Luol Deng

Wolves Notes: Wiggins, Rose, Saunders, Draft

The Timberwolves need to take drastic action on Andrew Wiggins to get the franchise back on the right track, according to Michael Rand and Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. Wiggins has regressed this year in the first season of a $147.7MM extension. His shooting percentage has dropped to a career-low 40.0% and he ranks last in the league in true shooting among 92 players who have logged at least 1,700 minutes.

Souhan believes Minnesota should do whatever it can to trade Wiggins this summer. Rand recommends taking away his starting spot, but admits that would only lower any trade value he still has. He adds that trading Wiggins now would mean selling him at a low point and likely taking back an expensive contract in return. Souhan contends that the Wolves are better without Wiggins, stating that the priority should be to get rid of him and accept whatever return they can get.

There’s more today out of Minnesota:

  • With Tom Thibodeau gone, the future of the “TimberBulls” – the ex-Chicago players he brought to Minnesota – is uncertain, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng will all be free agents this summer and may be able to get better deals elsewhere. Rose has revived his career with the Wolves, but Robson notes that his value is only high when his shot is falling and he comes with a constant injury risk. Rose should receive several mid-level offers in the $6-8MM range, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
  • The best chance for interim head coach Ryan Saunders to keep his job is for ownership to recognize how he has been adapting to a short-handed situation, notes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Keita Bates-Diop got his first career start in Saturday’s victory over the Wizards and Cameron Reynolds, who is on his second 10-day contract, played 20 minutes. Krawczynski points out that Saunders’ roster hasn’t been fully healthy since he took over for Thibodeau.
  • If the Wolves’ pick falls in the middle of the lottery, they could be the team to gamble on Bol Bol, Rand suggests in a separate story. The Oregon center was projected as a top-five pick before suffering an injury to his left foot.

Northwest Notes: Deng, Abrines, Hernangomez

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau defended the signing of forward Luol Deng, saying the veteran forward can help his team in a number of ways, Steve Aschburner of reports. “He’s only 33,” the Wolves coach said. “He takes great care of himself. He knows how to prepare for the season. For us, the fact that he can play [multiple spots] and he’s a veteran, it’s a long season, you like to have players like that. And he’s familiar with what we want to do.” Deng signed a one-year, $2.4MM contract with the Timberwolves after reaching a buyout agreement with the Lakers and clearing waivers. Thibodeau has taken criticism for being too partial to ex-Bulls players but he shrugs it off, as told Aschburner. “Whether a guy has played for me before or in a system where (GM) Scott (Layden) had been before or maybe where one of our assistants had been, if you feel like you know a player well and he fits into your system, then why not do it?,” Thibodeau said. “To me, I don’t really care what other people think. I care about what we think.”

We have more from around the Northwest Division:

  • Deng gave up $7.5MM over the next two seasons in his buyout with Lakers, including $3.6MM that was allocated to the upcoming season, salary cap expert Albert Nahmad tweets. He’ll recoup two-thirds of the latter giveback with his Wolves contract, meaning he’ll receive a total of $16.7MM for the season, Nahmad adds.
  • Alex Abrines is just entering his prime at 25 years old and the Thunder swingman could be in line for an expanded role, Nick Gallo of the team’s website writes. Abrines averaged 15.1 MPG in 75 regular-season appearances last season could see some crunch-time minutes this season, Gallo adds. “You can focus on certain points of your game. (I’ll) especially keep improving on defense and then just develop my offensive game,” Abrines said. “Not just being a shooter, trying to put the ball on the floor, playing some big roles and being able to create for my teammates.”
  • Nuggets forward Juan Hernangomez could enjoy a bounce-back season, Christopher Dempsey of the Nuggets’ website opines. Hernangomez appeared in just 25 games last season after seeing action in 62 games the previous campaign, in part due to a bout with mononucleosis, Dempsey notes. Hernangomez could play a bigger role off the bench this season because of his long-range shooting and hustle, Dempsey adds.

Luol Deng Signs With Wolves

3:23pm: The signing is official, the team’s PR department tweets.

1:37pm: Minnesota has reached a one-year, $2.4MM agreement with free agent forward Luol Deng, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Deng becomes the latest member of a group that has been dubbed the “Timber-Bulls,” made up of coach/executive Tom Thibodeau and former Chicago players Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. Deng reached his career peak playing for the Bulls under Thibodeau with a pair of All-Star appearances.

The low point of Deng’s career came last season with the Lakers, when he played 13 minutes on opening night and was benched for the rest of the year. Deng didn’t have any physical problems that kept him off the court, but he didn’t fit in with the youth movement launched by team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka.

Deng agreed to a buyout last week that affects the final two seasons of the four-year, $72MM contract he signed in 2016. To get his freedom from the Lakers, Deng agreed to give back $7.5MM of the $36.8MM remaining, with 48.9% coming from this year’s salary and the rest from the 2019/20 figure.

Before being sidelined last year, Deng was coming off a disappointing debut season with the Lakers, posting a 7.6/5.3/1.3 line in 56 games while shooting 39% from the field. His last good season came with Miami in 2015/16 when averaged 12.3 PPG and 6.0 PPG in 74 games.

Minnesota has just 12 guaranteed contracts, so finding space for Deng won’t be an issue. The Wolves had their full $3.382MM bi-annual exception available, but Deng agreed to sign for the veteran’s minimum. The agreement doesn’t come with any guarantee of playing time, Wojnarowski adds.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Wolves Expected To Sign Luol Deng This Week

Other teams have expressed interest in free agent forward Luol Deng, but he will likely sign with the Timberwolves this week, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Deng, who reached a buyout agreement with the Lakers on September 1, would rejoin his former coach, Tom Thibodeau, in Minnesota, along with several ex-Bulls teammates. The Wolves already have Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, who all played with Deng in Chicago.

Deng met with Thibodeau on Sunday to discuss the possibility of a reunion. He had his best seasons with the Bulls, making a pair of All-Star appearances in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

The 33-year-old received one of the richest contracts of the 2016 offseason, signing with the Lakers for $72MM over four years. However, he had a mediocre first season in L.A., averaging 7.6 PPG in 56 games, then fell completely out of favor last year with just 13 minutes of playing time, all on opening night.

The Wolves have used most of their mid-level exception, but still have the full $3.382MM bi-annual exception if they want to offer Deng more than the veteran’s minimum. With just 12 guaranteed contracts, Minnesota has room on its roster for a couple of additions.

Luol Deng, Tom Thibodeau To Meet Today

After Luol Deng and the Lakers came to an agreement over a buyout, the expectation was that Deng’s former coach Tom Thibodeau, now head coach and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, would come calling about adding Deng to the team.

[RELATED: Timberwolves launch pursuit of Luol Deng]

Things appear to be picking up on that front, as Darren Wolfson of Eyewitness News is reporting (via Twitter) that Deng and Thibodeau are indeed meeting today. After signing Derrick Rose last season and reuniting with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson during the 2017 offseason, Thibodeau has shown interest in bringing several former Bulls to the Timberwolves, especially if they can help the team on the defensive end.

Having signed a four-year, $72MM contract with the Lakers in the 2016 offseason, Deng appeared in just 57 games for the team over the past two seasons. He was shut down and kept on the bench for the remainder of the 2017/18 season after playing in the Lakers’ opener, a decision that reflected the team’s focus on its young players.

Deng, now 33 years old, was considered a strong defender when playing under Thibodeau with the Bulls. After struggling with his shot during the initial stages of his career, he developed into a reliable shooter, establishing himself as a strong 3-and-D wing in his prime years, during which he made two All-Star teams. It remains to be seen how much Deng can provide in either area at this point in his career, but Thibodeau appears interested in adding a veteran presence to the locker room that is familiar with his coaching style and defensive execution.

The Timberwolves continue to seek help on defense, as they finished 22nd on that end of the floor last season. Coming off the team’s first playoff appearance since 2004, Thibodeau is looking to improve on the defensive end in order to secure another spot in the playoffs.

So far this offseason, the Wolves have added Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop through the draft and two forwards in Anthony Tolliver and James Nunnally through free agency, in addition to re-signing Rose.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Nader, Schroder, Millsap

The Timberwolves have hosted a handful of free agents for a workout this week, with Marcus Georges-Hunt, Rashad Vaughn, and John Jenkins among the latest players to earn a look from Minnesota, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link). Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 (Twitter link) also adds Eric Moreland to the list of players auditioned by the Wolves.

Nick Young, Arron Afflalo and Corey Brewer worked out for the Timberwolves too, but according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, a number of agents believe the Wolves simply plan to sign Luol Deng, making them reluctant to send their players for a workout with the team. Minnesota reportedly launched its pursuit of Deng this week.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Following his trade from the Celtics this summer, Thunder forward Abdel Nader is looking forward to his new opportunity with the team, relays Nick Gallo of “It’s great,” Nader said. “I met a lot of the younger guys mostly, and even Russ, PG, Raymond (Felton). Everybody has been great. It’s a great group of guys. High character guys. I’m just really excited to be able to start playing with this team and build chemistry on the court as well as off the court.”
  • Dennis Schroder, who was also traded to the Thunder this summer, discussed his upcoming season, the difficulties he faced growing up in Germany and the advice he received from Dirk Nowitzki in a separate piece written by Nick Gallo. Schroder will provide depth off the bench behind All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook this season.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap is set to start the season injury-free after wrist surgery forced him to miss 44 games last year, as detailed by Chris Dempsey of Millsap will be relied upon to anchor Denver’s defense and stretch the club’s offense.

Timberwolves Launch Pursuit Of Luol Deng

12:35pm: Deng will meet with the Timberwolves within the next week as the two sides discuss a possible deal, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic.

12:22pm: With Luol Deng officially a free agent, the Timberwolves have launched their pursuit of the veteran forward, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). While Stein doesn’t offer any specific details, it’s probably safe to assume the Wolves have at least been in touch with Deng and/or his representatives.

Minnesota’s pursuit of Deng comes as no surprise, with a report earlier this week indicating that Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau had interest in both Deng and Joakim Noah, another release candidate. Of course, both players were Bulls during Thibodeau’s time in Chicago and would be reunited with former teammates like Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson if they were to join the Wolves.

The Timberwolves, who project to have a couple regular season roster spots up for grabs, have used most of their mid-level exception, but still have their full $3.382MM bi-annual exception available. However, it’s not clear if Deng will command more than the veteran’s minimum, given his infrequent and ineffective minutes over the last two seasons.

[RELATED: Six Possible Landing Spots For Luol Deng]

Deng, 33, appeared in just one game during the 2017/18 campaign for the Lakers, who opted to focus on developing their young players. In his first year in Los Angeles in 2016/17, the veteran had a more regular role, averaging 26.5 minutes per contest in 56 games. He had his worst season as a pro though, posting just 7.6 PPG and 5.3 RPG with a .387/.309/.730 shooting line.

Considering he was willing to give up $7.3MM in his buyout agreement with the Lakers, Deng appears confident that he’ll catch on with another NBA team for the 2018/19 season. It remains to be seen if Minnesota will be that team or if a handful of contenders will compete for his services.

Western Notes: Deng, Hill, Mavs, Capela

The Lakers and Luol Deng agreed to a buyout earlier this week, which will allow Los Angeles the ability to offer a top free agent a max contract next offseason. Adrian Wojnarowski reports (via Twitter) that the final figure on what Deng agreed to give up in the agreement came out to $7.3MM, slightly less than what was previously reported.

The Lakers are projected to have approximately $38MM in cap space next offseason, enough to be a major player in the market. While we wait to see if the team makes any other moves, let’s check out some notes from their rivals in the Western Conference:

  • The Suns are not interested in George Hill, Ashish Mathur of Amico Hoops reports. Phoenix traded away Brandon Knight over the weekend and has made inquiries on a few veteran options.
  • The Mavericks lost Doug McDermott in free agency, but Ryan Broekhoff, who signed a multiyear, minimum-salary deal with Dallas, may be a suitable replacement for the former first-round pick, Eddie Sefko of Sports Day writes. The Mavericks need all the shooters they can get, Sefko adds, so Broekhoff may find himself getting some playing time as the season goes along.
  • The Rockets and Clint Capela took some time to arrive at their five-year, $80MM+ deal but many of the team’s prominent members never doubted that the big man would return, as they tell Kelly Iko of The Athletic.  “Oh, we’re not worried about stuff like that,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said of Capela possible slipping away. When James Harden was asked if he was concerned about Capela leaving, he replied “Nah.”

Western Rumors: Rozier, Williams, Durant, Rockets

The Celtics’ Terry Rozier and the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie are two of the logical trade targets for the Suns in their search for a point guard, according to Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. Rozier is a solid two-way player coming off a career year but the Suns would likely have to offer a package that included an unprotected first-rounder to catch Boston’s attention. A trade for Dinwiddie would be more plausible and he’d be a good fit with Phoenix considering his size, perimeter shooting and pick-and-roll prowess, Urbina continues. The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, the Cavaliers’ George Hill and the Hornets’ Kemba Walker are some of the other names Urbina throws out as potential targets. The Suns are searching for a starting point guard after trading away Brandon Knight to the Rockets last week.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Pelicans signed Troy Williams, Kenrich Williams and Garlon Green to partially-guaranteed contracts in the hope of finding one reliable small forward, Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate notes. That trio will compete for a roster spot, though the potential addition of swingman Tyrone Wallacesigned to an offer sheet on Monday — could change that. “They just told me they’re bringing some guys in and having them go head-on to see who wins a spot,” Kenrich Williams told Kushner.
  • By buying out Luol Deng‘s contract and using the stretch provision, the Lakers gave themselves a chance to offer Kevin Durant a max salary in free agency, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders examines. The Lakers now project to have $38.2MM in cap space, which would be just enough to afford Durant, Pincus continues. If they can’t land Durant, they’ll certainly have enough to bring in another All-Star level talent. Other high-level potential free agents, including Kawhi Leonard, Klay ThompsonDeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Walker and Kyrie Irving, could command a first-year salary of $33MM, leaving the Lakers with another $5MM to spend in other ways, Pincus adds.
  • The Rockets took a frugal approach this summer and it could cost them a title, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post opines. They traded away Ryan Anderson and allowed two key wing players to walk in free agency. In turn, they signed three players on veteran’s minimum deals and adding a couple of bench players in the Anderson trade, Bontemps notes. So while Houston execs had said they were unconcerned about the luxury tax, their actions showed they wanted to save some money, Bontemps adds.

Six Possible Landing Spots For Luol Deng

After two years in Los Angeles, Luol Deng finalized a buyout agreement with the Lakers over the weekend and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. While he’ll still receive most of the money left on his deal with L.A., Deng will be free to sign with a new team.

A two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2013, Deng is no longer the dynamic, game-changing player he was in his prime. However, he’s just 33 years old and showed during the NBA Africa game this summer that he still has something left in the tank. The Lakers may have chosen not to play Deng at all after last year’s season opener, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of contributing to an NBA team in 2018/19.

One reason Deng was willing to accept a buyout from the Lakers was his desire to get back on the court for a new club, so it will be interesting to see how he balances that appetite for regular playing time with an interest in playing for a potential contender. It’s possible there are some teams that could offer both.

As we wait to see what Deng’s future holds, here are several teams that could make sense for the veteran forward:

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves: At least one report has already linked Deng to the Timberwolves, which comes as no surprise, given the presence of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. Deng’s old coach in Chicago has brought in a handful of former Bulls, including Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Derrick Rose, and would surely find room on the roster for Deng if he’s interested in signing with the Wolves. It doesn’t hurt that Minnesota still has a couple regular season roster spots available.
  2. Houston Rockets: Deng was never an elite three-point shooter, so he’s not quite an ideal three-and-D wing for Houston’s system, particularly as he enters his mid-30s. Nonetheless, the veteran may appeal to a Rockets team that’s in the tax and in need of one more wing — a minimum-salary deal for Deng would be more affordable and less risky than addressing that need in a trade.
  3. Golden State Warriors: Having entered the offseason expecting to fortify their depth on the wing, the Warriors instead spent their taxpayer mid-level exception on DeMarcus Cousins. The Dubs’ offseason work will likely be done once they re-sign restricted free agent Patrick McCaw, but if they can’t find common ground with McCaw, Deng could be an interesting alternative. Current Warriors assistant Ron Adams spent a number of seasons on the Bulls’ staff coaching Deng.
  4. Toronto Raptors: There’s another coaching connection to Deng in Toronto, where former Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin has been hired as Nick Nurse‘s lead assistant. The Raptors have no shortage of depth at small forward, so they might not be able to guarantee Deng many minutes, but if the club plans to part ways with someone like Norman Powell or C.J. Miles to reduce its tax bill, there may be an opening here.
  5. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were named last month as one of the teams that inquired about Kent Bazemore‘s availability, a signal that they’re still in the market for help on the wing. Although there have been no reports suggesting that interest would extend to someone like Deng, it’s not a stretch to imagine him as the sort of player new head coach Mike Budenholzer would appreciate.
  6. Charlotte Hornets: A lottery team last year, the Hornets probably have more modest expectations in 2018/19 than the rest of the clubs on this list. They also have plenty of options at forward already, with guys like Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doing many of the things Deng does. Still, they’re worth mentioning because it was their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, who originally signed Deng to that huge four-year contract with the Lakers. Even though that deal didn’t work out, Kupchak may be willing to roll the dice again at a fraction of that price.

While I view the teams listed above as the best fits for Deng, there are several more possible landing spots for him around the NBA, such as the Pelicans, Spurs, Pacers, and Heat, among others. With training camps set to get underway in about three weeks, we’ll see whether he’s on an NBA roster by then.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.