Since Luol Deng was traded from the Bulls back on Jan. 7, the two couldn’t be going in more different directions.
The Bulls are 7-2 without Deng on the roster, have climbed to 21-20, and the argument could be made that they are playing their best basketball of the season without a certain do-everything forward in the lineup.
That argument takes somewhat of a blow because the schedule without Deng has been soft at best, but in facing Deng’s new Cleveland team on Wednesday, it was obvious which team was better.
As for Deng, rather than looking for a championship run with the Cavaliers, he sounded like a guy that’s suddenly having to play baby-sitter on a roster full of talent, but with no direction on how to play team basketball.
“We’ve got guys that are going to have a great career in the NBA and can play, but we have to do it as a team, I think,’’ Deng said after the 98-87 loss to the Bulls. “A lot of times out there, especially [Wednesday night], it’s a lot of individual effort, and we’ve got to change that mindset into doing it together. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use all of our talent to come together, and I think we can.’’
But if he can’t. If Deng can’t get the likes of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to play team basketball, Cleveland will likely watch Deng walkaway in free agency this offseason. Ten years in the league, Deng wants a shot at a title, not playing tutor.
The other noticeable problem for Deng is the fact that Cavs coach Mike Brown seems to be clueless on how to use him.
“This was my seventh game? Guys got to get used to me, I’ve got to get used to them,’’ Deng said. “They have to understand what I like to do, I have to understand what they like to do.’’
Meanwhile, what the Bulls do takes very little explanation from coach Tom Thibodeau. Grind, play defense, efficient offensively, ugly-up the game, and of course, next man up.
The latest victim of that was Deng’s Cavs, beaten by a roster without Carlos Boozer (left calf) and with Kirk Hinrich back in Chicago, nursing a bad right hamstring.
“It’s one of the things I respect about our team,” Thibodeau said. “They respond to every challenge. They have a lot of heart. They’re playing together. Each day they have the right approach. If someone’s out, the next five get in there and get the job done. We’re short-handed. We understand how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win.’’