Trades don't usually take shape overnight. The Bulls obviously discussed sending Luol Deng to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum and three draft picks for several days.
Management tried and failed to negotiate a contract extension, then Deng sat out practice on Friday, so he knew something was up.
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But when his teammates awoke to the news that Deng was on his way to the Cavaliers, it came as a shock. The Bulls were set to be at the United Center for shootaround on Tuesday morning, so most were not plugged in when the news broke around midnight.
"We all were very surprised," Carlos Boozer said. "Obviously we know it was a move to give the team some flexibility. On a personal level, we love Luol. His presence has already been missed this morning."
Boozer said coach Tom Thibodeau sat down and spoke about the situation before shootaround began.
"It was tough. Quite frankly, everybody's down. I don't know how else to put it," Boozer said. "Everybody's in a tough spot. We're short a man right now, just lost one of our best players. Not even that, one of our brothers."
Boozer said he went through a similar experience in Utah when the Jazz traded Ronnie Brewer at midseason.
"I know it's business for the organization," he said. "It's not business for us, it's personal for us. We miss him. Obviously, we wish him well. Lu's a great player. He'll continue to have a great career."
Taj Gibson said his brother woke him up with the news in the middle of the night. It wasn't a nightmare, just the reality of life in the NBA. The Bulls knew things would never be quite the same once Derrick Rose was lost for the season with another knee injury.
"It's very rare in this business that any player stays with one team for so long," Gibson said. "It was just so tough because you went through so many battles with that guy. He was one of the first people, if not the first person, that I met when I got to the Bulls locker room. It's going to be tough, but you keep pushing on."
Thibodeau followed his own advice when assessing the Deng trade: Stay focused on the task at hand and be ready to navigate whatever obstacles are thrown in your path.
"I love our team. We have great guys," Thibodeau said. "We have to move on. We can't look backward, and that's the way we're going to approach it. Lu did a great job. He'll be a great addition for Cleveland. This is part of the NBA. You've just got to deal with it.
"I've dealt with players being traded before, whether it's Patrick Ewing or somebody like that. Lu certainly was a big part of our team and did a lot of great things for us. But my job is to coach the guys that are here, and that's all I'm going to think about."
Unlike the players, Thibodeau did get a chance to speak with Deng before the trade became official. Barring an injury, Deng will see the Bulls again when Chicago travels to play the Cavaliers on Jan. 22.
"He was fine," Thibodeau said. "He has a great approach to a lot of things. He's very tough-minded. He's not only a great player, he's a great person. Nothing rattles Lu."
Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson addressed the media Tuesday as general manager Gar Forman attended the D-League showcase in Reno, Nev. Paxson orchestrated the trade with Phoenix that brought the Bulls an extra draft pick in 2004, which they used to take Deng.
In nine-plus seasons, Deng became one of the greatest players in franchise history. He ranks fourth on the all-time scoring list behind Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Bob Love after passing Jerry Sloan four games ago.
Deng ranks fifth on the Bulls' list of most games played with 637. Ironically, he was eight games away from passing Paxson for fourth place on that list.
This season, Deng was the Bulls' top scorer, averaging a career-high 19.0 points per game to go with 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He recently missed nine games with a sore left Achilles.
"Lu's gone above and beyond what we could have ever imagined," Paxson said. "He's represented himself and the Chicago Bulls organization in a wonderful way, and we appreciate that and respect that. So I want to convey from our organization to Lu publicly what he's meant to us and how difficult a decision to move him has been."
Paxson acknowledged that the injury to Rose caused management to shift gears from trying to reach the Finals to considering the long-term window of how to make the team better.
"We know the challenge for us over the years has been to continue to find playmakers to go with Derrick," Paxson said. "Let's face it, the league is a superstar league in terms of guys on the top of your roster. The teams that have a couple great players are the teams that usually win.
"But there's also a team-building component that I think is underrated and undervalued. This deal gives us some flexibility to build at a level we feel we need to build, where we can get a deep team ... and the type of people we want. That's our challenge. That's our goal."
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