Luol Deng reflects on 10 years with the Bulls and upcoming free agency

April 11, 2014

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng (9) keep the ball from Oklahoma City Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb (11) in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. Cleveland won 114-104.

The Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng in the middle of the night: There’s been no closure, no time for Deng or fans to reflect on his 10 years in Chicago. The veteran forward’s been in Cleveland since early January, learning to play in a different system--and in a different role--with the Cavaliers.  

When WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye Stout saw the Cavs would be playing the Bucks on Friday, she decided to head to Milwaukee to see how Deng is doing. She first asked him if he was surprised by the trade.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he began. “No, no,” Deng clarified, “I should say I was surprised but I expected it...I was hoping to be wrong but, I think I was expecting it.”

Deng said it was extremely difficult to leave all the familiarities of Chicago for something completely new. He said it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do because he’s never really had to make that type of transition. He played four years of high school ball, played with all the same guys in the same club growing up in London. He stayed in touch with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, even after leaving Duke University after his freshman year. But for the 10 years that followed--for 82 games a year--he lived and breathed Chicago Bulls basketball.

Now, at almost 29-years-old, he’s learning to take on a new and different leadership role in Cleveland.

“In Chicago,” Deng said, “it got to a point where I was so comfortable with everything. I just did me.”

And, while he doesn’t expect everyone to believe him, Deng said he’s grateful for the challenge.

“Through my whole life, nothing has ever come easy. I’ve always had a hard road before I do something great, and I’m thankful for it,” Deng explained.

Raye Stout asked Deng what he missed most about being a Chicago Bull. He said he misses his teammates and the coaching staff more than anything.

“I felt like I knew them as well as I’ve known myself. I knew how to get everyone going, I knew how to make things easy, how to stay positive...that comfort zone. I didn’t really see those guys as teammates. Those guys were really my friends.”

Deng said he will probably stay friends with most of them for the rest of his life. In fact, he’s joked with some of the guys still on the team that he plans to sit courtside in Chicago during the upcoming playoffs. But, he doesn’t want the TV or attention coming his way--he doesn’t want to mess up the flow. And he doesn’t want any fans to yell, “You should be here,” or something like that. He’d just love to be there to support his former teammates because he knows their struggle and the focus and effort required during a playoff push.

And Deng said he’s not surprised the Bulls--or All-Star center Joakim Noah--are having a successful season. He said Noah’s newfound leadership position is deserved and necessary.

“When you play hard all the time, it becomes who you are,” Deng explained.

Deng will become a free agent at the end of the season. He said he knows it will be a tough decision, but he knows what he wants and has learned a great deal from this experience.

“When I’m not happy with things, I know how hard I work to change that,” Deng said with a slight grin. “Also, I’m a competitor. I always take things, and I want things to be my way.”

Katie O’Brien is WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow her @katieobez and WBEZ sports contributor @crayestout.