Luol Deng isn’t out to seek your approval.
by Jonathan Santiago / @ITSjonsantiago
And that’s just fine by him.
“To be honest with you I really don’t care,” Deng said of being an overlooked member of this Bulls team. “Whether people see it or not, I really don’t care.”
Before the start of this season, Deng was an afterthought in the Bulls’ plans. In fact, if Bulls brass had their way, someone else would be manning the small forward position.
The Bulls were in the running for LeBron James during the offseason free agency period. When James decided to join the Miami Heat, Chicago settled on signing Carlos Boozer and several complimentary players. Yet with James out of the picture, Deng’s standing in Chicago remained in question.
Well because before the start of the season, trade rumors surrounding Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony heated up. And among one of the potential destinations for the superstar three was none other than Chicago.
Despite the Bulls’ interest in Anthony and James, who both play the same position as Deng, the sixth-year pro hasn’t let the rumors affect his play. In fact, Deng has proven to be a solid scoring option for the Bulls. Through 22 games, the Bulls small forward has averaged close to 18 points per game. The only other Bull scoring more than Deng? None other than third-year point guard Derrick Rose at 25 per contest.
So what’s been key to his success this season?
“I always said I can’t play for what people say,” Deng said. “I’m playing for myself. I’m playing for the Chicago Bulls. I love basketball and I can’t play to prove other people wrong.”
Personal achievement is the least of Deng’s worries these days. Having signed a six year, $71 million contract extension in 2008, he’s financially secure. And while posting gaudy statistics and setting records are nice, they’re not a big priority for the Bulls starting small forward.
“I think that once you start focusing on all those things,” Deng began. “It’s going to affect your game. You know, I’m just really locked in on winning every night and everything else will just take care of themselves.”
The camaraderie in the locker room has helped as well. Perhaps the coaching change and the constant trade rumors surrounding the team has brought this roster together. Deng credits some of his success to the Bulls’ tight-knit chemistry.
“I think some nights we’re not (all) going to have it and we just got a great group of guys that are always going to have your back,” Deng said.
Expendable or indispensable, how the critics value him doesn’t matter to Luol Deng.
He and his teammates know what he’s worth.
How Noah Met Rodman
There’s no denying the comparisons between Joakim Noah and Dennis Rodman. Their similarities on the court extend off it as well.
According to Noah, he met the two-time All-Star at an unspecified night club and told him how big of a fan he was. Rodman, likewise, returned mutual admiration.
“I just saw him in the club and I just showed him love and he showed me love,” Noah responded. ” It was cool, you know?”
The current Bulls power forward spoke reverently of his predecessor:
“I’ve nothing but good things to say about that guy. You know, I’m a big fan of his. I feel like, you know, somebody whose basketball skills are so underrated just because of all the other things. Just because he was kind of out there, in people’s eyes, people kind of forget how much he affected the game. I mean, he was a champion you know? I think people kind of forget that. The guy was the definition of hustle and affecting the game without scoring. He scored a little bit, but not really. I mean the guy just affected the game so much with his defense and his rebounding. And he kind of made that cool, to me anyways.”
Noah admits that his appreciation of the Worm has grown since his youth. In fact, Rodman wasn’t even one of his biggest influences in his development as a basketball player.
“I wanted to be Kevin Garnett growing up,” Noah said.
How things have changed.