Luol Deng has been backed to keep the Chicago Bulls in title contention this season and build on his star role for Great Britain at the Olympic Games.

The Londoner is expected to become the focal point of the Bulls when the new campaign tips off after team-mate Derrick Rose, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, was ruled out for several months with an ACL injury.

It places huge pressure on the shoulders of Deng, who made his first appearance in the NBA’s All Star Game earlier this year after steadily rising into the ranks of the basketball elite.

Playing in the Olympics, fighting off a wrist injury that had the Bulls pressuring him (unsuccessfully) to rest and recuperate,  the South Sudan-born Londoner insists he is ready.

And he revealed that assists have come from former Chicago stars Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.

“I talk a lot more now with Scottie, the last four or five years,” he stated.. “And he’s helped me a lot. It started with talking to him about my three-pointers, because Scottie didn’t shoot many when he came in. It started with just finding spots where I could be consistent at, so I started with the corners. And as I got comfortable, it started expanding.

“Every now and then I have a question. I was actually talking to Kukoc today and I was just picking his brain what he did shooting-wise, routine wise. It’s great to have those guys around. They’ve done it and they were the best at it so it’s good to get info from them.”

It won’t be easy without Rose, who might not be back until the spring at the earlier.

But Magic Johnson, who won five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers but who is now an analyst for ESPN, expects the Briton to rise to the challenge.

“I think he can step up,” he said.

“It’s going to be a lot to ask of him but I think he can do it. They’re used to playing without Derrick Rose so they know what they have to do. He knows that he probably has to be the leading scorer on the team if they’re going to be successful.

“But the one thing about Deng and the Bulls is that they hang their hat on defence. They’re going to be able to win games because of their defence. I love a guy who says ‘hey I’m going to take the best scorer on the team and I take pride in that.’ That’s what Luol brings to the table.”

Johnson says expansion must be by connection

Johnson believes British clubs can make their mark by breaking down the barriers between players and fans.

Now a successful businessman, he has witnessed the growth of his sport worldwide but he says it’s vital they find a fresh message.

“Just take the players into the community,” says Johnson. “Take them into the school and community groups. Take the dancers and mascots. Because if you can make it a family environment, you have a chance to make it successful.

“Making the community a part of the organisation is very important. Have outreach programmes. Invite the community to practice. Let the guys go to Chambers of Commerce in their uniform. Let them put on clinics for the kids. Outreach is very important especially when you’re trying to break out basketball.”

Main pic: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

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