Parting Ways with Winners
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 7:26PM
Spencer Lazar

For any Chicago basketball fan, today is a sad day. After 10 years as the Bulls' starting small forward, Luol Deng, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the expiring contract of Andrew Bynum, and a package of Draft picks.

For those who do not know me, I grew up in Chicago in the womb of the Michael Jordan era winning 6 Championships through my teenage years. Basketball was a religion in my family, and old Chicago Stadium and the United Center were like Church or Synagogue. I remember where I was for many of the teams big wins over that time frame.

Since then, the road has been rocky for my team to say the least - from star athletes getting into career-ending motorcycle accidents to hyped high school prospects failing to reach their potentials to two years of fluke injuries to our MVP. Over that time horizon, however, there has been one steady source of leadership, energy, defense, scoring, and grit. And that has been our all-star, Luol Deng. "Lu" (as he is called by his devotees) was the kind of guy you never want to see in another team's jersey. Over his career, he was not only consistently a 18 point and 7 rebound guy, he was a tenacious defensive player. Whenever the Bulls would have to face a Kobe, Lebron, or Durant, Lu would be our show-stopper. And he played with incredible heart - averaging more than 40 minutes per game on the court (always close to, if not leading the league). He outlived multiple coaches, and helped lead the team to the Conference Finals. Had Derrick Rose been healthy, the current team would have been a Championship contender. People talk about getting "A's for effort" but Lu deserved an A+.

So, if Lu was such a winner, why trade the guy? Today the Chicago Bulls made a management decision that we see all the time in the venture business with many of our best companies. In short, the needs of the organization are bigger than any one individual - no matter how talented. With Derrick Rose out again and Lu moving into a contract year (where he should receive close to top dollar), the Bulls understood that they have to think about building the foundation for a successful organization for the next 10 years. While management has stood by their franchise player in Derrick Rose, they know that premium young talent will be key to the organization's longterm championship potential.

In world class technology companies, similar staff crossroads happen as well. World-class engineers do not always make for world-class managers. Sales teams accustomed to selling $10k SaaS licenses over the phone are not always the people that will close your multimillion dollar enterprise deal.  They accountant that you hire to do your books, is not likely to scale to be your CFO.

These transitions are often tough for both companies and individuals. You may work with one another to try to find new roles and responsibilities. But often times, even key early leaders must move on. There are now countless stories of epic public departures for such individuals from even companies they've founded.

My own wish at companies and sports teams alike is that we do what the Chicago Bulls have done and do the best to make the right human capital decisons for the present and future needs of the company (as hard and sometimes emotional as those decisons are). But my hope is also that we do so honorably. We should celebrate past contributions, and recognize that we would not be where we are today without them.

When I am fortunate enough to take one of my own kids to see the Bulls run in Chicago some day, I hope that when we look up, we see a #9 hanging from the rafters.

Thank you, Lu. And good luck.



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