CHICAGO -- Taj Gibson got the news at 3 a.m. in a phone call from his brother. But he thought it was nothing but a bad dream.
Luol Deng traded? No way.
"I didn't believe it," he said Tuesday after the first morning shootaround of the post-Deng era. "'That's just talk. I'll wait 'til I go to the locker room.' And then I go to the locker room and everybody's just sad-faced, worse than me. My immediate reaction was, it sucks."
The news of Deng's trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the throwaway contract of Andrew Bynum, some draft picks and some crucial financial flexibility came down late Monday night, the coldest such evening many Chicagoans have ever experienced.
Cold news travels fast.
Now get ready for some more cold-shooting nights for a Bulls team that came into the season with championship dreams and finds itself rooting for better draft picks and another full recovery for Derrick Rose.
The reality of the situation was clear. Deng, just 28 years old, is going to be a free agent and rejected the Bulls' contract extension offers that weren't offensive but under market value. Given everything that Deng has been through here, good and bad, it's not a shock he wanted to test the market. With Rose injured again and a championship run out of the question, the Bulls had to make a business decision.
The Bulls, the actual players, knew this. But it was still tough to swallow. Joakim Noah, a close friend of Deng's, refused to talk to the media. Carlos Boozer and Gibson tried to parrot the party line of "It's rare for a player to spend their whole career with one team," but they were obviously upset.
When the media were allowed on the floor of the United Center following the morning shootaround, the only sounds you heard were the squeaking of sneakers.
"Quite frankly, everybody is down," Boozer said. "I don't know how else to put it. We lost one of our best players. Not only that, one of our brothers, you know what I mean? With Lu, it's real personal. I know it's business for the organization, but it's not business for us."
Even coach Tom Thibodeau, a bastion of media discipline, was clearly angry the Bulls traded his best healthy player, his 6-foot-9 security blanket.
"I had a chance to voice my opinion," Thibodeau said. "Their job is to make financial decisions, to make player personnel decisions and things of that nature. Their job is to do that. My job is to coach the guys that are here."
Asked if his opinion differed from the final decision, Thibodeau said, "We discussed it. I'm going to leave it at that."
John Paxson, the team's vice president for basketball operations, said he wouldn't expect Thibodeau or his coaching staff to be supportive of the move because it makes the team weaker. But it was something the front office felt had to be done for the future of this team.
A future without Deng still seems hard to believe given how much the organization has changed for the better since he arrived in 2004.
A versatile but not dominating wing player, Deng has been almost traded seemingly 100 times over his decade with the Bulls, so it's easy to understand Gibson's apprehension to the surprising news.