A belated salute to former Bull Luol Deng


Tim Carroll/Sports Columnist

Tim Carroll/Sports Columnist

When the Bulls entered the 2004-05 NBA draft, Vice President John Paxson was in the process of gutting the team’s current roster and looking for players of his own to build around.

After drafting Kirk Hinrich out of Kansas in 2003, they spent much of the 2003-04 season near the bottom of the standings, with Paxson gutting the roster and preparing to make a splash in the 2004 draft.

The Bulls would go ahead and draft players from winning college programs to fill the roster with players who strive for success. Luol Deng was one of five rookies on the roster that season, but the team finished with the third best record in the East at 47-35.

It became evident early that Deng was a great choice, as he developed quickly into a key piece for the team in years to come.

Deng helped the Bulls to three consecutive playoff runs from 2005 to 2007, culminating with a four-game sweep of the defending World Champion Miami Heat in the first round in 2007. Luol Deng would average career highs with 18.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 51.7 percent. He was considered among many to be the Eastern Conference’s biggest snub of the All-Star Game.

Injuries would then rattle Deng’s 2007-08 season and the team’s core would begin to be broken apart. Despite this, Deng stayed in the Bulls’ plans, and after he again spent much time in a suit during the 2008-09 season, the Bulls knew they had a solid player who could do whatever it takes to help a team win.

After averaging a solid 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and shooting 46.6 percent (all the second best of his career) while playing 70 games in the 2009-10 season, Deng made it clear he was back to his old ways.

He would then flourish once again under current head coach Tom Thibodeau, as he would add a three-pointer to his repertoire, and help the Bulls, to a league-best 62 wins in the 2010-11 season, the most since Michael Jordan donned a Bulls uniform.

Deng and the rest of Derrick Rose’s supporting cast would no longer be disrespected by the league, as Deng would make his first career All-Star appearance in 2012, and then again in 2013 without Rose for the whole year.

Many are wondering whether or not the Bulls should retire Deng’s number 9 when his career is all said and done. People will make the argument that he is not atranscendent player, such as Jordan.This would be a near-sighted argument, as almost no one could possibly live up to the expectations set by MJ and Pip.

For some quick perspective, the Bulls also have number 4 (for Jerry Sloan) and 10 (for Bob Love) retired. The top five Bulls in career field goals are MJ, Pip, Love, Sloan and Deng. Deng is also seventh in three-points made, fifth in steals and fourth in points (ahead of Sloan).

So here’s a salute to Luol, thanks for all the great memories, and best of luck in the future!

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