Bulls fans should probably prepare themselves for the team’s 10th straight loss: Derrick Rose (sprained wrist) and Luol Deng (strained calf) will both miss tonight’s game against the Cavaliers. Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) is still out too.
I can’t argue the decision. Why risk your players’ health in a game that might not be winnable anyway? But the bad news — and it’s all been bad news lately, hasn’t it? — is that Deng’s injury might be worse than expected.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “On the eighth day of his absence, Luol Deng revealed he originally was told he could miss one to three weeks with his strained right calf. Coach Vinny Del Negro then piled on by saying Deng suffered a setback Wednesday after trying to run on the injury both Tuesday and pregame Wednesday. Deng, limping noticeably in the Bulls’ locker room, missed his fourth straight game.”
Said Deng: “I’m still having trouble pushing off.”
Added Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “Lu’s a little sore. I’m concerned about all those situations. But they’re out of our control. We just have to heal up as fast as we can.”
“As fast as we can” might still be too late. For the playoffs, anyway.
Give Del Negro credit for keeping his cool. Although they aren’t his fault, all these injuries and Chicago’s subsequent fall from the top eight in th eEast might provide Bulls management with a ready excuse to hand him a pink slip after the season ends.
Deng’s injury is a bummer. Luol’s goal was to play in all 82 games this season. He wanted desperately to shed the “soft” label that has been slapped on him by fans (and even some experts) after two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons. Back in December, Deng broke his left thumb — in practice, of all places — but played through it.
Back then, Deng said: “The injury is affecting me a lot, mostly my shot and dribbling, and there are times I’ve thought about not playing. … Last year when I was sitting (with a stress fracture in my right tibia), I made a commitment to play all 82 games this season. Even though it wasn’t my fault last year, I didn’t want anyone to say anything about me being soft anymore. That’s why I don’t want to take any game off all year. I just want to do my job.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t do his job through this calf strain.
There are still people who question Deng’s mental and physical toughness, not to mention his worth. That’s what happens when someone receives an All-Star contract (six years at over $70 million) without quite delivering All-Star production. Although it’s worth noting that Deng’s output this season has nearly equaled what he did during his mythical 2006-07 season.
Deng has been solid (if not spectacular) all year. His shooting is only in the mid-40s — too many jump shots from 16-23 feet — but he’s given the team scoring, rebounding and sturdy defense at the SF position. Next to Vinny, Deng was probably the most criticized Bull coming into the season. Other than taking too many long jumpers (and maybe a lack of leadership), he hasn’t given fans many reasons to complain this season.
Now he’s hurt. Again.
Deng has played all 82 games only once in his six-year career, back in (not surprisingly) 2006-07. Mind you, he’s only 24, so these should be his healthiest years, right?
That’s nothing against Luol. I’ve seen him play too hard this season to question his desire. But some players struggle to stay healthy. It’s biology, not psychology. Going forward, I wonder if the Bulls will have to continue dealing with recurring absences for the duration of Deng’s contract. If so, they’d better start developing James Johnson. It would be nice to have a security blanket at SF.
Some people are wondering whether the Bulls have given up on the playoffs. I don’t think so. First off, unless Chicago wins the draft lottery or manages to lose enough games to (gulp) earn the 10th worst record in the league, the Bucks are going to switch draft picks with the Bulls (they have that right thanks to the John Salmons trade). So there probably won’t be much benefit to missing the postseason.
It seems more likely that, as I said above, the Bulls are simply waiting out a tough stretch of games that would have been tough to win even with a healthy roster. If the team had gone all out to win these games but lost anyway and someone got hurt even worse, that would have cost the team a chance of making a run down the stretch.
It’s all about gambles. The Salmons trade was part of the long-term gamble for landing a big name free agent this summer (although the draft pick switch is going to sting). Holding players out, in addition to putting their health above winning, seems to be part strategy. I have no idea whether it will work. I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks.