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posted: 1/8/2014 7:47 PM

Deng lands in Cleveland, praises Thibodeau

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  • New Cleveland Cavaliers forward and former Bulls Luol Deng laughs as he meets reporters after practice at the NBA team's facility in Independence, Ohio Wednesday. Deng says he's ready to be the Cavs leader.

      New Cleveland Cavaliers forward and former Bulls Luol Deng laughs as he meets reporters after practice at the NBA team's facility in Independence, Ohio Wednesday. Deng says he's ready to be the Cavs leader.
    Associated Press


After his first practice with the Cleveland Cavaliers, former Bulls forward Luol Deng raved about the facility.

"It was like being a college kid walking in. You've got a food place and a chef there the whole time," Deng told reporters in Independence, Ohio. "You pick whatever you want, then you've got a TV and a hot tub, cold tub. I was caught up with that."

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Yeah, that would be the facility the Cavs built in a location convenient to LeBron James' Akron estate. But that's beside the point.

Deng is the new small forward in town now. On his first day with the Cavs, he made a deal with a new teammate to get jersey No. 9 and spent time reflecting on his nine-plus seasons with the Bulls, especially the past four with coach Tom Thibodeau.

"When Thibs came in and we had the best record in the league, to me that was the most excited I've been throughout my whole career," Deng said. "Basketball became fun again when Thibs came to the organization. We were winning, we played as a group, and I think that's what every basketball player wants.

"You want to be part of a group of guys who will go out there and play together and just want to win."

Will the Cavaliers follow that formula? They were expecting to challenge for the playoffs this season but currently own a 12-23 record, even after Tuesday's blowout win over Philadelphia. Deng is expected to make his Cavs debut Friday at Utah.

"I'm definitely OK with (being the team leader)," Deng said. "I'm not going to average 30. Each night, just try to get the guys excited and play as hard as we can. I think after awhile it becomes a habit."

Spoken like a true Thibodeau disciple. It sounds like Cleveland coach Mike Brown is all for Deng bringing those ideas to the Cavs' locker room.

"He adds to the culture of what we're trying to do here," Brown said. "A culture of creating winning habits, while also understanding that winning means we've got to play defense."

Deng said the toughest part about being traded was having his mom in town for a visit. She couldn't understand why it happened.

"She was asking me, 'Are you not playing well? What's going on?'" Deng said. "It's really been weird. It's my first time dealing with it. I've been with the Bulls for so long, I wish I would have stayed there, but things don't work out that way.

"It's not like I've stopped playing basketball. I've been traded from one great organization to another."

Deng had a chance to stay in Chicago but turned down the Bulls' extension offers, rumored to be $10 million per season. The Bulls figured Deng was going to leave as a free agent this summer, anyway, so they made the move and got three draft picks -- plus a $20 million savings in salary and luxury tax -- in return.

"I wish we would have handled the whole contract situation better," he said. "But at the end of the day, either way, I think the decision was going to have to be made. I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision for them, either."

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