AL HAMNIK: Bulls, Deng put friendships aside at opening tip

2014-01-21T18:00:00Z 2014-01-24T15:08:29Z AL HAMNIK: Bulls, Deng put friendships aside at opening tipAl Hamnik Times Columnist
January 21, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | There will be no flowers, no hankies for wiping away tears, no heart-felt apologies.

A few warm bear hugs are likely, though.

The Bulls play tonight at Cleveland, the new home of 10-year veteran Luol Deng, whom Chicago traded on Jan. 7 for several draft picks.

His trade reportedly angered unsuspecting Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau but that's difficult to confirm, since he seldom smiles.

Bulls big man Joakim Noah was so distraught that his dear friend had been shipped off during the playoff hunt, he didn't speak to media for nearly a week.

And now comes the reunion between two teams with a combined 35-46 record, hardly TNT stuff.

Try telling that to Thibodeau and Noah.

Sentimentality be damned. Winning comes first. Social hours are an afterthought for those two.

"I know how fierce a competitor he is. I know he's going to be trying to beat us and we'll be trying to beat him," Thibodeau said.

"And after the game, we're gonna visit."

Deng waited until he was unpacked in Cleveland before criticizing Bulls management for cutting him loose after he turned down a three-year, $30 million extension.

He didn't do it Richard Sherman-style, but he did question the move.

"I have a world of respect for all the things Luol did for the Bulls, and for me personally," Thibodeau said. "Friendships aside, we're coming up there to compete."

The Deng trade remains a sensitive subject with Noah, like losing the family pooch on vacation.

"I love Luol. He's my brother. But he's not gonna be my brother when the ball goes up," said Noah, who has a career-best 13 straight games of 10 or more rebounds.

All-star Kyrie Irving and Deng now give coach Mike Brown's Cavaliers quite a 1-2 punch, averaging 21.6 and 18.7 ppg., respectively.

If you watched Deng's interview on the Cavs' web site after their Tuesday shootaround, and you can bet the Bulls did, the 28-year-old small forward came across as quite content, even excited, with his new home.

"It's a big game for us that we want to get," Deng said. "It's not that emotional. It'll be good to see the guys but, honestly, it's just another game.

"When I go out there, it'll be weird competing against guys I practiced with for years. But when the ball goes up, I'm not going to start crying and hugging the guys."

The Bulls reached .500 for the first time since Nov. 27 after beating the Lakers in overtime Monday night, but Thibodeau quickly cautioned "No way have we arrived."

Cleveland is 11 games under .500 but has several young, gifted players and a true leader now in Deng.

"I'm sure they're going to go after me," he said of the Bulls. "When the ball goes up, they'd like nothing better to beat me and vice versa.

"But I've got to focus on us, the Cavs, and what we've got to do to win the game."

Mike Brown says what he likes most about Deng, other than his talent and versatility, is that he "stays the course" without getting too high or too low.

"Poise" is another word Brown often uses.

"I don't want (Wednesday) to be 'Luol Deng playing his old team.' I just want to go out there, play my game, and win," he said.

Young players need to hear that. A lot.

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