I caught up with Luol Deng in the midst of a scrum interview, so not all the questions below are mine. However, Deng discussed this new teammates, the trade rumors, free agency, and his expectations of the team.
Deng identified the obvious, that he was completely misused under Vinny Del Negro and can now get back to his game which is off the ball movement.
What's the off-season been like for you? A free agent might come in to compete for your job, you're in trade rumors for another player at your position?
I never really worry about what I can't control. It's always been rumors since I've been in the NBA. My main focus is always how good can I be? What can I do to help my team? What kind of team do we have? I can never worry about tomorrow just what I can do today.
It doesn't hurt your feelings then?
No, I mean everybody's competitive. That's just the way it is. People are always going to move pieces together. Even if you have a dream team. Even on the dream team they said you should take someone out and put someone else there. So that's always going to be there. As a competitor, it makes me want to get better, but that's always going to be there.
Gar just told us that he wants you to know that you can talk to them if you hear rumors and they want to be proactive and talk to you guys if anything is going on. Do you think that's going on?
That's great. To communicate always helps. If I think that I'm going, I'm going to pick up the phone and call Gar or vice versa, but as a player you can't get caught up in that. All I know is that I'm here, trying to get better, and I'm excited to play this year.
Is Miami beatable this year, what do you say about people who say it's Miami and everybody else?
Honestly, I'm excited and motivated to have a good year for myself and for the team. The focus is on us. I can't worry too much about what Miami or any other team is doing. Obviously there's a lot of attention towards that, but we've got a great team here, and as players and an organization we have to stay focused on what we have here.
Can you talk about Joakim, how have you seen him grow and what does he bring to the team?
Jo brings a lot of energy. He's just a great teammate to play with. Someone who doesn't worry about the stats or anything. He just goes out and plays as hard as he can. I'm just happy for Jo that everyone got to see how funny he is, how nice a guy he is, and how nice a guy he is. It's so easy to misjudge him, but he's one of the best teammates I've ever had.
Can you tell me a story about him? A printable story? (laughs)
Last year when he was hurt and couldn't travel with the team, he was texting, calling us when he was on the road. He was texting me during the game, and I got the texts after the game. That's just the kind of teammate he is.
Was he encouraging you guys, were you having a bad game?
Actually we won that game, and I had a good game. He was just trying to push everyone to get those wins until he could come back.
Is he kind of a leader on the team? I know as a rookie he kind of stood up and talked.
He's a leader in his own ways (laughs). Definitely competitive, and his competitive nature rubs off on everyone.
You've been through your own contract negotiations twice with the Bulls and got it done the second time, what advice would you have for Joakim?
Let his agent handle it. That's why he hired his agent, so let his agent handle it and focuse on what he has to do basketballwise.
Anything in particular you worked on?
Every year I could sit
here and say that I was in the gym working on this or that, but I know
every summer I'm in the gym. If anything chagnes in my game, I'm sure
you'll write about it, but as a basketball player I love the game and
spend a lot of time working on it.
Tom Thibodeau specifically mentiond you shooting more threes this summer, how will you adapt to more attempts this summer?
Like I said, when the season starts and we start playing then you see me shooting threes then you'll know I was working on my three in the summer. If not, then you'll know I haven't worked on it enough (laughs).
You've been through seven coaches, how do you see your role changing this time?
I think the one thing I'm excited about is I think I'll go back to moving without the ball. The way the team is made up with the chemistry. With what I've seen with what coach is trying to do by playing an inside game, I think I can go back moving without the ball. I don't think we'll do so much on the perimeter, but more with the inside game. I think it will allow me to use my instincts and just play basketball.
Can you talk about your level of excitement going into this season relative to others?
Every season is exciting. On paper everything looks great, but training camp is the time we need to put our chemistry together. I'm really excited. I really like the pieces we put together. I like what coach Thibodeau is trying to do. I think a week from now I could give you a better answer, but everyone is excited from the fans to the players in the locker room.
You've had some good guys at the four, but now you've got someone really good, what will it be like playing with Boozer?
It's going to be great. I think having an inside presence will allow me and the perimeter guys to move better without the ball.
You're the team historian now having been here so long, how does this roster match up with each year?
On paper? We've had a good team my fourth year, beat Miami, but face a tough Piston team that year. It's really hard to compare them both. I just know we have a really good team. Is it the best team we've had on paper? It sounds like it, but until the season's over it's hard to say.
A year ago, we were wondered whether you could play at all with your health, this year you're healthy, how's it feel?
I'm really excited. Last year, like you said, with the fracture of my tibia I didn't play at all just all summer sat on the couch (like us!) Yeah, like you guys (laughs). This summer, I was able to play with the national team, worked out with the coaches here. I'm in better shape going into camp. I feel a lot healthier. I'm more confident in what I can do, so I'm excited and looking forward to it.
You've had to deal with trade rumors since the moment you came to the NBA, how you dealing with them this time around?
It's funny, the day I got drafted, actually before I got drafted I was traded and ever since it hasn't stopped. Like I said before, some things I can't control. Some of these things will always be around. Guys will always write something. Guys are always moving. For me, I just have to be the best I can be. I have to see how I can fit in with the team that we have. How we can get the best Luol Deng, how I can make guys better on my team.
Gar says he always talks to you guys, has he said this is the roster we want, this is the roster we're going to go with?
Yeah, I've talked to coach Thibodeau, I spoke to Gar, I spoke Paxson, and they're really excited about the roster they've put together this year. There's always going to be guys out there though, and their job is to make the team better. That's what they do. My job is to keep getting betetr as a player.
Are you happy and proud to still be a part of what's going on here?
I have always been.
Deng didn't go into as much detail as I'd have hoped in some things, I can see how much more protected he's become over time in the NBA. When I interviewed him in his second season he was willing to give out far more detail than when I interviewed him the past two seasons.
Still, reading between the lines and being at the interview, he more or less wants his game to do the talking. He laughed and was playing coy about specific improvements in his game trying to convey the message that whatever he worked on only matters if it shows up on the court.
In the end, Bulls fans will feel the same way.