Deng: Bulls were on way to title before D-Rose injuries


It's a question that keeps every Bulls fan up at night.

What if Derrick Rose never got hurt?

Luol Deng, who shared Bulls threads with Rose for five-and-a-half seasons -- the organization's best since the dynasty -- has a pretty clear-cut answer.

"If the injury didn't take place, we were on our way (to a championship)," Deng told NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast. "If you look at every team and every organization that wins it, it takes a while for you guys to get there and then you break that ice. And I think with Thibs (head coach Tom Thibodeau), he had the right personnel and the right players that year."

"That year" likely means the 2011-12 season, Rose's first after becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2010-11. Though he struggled with injury for some of that lockout-shortened campaign, the Bulls, who had fallen in five games to the Miami Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, surged to the Eastern Conference's best regular-season record.

But late in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, a jump-stop changed history forever. Rose tore his left ACL, missed all of the 2012-13 season, then suffered a torn right meniscus 10 games into his return in 2013-14, effectively derailing the Bulls' contention window.

"I think when the injury happened -- I'm not trying to be here and bash everyone -- but I think we moved too fast away from the whole process and kind of just let a lot of guys go," Deng said on the podcast. "A lot of guys that -- not necessarily myself, Joakim (Noah), Derrick or anyone else you can think of, I'm talking about a lot of the 'Bench Mob' for example, they should have stayed there. And I think it hurt us when we started seeing everybody leaving.

"And it really challenged us to rebound, but even with Thibs, I think it hurt Thibs a lot where he couldn't find individuals to fit the system that he's trying to do."

To this day, Deng calls Rose the most "explosive" player he's competed with or against. Though Rose has revived and reinvented his career in recent years, that rare quality was dampened by his lengthy list of injuries.

"I've seen guys that are athletic, but Derrick is the most explosive guy from (point) A to B that I've ever been around," Deng said. "I think it's what made it so hard to guard him, just that first step was always so explosive that whoever was guarding him was behind him. And I think that's what makes him so unique.

"You can be athletic in many different ways, but Derrick Rose's athleticism was so powerful, it's just different."

For more Bulls memories, and Deng detailing his work with the South Sudan Basketball Federation, check out the podcast.

Related: Why Luol Deng believes Thibodeau is 'misunderstood'

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