INDEPENDENCE (AP) — Luol Deng was surprised. His mom was shaken.
After learning he had been traded from the Chicago Bulls to Cleveland, Deng said the most difficult aspect of knowing he would no longer be playing for the Bulls after nine seasons wasn’t packing his bags or saying goodbye to teammates.
The hardest part was explaining to his mom, Martha, that he had to move.
“She couldn’t understand why,” he said. “She feels like I’m a nice guy, I get along with everybody, so I had to explain to her. She was asking me, ‘Are you not playing well? What’s going on?’ That was the hardest part.”
It’s gotten a little easier.
Deng began a new chapter in his NBA career on Wednesday when he practiced with the Cavaliers for the first time. Cleveland acquired the two-time All-Star small forward Tuesday from the Bulls in exchange for center Andrew Bynum’s salary cap-friendly contract and future draft picks.
Deng said he didn’t see the trade coming. The 28-year-old knew a deal was always possible and an end to his run with the Bulls was inevitable, but it caught him off guard.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “Not a lot of guys can say they’ve been with one organization for too long. I was definitely surprised. You hear stuff, you hear rumors, but some of it’s true and some of it’s not. When it happened, I couldn’t believe it. It took a while to hit me. But it’s not like I’m stopping from playing basketball. I’ve been traded from one great organization to another one.”
The Cavs are counting on Deng to make a difference on and off the floor. A dependable scorer, solid defender and leader, Deng brings a winning attitude to a young Cleveland team undergoing growing pains.
“He’s a veteran who’s still in his prime,” said coach Mike Brown. “He adds to the culture of what we’re trying to do here. He’s definitely a two-way player that can add an amount of professionalism, a maturity, and winning ingredients to any ball club.”
Brown said Deng, who averages 19 points and 6.9 rebounds, will likely start Friday night when the Cavs open a five-game road trip in Utah. The trip will help Deng’s transition.
“It’s great for him to get to know us, soon and better, and for us to get to know him,” Brown said. “So you couldn’t ask for it to happen at a better time.”
During his first interview with Cleveland media members, Deng flashed his wide smile and charmed reporters while recounting the whirlwind 36 hours since the trade was completed.
Deng recently turned down a contract extension from the Bulls, whose season shifted from contention to rebuilding after star point guard Derrick Rose was injured. Several of his former teammates expressed disappointment in seeing him leave, and Deng said it was tough knowing he won’t play with them again.
“It’s basketball at the end of the day, and it’s my job,” he said. “But the hardest thing is those are friends. It’s really hard when you wake up the next day and know that your friend is gone and he’s going to be competing against you. I think they understand the business part of it. It’s a contract thing, and my time has come up. That’s the direction the organization chose to go.”
Deng is in the final year of his contract worth $14 million this season and is eligible for free agency this summer. He’s willing to discuss a long-term contract with the Cavs, who are just 12-23 and currently out of playoff position.
“I’m definitely open to talking about it,” he said. “I have no problem with that.”
Deng said he felt like a “college kid” and was amazed as he toured Cleveland’s lavish training complex for the first time.
“You’ve got a food place and a chef there the whole time,” he said. “You pick whatever you want, then you’ve got a TV and a hot tub, cold tub. I was caught up with that.”
When it came time to practice, Deng had to wear No. 8, but afterward he convinced Cavs rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova to give him No. 9, which he has worn his whole career.
“We sat in the locker room for a little while looking at each other. It was almost like we were about to break up,” Deng said with a laugh. “It was really hard, but he’s such a nice guy. He gave up the number. I’m definitely going to have to pay him back for that.”
Deng explained No. 9 has special meaning for him.
“I’m one of nine kids,” he said. “I always wore nine for my mother because she gave birth nine times. It was always my payback to her.”
Now, there’s a trade she can appreciate.
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