Luol Deng would rather not talk about the contract extension he isn’t getting from Bulls

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Luol Deng is a two-time All-Star who’s embedded himself as an important part of the identity of the Chicago Bulls.

Entering the final year of his contract, however, the team seems willing to let the season play out without securing him to a long-term extension.

Speaking at the team’s media day on Friday, Deng didn’t want to discuss the fact that he and the team are so far apart that negotiations on a new deal haven’t even bothered to get started.

From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“I’ll try not to be rude, but honestly, I would rather not talk about it,” Deng said. “I would rather play.”

Deng’s six-year, $71 million deal expires after this season. Herb Rudoy, Deng’s agent, said recently that Deng would “definitely explore free agency” after general manager Gar Forman informed him no extension would occur this offseason.

Sources said cursory discussions produced such a gulf that counteroffers weren’t exchanged.

“We know our potential is great, so I just have to focus on us as a team and how good we can be,” Deng said. “I think everything will take care of itself. I know it’s going to come up here and there — there is always individual stuff — but honestly, I just want to put all my attention into the team.”

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to believe it, saying “Luol will focus on playing,” while the team’s general manager, Gar Forman, said he isn’t worried about the lack of a contract extension interfering with Deng’s ability to contribute in the upcoming season.

“I don’t anticipate that,” Forman said. “Luol and I talked (Thursday). I think he’s in a great place both physically and mentally. I think he’s ready to help lead this team.”

Normally you worry about players in a contract year — Chris Bosh admitted recently that when he focused on his impending free agency in Toronto, it “messed him up.”

But it really shouldn’t matter in Deng’s case.

The focus in Chicago will be on Derrick Rose all season long, and next summer’s free agent deal won’t be Deng’s first payday — he’ll have totaled over $81 million in career earnings by the time his contract is up, making the prospect of potentially being forced to play elsewhere next season just slightly easier to swallow.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.