8:00 PM ET, January 7, 2014
United Center, Chicago, IL
Joakim Noah added 14 points and 16 rebounds, helping the Bulls to their sixth win in eight games. D.J. Augustin and Jimmy Butler each scored 13. Tony Snell added 12 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers during an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 13.
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Chicago sent Deng to Cleveland in a deal that was announced early Tuesday morning after the two-time All-Star recently turned down a proposed contract extension, a move that hurts in the short term but gives the Bulls flexibility to add to their roster down the road. It also could also help knock them into the lottery, although that's far from a sure thing given the weak state of the Eastern Conference.
Either way, they weren't conceding anything on Tuesday.
"We lost a really great teammate, a really great player last night/this morning," Butler said. "I'm glad we got the win."
Goran Dragic scored 21 for Phoenix, but the Suns simply couldn't get into gear after winning 11 of their previous 14. Their 87 points were one off their season low, and they matched one with 12 assists.
Tops in the NBA in fast-break points, Phoenix managed just 10 against defensive-minded Chicago. The Suns played without guard Eric Bledsoe, who missed his third consecutive game with a sprained right knee, but the Bulls were hardly operating at full strength.
Besides dealing Deng, they were without Carlos Boozer. He missed his second straight game because of a sore right knee, leaving Chicago with just nine players available.
The Bulls were leading by five early in the fourth when Snell hit back-to-back 3s. Noah then scored on a layup to make it 78-65, and Chicago hung on after it got tight again late in the game.
"It doesn't matter if they have five people or 12 people," the Suns' Channing Frye said. "They're going to come out here and play as hard as they can. They have really good players. Guys that want to prove themselves."
It was a difficult day for both teams, with the Suns' departure from Phoenix delayed to Tuesday because of the subzero temperatures in Chicago and the Bulls trading away one of their best players.
Chicago acquired three draft picks from Cleveland along with Andrew Bynum, who was promptly waived in a move that took Chicago off the hook for the remaining $6 million on his two-year, $24 million deal.
But trading Deng was yet another big blow for a team that expected to challenge the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury in November dashed those hopes, and Deng is gone now, too.
"We can accept our circumstances as they are, or we can do all we can to change them and turn them into something positive," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That's one of the things I've admired about our team -- they've accepted every challenge."
They're facing another one after trading Deng. Snell referred to him as a "big brother," and Butler has repeatedly mentioned how much he learned from him.
"He told me he's going to miss me, and Lu's never told me anything nice since I've been here," Butler said, grinning.
Along with Bynum, Cleveland also sent the Bulls a first-round pick, two second-rounders, and gave Chicago the right to swap first-round choices in 2015 if the Cavs are not in the lottery. ... Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson apologized to Deng for the way the organization publicly handled his illness during last year's playoffs. The Bulls said at the time he was out with flu-like symptoms. An angry Deng posted on Twitter from a hospital that he had a more serious condition that required a spinal tap to rule out meningitis. "We did not handle that as well as we could have and should have," Paxson said. "We spoke to Lu. I guess we didn't understand the gravity in that moment, and that's on us. Over the summer we talked to both Lu and Herb (Rudoy, his agent). We apologized. That's something that we dropped the ball on." ... Leandro Barbosa arrived in Chicago and was expected to sign a 10-day contract with the Suns. Barbosa spent his first seven years with Phoenix but has not played in the NBA since he suffered a season-ending knee injury playing for Boston on Feb. 11, 2013.
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 7: Miles Plumlee #22 of the Phoenix Suns (right) joins his teammates in the pre-game huddle...(Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images)
Around The Association
MVP: On their first night without franchise paragon Luol Deng, the Bulls rallied behind an emotionally charged Joakim Noah, who finished with 14 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. He buoyed Chicago's passing all night, as they finished with 26 assists on 36 field goals.
Defining moment: With Phoenix trailing Chicago by five points in the fourth quarter, Tony Snell nailed two 3-pointers in a row to put Chicago up by double-digits. The Suns would attempt to rally but they never recovered.
X factor: Noah stole the show, but Taj Gibson, who started in the place of the injured Carlos Boozer, was Chicago's most consistent scorer with 19 points and 10 rebounds. As a beneficiary of Noah's passing, he set the tone down low.
Next 5 Games
In addition to holding their own selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Bulls obtained a 2014 top-12 protected pick from the Kings in last night's Luol Deng trade (the Cavaliers owned the Kings pick from a prior deal). The likelihood of Chicago receiving that pick in 2014, however, isn't very high as Sacramento currently holds the 4th-worst record in the league. Perhaps more likely - the Bulls could receive the Bobcats 2014 first-round selection stemming from a deal which involved Chicago sending Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte back in 2010. That pick is only top-10 protected and Charlotte is currently in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.[+]
Bulls Potential 1st-Round Picks - 2014 NBA Draft
Trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland is going to save Chicago a significant amount of money in 2 forms --- the Bulls will not have to pay Deng the remainder of his $14.3M salary this season and it takes them under the dreaded luxury tax line. But the Bulls still have a move or two to make in order to free up enough money to have some flexibility in free agency this upcoming offseason. As it stands, they have $64.1M in guaranteed contracts on the books for the 2014-15 season, which is slightly over the projected salary cap line of $62.9M. That next move could be using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer this offseason. He's set to make $16.8M in the final season of his contract in 2014-15 and by using the clause the Bulls could reduce the amount on their books from $64.1M to $47.3M. Chicago would still have to pay Boozer a significant portion of that $16.8M (amount varies based on what his next contract would be), but ultimately a large portion of Chicago's savings this season could be spent next season on the ramifications of using the amnesty clause on Boozer.[+]
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