A season of upheaval and bad breaks for the Chicago Bulls continued on Jan. 6, when the team shipped all-star forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and picks. Bynum was waived the following day, saving the team more than $20 million and leading many to believe Chicago’s front office has all but given up on this season.
Veteran point guard Mike James was himself waived by Chicago in December. In this week’s column, he talks about the process of being waived and what’s next for Deng and the Bulls.
I’m in Houston right now, working with John Lucas every day. I’m talking to a few teams and just staying locked in. Whatever happens at this point, it’s out of my control, especially when another team is making a decision.
What happened in Chicago, well, if you’re not doing what they believe you’re supposed to be doing, obviously they’ll go get somebody else to do it. That’s how they felt. What else can you say? I mean, who would’ve thought that Luol would’ve got traded? But that’s the business of this game. You really don’t know where there’s loyalty because there’s never been loyalty. You have to understand that and as long as you approach it as a business, you’ll always be able to just take emotion out of it.
There are different ways a team lets you know you’ve been waived—just like if you’re on a job. They have someone that just comes in and has the authority to tell you whether or not to pack up your bags. Basically, they just let it be known that your services are no longer needed. That’s how it’s done in the NBA. Doesn’t matter who it is.
At the end of it, they’re the company and we’re the employees. So, if we don’t produce how they feel we’re supposed to be producing, then they have the ability to stay with us or move on.
People ask whether the Bulls are ready to pack it in for the year. It looks that way, but I don’t think Thibs can coach to lose. He’s going to give 100 percent every day, and he doesn’t have players on the team that play to lose. The organization may have one way of thinking, but I know the guys in the locker room have another way.
It can be tough, though. Luol and Coach Thibs had a relationship. Lou’s been there for almost 10 years and he’s been Thibs’s guy since Coach got to Chicago. He’s a leader. It’s not hard to build a relationship with a guy like Luol Deng. When you have someone like him—a good guy who’s capable of doing what he’s capable of doing on the basketball court—it just makes it that much easier to befriend him.
I guess the issue in Chicago was the price. If Cleveland offers him something in the ballpark of what he’s looking for, I think he’ll stay. He’ll be all right in Cleveland. Lou’s a winner. Plus, in this league, it’s never about what happened—it’s always about what’s next. You’re only as good as your last game, and you’ve got to keep setting landmarks for yourself because when your opportunity comes up, somebody else may be coming up in the background, ready to take it from you. You’ve got to take advantage of any situation that you’re given.
There’s been some talk about Anthony Bennett getting assigned to the D–League, but I heard that the Cavs might not want to do it because he was the No. 1 pick and it might make it look like they’d picked the wrong guy. Do you think a D-League assignment could be good for a guy in his situation? —Dave, Toronto
Sometimes these organizations pick players based on the wrong things. They may be really, really fast or they may jump really high, but teams never judge them based on their skill or talent—where they’re at now.
Some guys are just not ready for the NBA game. Sometimes they bite off more than they can chew, and it seems like Bennett may be in one of those situations. Let him go to the D-League and see if he’s able to dominate there. If he’s the No. 1 pick, then he should be better than almost every D-League basketball player. Let him prove himself on that level. If he can’t accomplish that, then Cleveland can basically say, “Well, we really failed in our pick.”