Luol Deng anxious to soak in Chicago return

Ira Winderman
Contact ReporterSouth Florida Sun Sentinel
Luol Deng anxious about first game back to United Center as an opponent

He has faced the Chicago Bulls as a Cleveland Cavalier in Cleveland. And he has faced the Bulls as a member of the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But Sunday at the United Center will be different.

Luol Deng will be going back home. For the first time in an opposing uniform.

"Obviously, I was there since I just turned 19. I left at 28, so I was there a long time. So there's definitely going to be emotion," the Heat forward said while looking ahead to Sunday's 1 p.m. nationally televised game against the Bulls. "I think it's more of seeing the people that really work at the United Center, more than anything. I've seen my teammates; I've seen the coaching staff.

"The guys who used to park the cars, the security guards who where there since Day 1, the lady who takes care of the family room, that's going to be the emotional part."

Perhaps not as emotional as the game's first timeout. That's when the Bulls plan to honor Deng with a video tribute.

"I think that would be a special moment," he said. "Just to be there. It's a lot of fans, especially courtside, that I've seen forever. So that would be emotional."

This is not LeBron James having his video moment at AmericanAirlines Arena on Christmas after four years with the Heat. This is one of just six players who have spent parts of 10 seasons with the Bulls, joining Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan, Kirk Hinrich and Tom Boerwinkle. This is the player who ranks fourth on the Bulls all-time scoring list behind only Jordan, Pippen and Bob Love, and fourth in minutes, behind Jordan, Pippen and Sloan.

"Every athlete," Deng said, "you wish you could play in one organization forever. At the end of the day, it's really business. I enjoyed my time there. I really understand, as a GM, it's your job to do what's best for the team. And if the GM really thought that's the best move for the team, then I, as a player, I've got to just deal with it.

"But, definitely, I wish it would have ended at a better term. Not that it's really this bad taste between us, but I just wish I had more time."

Decision time came last January, when the Bulls offered an ultimatum: take an extension on our terms or be dealt. On Jan. 7, 2014, Deng was dealt to the Cavaliers essentially in a salary dump, with the Bulls taking back the non-guaranteed contract of soon-to-be-released center Andrew Bynum.

"I didn't have time to really make the decision," Deng said.  "I really had like three days."

Then came this past summer's free agency, conversations with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, but ultimately the decision to sign with the Heat.

"I felt like this was a better situation for me," he said, with the Bulls using their salary-cap space on Pau Gasol, who has emerged as an All-Star starter. "I'm close with Thibs and he would have liked me to go back, but I didn't really talk much to Gar [Forman, the Bulls' general manager]."

It was during Deng's tenure that the Bulls began the climb from the post-Jordan era to a consistent playoff presence.

"Going there, honestly I never thought I would be there for 10 years," he said. "But, at the same time, I never thought that I would be anywhere else. It's just one of those things, you're just locked in. And every year was just so much of, 'How much can I get better?'

"And you go through different coaches and eventually we turned it around. We had great seasons with Scott Skiles. And then had great seasons with Thibs. Those I'll always remember."

But he also has moved on.

"I mean, you're competitive, but you also know it's your friends," he said. "You want them to do well and succeed. But at the same time, you're in a position, they're watching you, also, and you want to succeed. I mean, I wish 'em all the best, because I know how hard they work. But at the same time, I don't watch their games, to be honest with you. I really just try to focus on us. I see the standings in the East, and that's all."

iwinderman@tribpub.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat or facebook.com/ira.winderman.

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