing Derrick Rose things in an actual game of basketball.

Credit: SBNation