24 January 2012
Yup. Luol Deng has a torn ligament in his left wrist. He will be out "for a while". Starting to panic yet? My advice is...don't.
To think, a couple of years ago this wouldn't have even been news. Luol Deng used to be a regular fixture on the bench in his dress clothes back in a day. Prior to last year, Luol Deng only played in more than 70 games in just two seasons, in '05-'06 and '06-'07. Than last year, he had almost an exact repeat performance of his breakout year in 2006-2007, in which he played 82 games and average 37.5 minutes, along with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Statistically, '07 was actually Lu's best year, but I digress. He did, after all, play incredibly well last year and led the league in minutes.
Like last year, he leads the league in minutes again this year. His play, by all accounts, has been very much all-star worthy, even though his scoring and shooting percentage are both slightly down from last year. I still don't think that anyone would argue that he's an all-star, simply due to what he brings on both sides of the floor. So the fact that he went down with a serious injury this season is especially disconcerting.
Still, the Bulls seemed just fine without him last night. Rip Hamilton stepped in and played exactly how the Bulls expected him to play when they signed him. In fact, better actually. Rip posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 assists. That paralleled what Derrick was able to do in his first game back after being out for 4 games. Derrick also posted 22 points and had 8 assists.
Collectively, the Bulls played fantastic. All five starters in double figures, and 6 in double figures total (Omer off the bench). Three separate players posted double-doubles. Joakim and Boozer are both playing extremely well as of late. Joakim had 16 and 10 on 5-8 shooting. Boozer had 14-9 on 6-9 shooting. When combined, those numbers are simply gaudy. Together with Deng, and with those two playing the way they are, the Bulls no doubt have the most formidable front-court in the league. And that's also because the Knicks' front-court is playing like drec and Tyson Chandler is incredibly over-rated. Yet another reason why the loss of Deng is just painful, no pun intended.
Truth be told, Ronnie Brewer has been spectacular when he's been in there filling in for both Rip and Lu. He continues to play very well and very consistent. He's shooting 45% from the field and 50% from three-point range. Very impressive. He's shooting with extreme confidence and it's showing. If he and Rip can continue to contribute the way they have been, and can both stay healthy, the loss of Deng should be absorbable.
The more concerning issue is coaching. And at this point it has to be said...
The Bulls are starting to drop like flies. First Rip, then Derrick, then CJ, then Derrick again, then Lucas, then Joakim, then Taj, then Lu. Someone want to tell me why Derrick Rose rushed back into those two games against Boston and Toronto after his initial toe injury? Was it necessary? Is winning those games going to help us come playoff time when we need to get past Miami?
What about last night. Any reason why Derrick Rose needed to be in the game against the Nets until the very end of the game, with the game in hand early in the fourth quarter? I mean he played 36 minutes after missing 4 games in a row. And we all know he has the lingering toe injury. Even Derrick himself said he expects to linger all season. Shouldn't logic follow that, this being the case, you want to be extra cautious with the kid? Someone wanna tell me why it is necessary to play him 36 minutes and to close out a game that is already in the bag? And anyone who says "for conditioning purposes" is kidding themselves (I'm looking at you, Thibs). Does anyone think Derrick Rose will not be in good condition if he only plays 20 minutes and sits out the fourth quarter of a blow out? There is honestly no plausible or reasonable explanation. I won't accept any explanation because, really, there is none.
That boot don't look pretty.
And the same can be said for Luol Deng. The whole purpose of having a deep team, which the Bulls truly do, is to avoid having to play your best players for 38 minutes a game. There really is no reason Luol Deng should have to play that much knowing the depth of the Bulls' roster. And I'm not saying that the wrist injury is Thibs' fault, but I am saying that Luol Deng should NOT be playing 38 minutes a game. 32 at most. This team is way too deep to rely on anyone for 38 minutes.
And really, there isn't anything to gain in winning these random games mid-season. If you have to take a few L's, so be it. Miami is 11-5. You think they're sweating right now? You think they're in a huge hurry to bring back Wade? No. Why should they be? They're confident in their ability to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, and that's when they'll be sweating to get their best core on the floor. Now, I recognize that the Bulls sat Derrick for four games, but they only did so after bringing him back way too soon after the initial injury, and then having him reaggravate it. As I said in one of my recent posts, Derrick Rose is a 22 year old kid who does not want to let his teammates down and will play at any cost. A decision like that should not be up to him. Coaches have to take it upon themselves to protect the players from themselves.
Likewise, Luol Deng is a 26 year old kid who today said the following:
"I really feel like we have a very good chance of doing something special. And I feel like without the surgery I'll be fine. I just know what I can do with it and what I can't do. And I really think I'm going to be very effective out there. There's going to be days when it's sore."
You think this guy is really a good judge of what's best for him and the long-term success of this team? No, a doctor is the best judge. I truly hope the Coaches take this statement with a huge grain of salt and do not rush Luol Deng back too soon like they did with Derrick Rose, and Rip Hamilton earlier in the season. Sit him for a while. Take some L's. Who cares. Do whatever it takes to get his wrist as healthy as it possibly can be without surgery and then bring him back. This team is deep enough where it will be just fine. And if it's best for him to have surgery, then let him have surgery. Surely if he has surgery now, there's at least a chance he will be ready in 3 months time. The Playoffs are all that matters. It seems that every elite team understands this except for the Bulls.
And one can only hope they didn't bring Joakim Noah back too soon, although he looked great last night. And one can only hope they don't bring back Taj Gibson too soon, only time will tell.
Bottom line, look at Rip's performance last night. Look at Brew's performance. These guys can play. Players will step up. Have a little faith and let Lu heal. Look at the 40 point beating the Bulls laid down on the much improved Cavs without the MVP playing. Look at how they handled their business fairly easily against the Bobcats without Rose, Noah, and Taj. Those are 3 huge absences. Huge is an understatement. Yet the game wasn't really close, despite what the score might tell you. The Bulls should not have an issue handling the crappy teams, even with core players sitting out. It's the more elite teams that might be tough, but even then, the Bulls are deep and consistent enough off the bench to hold their own. Best bench in the league, son. Second wind, son.
I expect the Bulls will heed my advice and be cautious in bringing Lu back. One can only assume they've learned their lesson with rushing players back too soon after what happened with Rip and then Derrick. Lessons they should not have had to learn the hard way. And please please please please keep players' minutes in check. I know it is ideal to win every close game, but we're in this for the long-haul. And you have to do what's best for the long-haul, even if it means take a couple L's here and there by keeping certain players' minutes limited regardless of the situation. And ESPECIALLY if the game is in hand. Come on, Thibs.
Nonetheless, like I said, I expect the Bulls to continue to play good basketball, as they are extremely deep at every position. That's assuming Derrick stays healthy (Rip too). Look at the recent blowouts Don't fret Bulls fans, the Bulls should continue their winning ways.
p.s. Can I just add that Brian Scalabrine has been playing heavy minutes the past two games and has played flawless basketball? I mean, literally, he doesn't make a mistake. Always makes the right basketball play. If you don't respect his game, you really should. Not just a sideshow.