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Luol Deng Has That Fire Back

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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Last season was a difficult season for forward Luol Deng.

Prior to the season even starting, the Los Angeles Lakers told Deng that he wouldn’t be playing due to the development of younger players.

It was a somewhat confusing situation and Deng, 32 when the season started, was in a weird predicament.

Clearly he could still play.

He was just two years removed from started 73 games for Miami, averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

But the Lakers, who knew they would need to develop players, signed Deng regardless and you can argue wasted a season and a half of Deng’s career.

Deng is a professional, though, and here we are. A new journey.

Deng signed with the Timberwolves earlier this month. The rest of the basketball world forgot about Deng, but Deng hasn’t forgot about basketball and hopes to prove that to Timberwolves fans this season.

In his time with the Lakers, he never missed a practice and did his best to stay in shape. Although, being in shape and being in game shape are two different things.

Deng wants you to know that he has plenty left to give and intends to show you on the court.

“You always as a basketball player, as a competitor, that’s where you speak most, on the court,” Deng said. “People will say whatever they want to say, people have the right to say whether I lost a step or not. They haven’t seen me play. I didn’t think I was in the right position to play the best that I could be or be myself. So it’s very easy to say I lost a step . . . And that’s fine.”

Deng reunites with coach Tom Thibodeau, along with Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. Deng and Thibs were in Chicago from 2010 to 2014. That marked the best stretch of Deng’s career. He made two All-Star games (the only two of his career) and was named to the 2011-12 All-Defensive Second Team.

For Deng, it’s refreshing to be in a place with familiar faces, but more importantly, confidence in him.

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Credit: 

David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

“After the last few years, I just want to be around people who believe in me and that made my decision a lot easier,” Deng said on signing with the Wolves.

So, what can we expect out of Deng?

Rookies Keita Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie have already said that Deng, along with Antony Tolliver, have helped them throughout camp so far.

“He’s a great leader,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been through a lot of things. As has Anthony. I think those two guys are really good additions to us.”

On the court, Deng admits that it’s tough to say exactly what he’ll look like after not playing a meaningful game in quite some time.

 “I think it’s very difficult to answer a lot of questions when you really haven’t played,” Deng said. “Most of the time I like my game to speak for itself, but I didn’t really get that chance to do so.”

Even if he gives the Wolves what he gave the Lakers in 2016-17 (7.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG), that would be welcomed on a team that struggled with depth last season. While the second team probably includes Tyus Jones, Okogie, Bates-Diop, Tolliver and Gorgui Dieng, it’s not hard to imagine Deng finding minutes in there, especially for the two rookies who will certainly have their ups and downs in the season, because well, that’s what rookies do.

“The main thing for me is ‘what can I do to make this team better?’ Whatever that is,” Deng said. “There’s an opportunity to take a step forward from last year. I really think the guys that are coming back had a taste in the playoffs last year and want more.”

Deng runs around practice, helping rookies. And it’s hard not to notice the smile on his face even though it’s the third practice in 24 hours.

 “I’m really happy. I’m happy just to be back playing,” Deng said. “ . . . It’s a different fire.”