This comes as absolutely no surprise:
Sources: Free agent Luol Deng will meet with the Minnesota Timberwolves within the next week as sides discuss potential deal.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 5, 2018
As much as death and taxes, Tom Thibodeau and the Wolves going after Luol Deng once he cleared waivers after his buyout from the Los Angeles Lakers was inevitable. Thibs, of course, has made a habit of pursuing his former Bulls players, and Deng was one of his favorites. When he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Wolves expressed interest, but the Lakers struck with an overwhelming offer the Wolves had no chance of matching.
His stay with the Lakers didn’t work out to put it mildly, and now he’s back on the market. If the Wolves manage to complete a deal with him, it will give them four players—Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Derrick Rose along with Deng, who played for Thibs in Chicago.
Let’s start with the negatives: Deng hasn’t played anything resembling good basketball since the 2015-16 season, his second with the Miami Heat. His game, particularly offensively, completely collapsed over 56 games in his first season with the Lakers, and he didn’t play at all last season (one 13 minute appearance as the Lakers simply put him on the shelf.)
He’s 33 years old, and it’s entirely unclear what, if anything he has left. Furthermore, the Wolves have young players who need development time. In particular, fans are excited about rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop, both of whom could see potential minutes go away with the acquisition of Deng.
I don’t know anything about the ins-and-outs of the relationships, but adding a fourth former Bull to the cabal could play either way. It could either strengthen the “Timberbulls” contingent and harden the already solid divide, or perhaps Deng emerges as a bridge over these currently turbulent waters.
(Aside: If they can just get Joakim Noah somehow, they can run a whole former-Bulls lineup out there. How much would that make us nuts? It would make me very nuts.)
On the positive side, Deng was playing as well as ever until he left Miami, and really just had the one poor season. He more or less took last year off, which might either have helped him rejuvenate or atrophied him, there’s no telling. But at his best, he was a very useful player—a two-way wing with strong rebounding skills and an ability to get to the rim and the free throw line. He also can play small-ball four, as he often did in his final season in Miami, a role for which he might be better suited at this point in his career.
Pursuing Deng might in part be a signal that Thibs wants to play small more, something I am hoping to see and the team needs to do. (Aside: what are the chances that Anthony Tolliver is the backup center at some point this season?)
Also, the Wolves are trying to win, and there is little reason to believe that rookies will be able to help them this season. Those rooks still need time to develop, but there’s never anything wrong with adding talent, as long as it’s used correctly (a real question under Thibodeau.)
Overall, for a minimum deal, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a veteran who knows what he’s doing. It’s not exactly outside the box thinking, but then we know that’s not what the Wolves do. We’ve discussed how that probably limits their ceiling, but in this case, it’s probably no harm done.
Finally, the jokes. Hmm....
If they get Deng, the Wolves will have a great shot at the 2013 NBA championship!
What ya got?