Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng believes he owes a great deal of his NBA success to his adopted home nation, Great Britain, and the All-Star has not wavered in his commitment to represent the country in this summer’s London Olympics.
While nursing a torn ligament in his left wrist, Deng combined for 43 points and 25 rebounds in the Bulls’ final two games of the season, including a 19-point, 17-rebound effort Thursday night when his team was eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs in a 79-78 Game 6 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I’m going to play in the Olympics,” Deng told reporters after the game. “I’m looking forward to playing in the Olympics. I’m excited about it, something I wanted to do since I was a kid and I’m going to prepare myself for it.”
Deng suffered the injury on Jan. 21, but he elected to bypass surgery – which would have sidelined him for a few months – because he was confident the Bulls were on pace to have a special season. However, he has repeatedly made it clear that he has sights set on fulfilling his lifelong goal of playing for the Great Britain national team, and he said Thursday that the decision regarding whether to have surgery will be postponed until the Olympics are over.
“I’ve got to see how my wrist feels throughout the Olympics,” said Deng, who suffered a gash on the left side of his nose that required stitches due to an inadvertent elbow from Sixers forward Andre Iguodala. “Then right after the Olympics I’ll make the decision whether my wrist is good enough that I don’t need the surgery or if I need it. I haven’t really ruled out not getting the surgery; I haven’t made that decision. [I] just know that I got the Olympics ahead of me; since I was a kid growing up it’s something I wanted an opportunity to be a part of. The fact that it’s in my hometown that I grew up in, in a country that even gave me an opportunity to be here, I’m looking forward to it.”
Although Deng has attempted to downplay the injury since sustaining it, he admitted how grueling the process was of consistently playing heavy minutes while throbbing in pain before, during and after contests. But, for Deng, there is a silver lining to his painful wrist, one that could very well pay dividends next season.
“I’ve never done anything like that, playing pretty much most of the season with one arm,” he told the assembled media. “I really think it’s going to make me better in the long run. … I look back at it, and I’m glad I [held off surgery]. I learned a lot of things to be capable to do that in the NBA. We had the best record and we were going into the playoffs with the best team, so it was definitely a great decision. Unfortunately, other things happened.”
Deng, who averaged 14 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 45.6 percent from the field in 37.8 minutes per contest in the Bulls’ six-game series defeat, will miss the start of next season if he decides to have surgery after the Olympics. Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee and will miss a significant portion of the 2012-13 campaign.
Without Rose for five of the series’ six games and minus Joakim Noah (ankle) for the final three, Deng carried the Bulls at times and bounced back well following single-digit scoring performances in Games 2 and 3. Unfortunately for the Bulls, the 26-year-old’s outings came in a losing effort, although Deng will be expected next year to build on his finish to this season.
“Luol was unbelievable, the way he scored, the way he rebounded the ball, the way he was playmaking,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.