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.
“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.