CHICAGO -- As he explained why they traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson apologized to Deng for the way the organization handled the forward's illness during last season's playoffs.
Initially, coach Tom Thibodeau said the flu kept Deng out of Games 6 and 7 of the Bulls' first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But eventually it was revealed that Deng had to undergo a spinal tap and was very sick. The All-Star forward took to Twitter and said he "suffered the worst headache I've ever experienced and been the weakest I've ever felt." He later said he lost 15 pounds during his ordeal which also kept him out of their second-round series against the Miami Heat.
"You learn a lot from situations," Paxson said Tuesday. "We did not handle that as well as we could have and should have. I guess we didn't understand the gravity of it in that moment from his perspective. And that's on us. But over the summer we talked to both Lu and (agent) Herb (Rudoy). We apologized. That's something we dropped the ball on and hopefully learn from, but in terms of injuries and things like that over Lu's career, I think we've been really supportive of how he's gone about things."
Paxson pointed to the Bulls' handling of an injury early in Deng's career when he tore ligaments in his right wrist in 2004 as evidence of their commitment to what's best for the player.
"When he tore the ligament in his wrist early on his career he went to a doctor in New York that he was very comfortable with because he knew the family and things like that," Paxson said. "And we allowed that to go on because that's what Lu wanted. So I don't think over the years in terms of injuries there's ever been anything that's been an issue. We've always tried to keep in mind the players, what they want, how they want to be treated. So I think our record is fine there."
Deng also dealt with a torn ligament in his left wrist during the 2011-12 season, but decided to play through it rather than miss a good portion of the season. After playing for Team Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, he eventually decided that he did not need surgery.
The Bulls face Deng and the Cavaliers on Jan. 22 in Cleveland.