Luol Deng will always identify himself as a Chicago Bull. He was a gigantic Michael Jordan fan growing up in Africa. So when he had a chance to don the red and black, it was a genuine dream come true. His greatest mission in life was to become a star for this team and win it a championship. It almost came to fruition. Then everything fell apart.
Deng hasn’t opened up about what happened those years ago when his Bulls career ended up abruptly in winter of 2014. At last in an Instagram interview with sportscaster Carol Tshabalala, he had a chance to open up about his career. The retired veteran had no qualms about speaking from the heart either. He blames the end of his Bulls run entirely on former GM Gar Forman.
“I ended up being there for 10 years and when I got traded I remember I felt betrayed. The guy who traded me obviously ruined the team. I don’t mind saying that now. You know I would never speak about him as a person but just the decisions that he’s made because it changed the whole course of what we were trying to do.
When Derrick (Rose) got hurt, we really felt like we were going to win a championship. So when he broke up the team, you just feel hurt because we became so close as a team but we had a mission and that was to wait for Derrick to get healthy and go at it again. But he decided to just break up the team.”
Luol Deng wasn’t done. He had a story to tell about how he was traded
What hurt Deng the most was how casually Forman treated him during contract negotiations in 2013. He was a two-time All-Star by that point and felt he was worth around $12 million for 4-5 years. Head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently voiced his opinion in no uncertain terms that Forman had to give him his money. The GM refused to budge, demanding a team-friendly deal at $10 million per year for three years.
So as an act of defiance, Thibodeau ran the entire offense through Deng to start that season. He played his best basketball to date, which only drove his price up further. Backed into a corner, Forman traded him to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum, two 2nd round picks, and a future protected 1st round pick.
The Bulls got nothing of significance out of that trade. So they basically lost their second-best player at the time because Forman didn’t want to pay him an additional $2 million per year. Why? Most likely he was trying to save every penny possible for free agency in 2014 when guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony were available.
Of course everybody remembers how well that went. James went back to Cleveland. Bosh and Wade stayed in Miami. Anthony, their biggest fish, chose to stay with the New York Knicks. The Bulls settled for an aging Pau Gasol. That is the true pivot point when it became clear the team regressed and they only got worse as time went on.