Luol Deng

Bulls’ Carlik Jones Leads South Sudan To First-Ever Olympic Berth

South Sudan’s national team is once again making history. After qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the first World Cup berth in the team’s history, South Sudan will also represent Africa in the upcoming Olympics for the first time ever following a 101-78 victory over Angola on Saturday.

Per a release from the Olympics website, the 23-point victory meant South Sudan’s direct competition for an automatic Olympic spot, Egypt, needed to defeat New Zealand by 23 or more points. Egypt, however, fell 88-86 and thus, South Sudan is on to the Olympics.

It’s a massive victory for the world’s youngest country (2011) — the country’s basketball federation has been around for less than a decade, according to the Olympics release. As NBC Sports notes, South Sudan entered the World Cup ranked 62nd in the world but still managed to qualify for the 12-team Olympic tournament in Paris next year. With the win, South Sudan became the lowest-ranked team to qualify for an Olympic men’s tournament since 2004, per NBC.

The Bright Stars, South Sudan’s team name, were the lone African team (of five) to win three of five games.

Bulls guard Carlik Jones concluded a stellar World Cup run in Saturday’s victory, lighting up the stat sheet with 26 points and a record-tying 15 assists. Jones, the 2022/23 G League Player of the Year, averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 assists in five games and, according to the official FIBA World Cup Twitter (link), he’s the first player to register 10 or more assists in three separate games in a single tournament.

On Thursday, the 6’1″ guard was one rebound shy of the first triple-double in FIBA World Cup history in a win over the Philippines. Jones is under contract through 2025 with the Bulls, though both seasons of his contract are fully non-guaranteed.

Even though Jones is the only active NBA player on the roster, South Sudan has a bevy of connections to the league, starting with the president of the country’s basketball federation, 15-year NBA veteran Luol Deng.

When Deng took over in 2019, the Bright Stars were in a much different place.

Three years ago, when Luol Deng took over, became the president of the South Sudan basketball federation, we were starting in Nairobi, literally playing on concrete floor,” team captain Kuany Kuany said to NBC Sports. “I never thought that we would be here.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently detailed South Sudan’s ascent, detailing how Deng personally funded the program and sought after players who had South Sudanese heritage. Deng’s own family fled South Sudan for Britain when he was a child, per Windhorst, and all these years later, the team is led by refugees and the children of refugees from a country that was subject to a series of civil wars.

It’s an unbelievable story. It’s an underdog story that not just for the South Sudanese, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world,” Deng said, according to Windhorst. “It’s a feel good story that [a] majority of people can relate to. It’s such a unique achievement because it’s beyond basketball.

Deng tapped former NBA guard and current Rockets assistant Royal Ivey as head coach, and he led the team to an 11-1 record in the African qualifying tournament to reach the World Cup.

Jones’ record-tying performance in the win over Angola is just one of many impressive outings from members of the team. Forward Wenyen Gabriel, who played last season with the Lakers, put up a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double in the win. Former Sixers guard Marial Shayok scored 18 points while Nuni Omot, who spent last season’s training camp with the Knicks before playing in the G League, scored 17.

Additionally, 7’2″ 16-year-old Khaman Maluach – one of the top potential prospects in the 2025 NBA draft class, according to Windhorst – added five points and four rebounds.

NBA Denies Lakers’ Request To Clear Deng’s Salary From Cap

The NBA has denied the Lakers‘ request to remove Luol Deng‘s dead money from their salary cap, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). As a result, Deng’s $5MM cap hits will remain on the team’s books this season and in 2021/22.

The Lakers requested last month to have Deng’s salary remove from their cap. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to remove cap charges for a waived player who hasn’t played in the NBA for at least one year if an independent doctor determines that the player sustained a career-ending injury during his time with the team.

However, that was always going to be a difficult case for the Lakers to make. Deng announced his retirement in the fall of 2019 after being let go by L.A. a year earlier, but his 2018 buyout with the team was reported at the time as a cap-related move, with no career-ending injury mentioned.

The veteran forward subsequently signed with Minnesota and played 22 games for the Timberwolves during the ’18/19 season before retiring.

The Lakers likely recognized it was a long shot to have Deng’s salary excluded from their cap, but figured it was worth a try. The team is right up against a hard cap this season and could’ve benefited from an extra $5MM of flexibility in the summer of 2021 as well.

Lakers Submit Request To Remove Deng’s Salary From Cap

The Lakers have submitted a request to the NBA in an attempt to remove Luol Deng‘s remaining cap hits from their team salary for the next two seasons, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Deng agreed to a buyout with the Lakers before the start of the 2018/19 season. The team stretched his remaining salary across multiple seasons at that point and is still on the hook for cap charges worth $5MM apiece in 2020/21 and ’21/22.

If a player suffers a career-ending injury or illness, the NBA will typically permit his team to remove his remaining salary from its cap after he has been waived, though the player still receives that salary. Chris Bosh, Nikola Pekovic, Mirza Teletovic, Omer Asik, and Timofey Mozgov are some of the players whose cap hits have been removed from teams’ books in recent years due to career-ending ailments.

It’s not at all certain that the Lakers will receive any cap relief for Deng, however. Following his buyout in 2018, the veteran forward signed with Minnesota and played 22 games for the Timberwolves during the ’18/19 season before retiring last fall. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Deng didn’t suffer an injury during his Lakers stint that eventually ended his career, but it will be difficult to prove that, notes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (via Twitter).

If the Lakers’ request is granted, it would give the franchise some added flexibility during the next two offseasons for roster moves. An extra $5MM of wiggle room could make it more viable for the team to retain players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo while still using its mid-level exception, as Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report points out (via Twitter).

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Mini-Camp, Draft, Deng

Bulls executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is keeping his promise to evaluate head coach Jim Boylen and his staff before making a decision on their future, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. The Bulls have plenty of down time for Karnisovas to interact with Boylen and the other coaches. The team isn’t part of the restart in Orlando and is awaiting word on a possible mini-camp with the other seven non-invited teams.

Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley have been encouraging the staff to focus solely on coaching-related matters and avoid other distractions that arise, Johnson adds. They want management to be in charge of any other issues that involve the team.

Since joining the Bulls, Karnisovas has met frequently with Boylen to watch film, get his opinions on player development and discuss the draft and free agency. Although Boylen remains unpopular with Chicago’s fan base, Karnisovas has pledged not to let public opinion sway his decision.

There’s more from Chicago:

  • The Bulls would probably be well represented at a gathering of the eight teams not in Orlando, though all players may not participate, Johnson adds in the same piece. One of the most intriguing decisions would involve Lauri Markkanen, who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason and may not want to risk an injury with nothing at stake.
  • Point guard may again be a position of need as the new Bulls management team prepares for the draft, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Kris Dunn hasn’t developed into the play-maker the front office expected, and Coby White, last year’s top pick, seems better suited to play shooting guard. Cowley sees LaMelo Ball, Killian HayesTyrese Haliburton and Cole Anthony as the best point guards available.
  • In an interview with Carol Tshabalala, Luol Deng blames former GM Gar Forman for destroying the Bulls’ chances at winning a title. “The guy who traded me obviously ruined the team,” Deng said. “I don’t mind saying that now. I would never speak about him as a person, just the decisions he made.” Tom Thibodeau was irate that the front office opted to trade Deng rather than give him a contract extension, Deng adds.

And-Ones: 2020 Mock Drafts, Stauskas, Deng, CBA

Georgia freshman guard Anthony Edwards has topped a new mock 2020 NBA draft from Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo. Guard LaMelo Ball of Australia’s Illawarra Hawks and Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro round out Woo’s top three.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has also cooked up a new, post-trade deadline 2020 mock NBA draft. Though Vecenie notes that most NBA front offices believe this could be the weakest draft in several years, he notes that several players with high ceilings could be sleeper picks later in the draft.

Edwards (No. 1) and Ball (No. 3) make Vecenie’s top three as well, but sandwiched between them is James Wiseman. The 7’1″ freshman Memphis center played just three games for the Tigers before ultimately leaving the team to prepare for the draft after incurring a 12-game suspension.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA shooting guard Nik Stauskas has departed EuroLeague squad Baskonia following a season-ending knee surgery, according to Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia and Alessandro Maggi. The 26-year-old Stauskas averaged 9 points a night in Euroleague play this season. Drafted No. 8 by Sacramento out of Michigan in 2014, Stauskas also enjoyed NBA stints in Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Cleveland.
  • The recently retired Luol Deng, a two-time All-Star with the Bulls, has been named a global ambassador for the Basketball Africa League, per ESPN. “I look forward to following some of the top African club teams when the inaugural season gets underway next month and supporting the BAL in expanding its footprint around the world,” the Sudanese-born Deng said in a statement. Deng, a 6’9″ defensive-oriented forward, logged 16 seasons in the NBA.
  • The Chinese Basketball Association will restart play on April 1, after play was suspended due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. It remains unclear if the CBA will run later than usual or merely have a condensed season.

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Hutchison, Harrison, Rose, Deng

The 5-10 Bulls are off to a somewhat disappointing start to the 2019/20 season, but head coach Jim Boylen‘s standing within the franchise remains strong, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Asked about where things stand between him and team management, Boylen acknowledged that the club has been frustrated by its start and is seeking more consistency, but said the Bulls’ higher-ups have his back.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve never felt more supported than I am right now,” Boylen said. “From ownership, management, and [vice president of basketball operations] John [Paxson]. We talk every day and we communicate, and we’re in step. We’re in step in a lot of ways, and we’re also in step in our frustration where we would like to play better more consistently.”

Here’s more out of Chicago:

  • Chandler Hutchison, who had taken on an increased role in Otto Porter‘s absence, has an injury of his own. As Eric Woodyard of ESPN tweets, Hutchison missed Wednesday’s game due to sore shins and there’s no set timetable for his return, per Boylen.
  • Shaquille Harrison, the only player on the Bulls’ roster without a fully guaranteed salary for 2019/20, started in Hutchison’s place on Wednesday and is making a case to have his minimum-salary deal guaranteed. Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago has the story on Harrison’s impressive 15-point, 11-rebound outing vs. Detroit.
  • In an appearance on NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls Talk podcast, Derrick Rose looked back on his time in Chicago and speculated that if “load management” had been common at the time, it may have helped extend his tenure as a Bull (video link).
  • Luol Deng, who signed a one-day contract to retire as a Bull earlier this year, was celebrated by the team on Wednesday and explained why he wanted to return to Chicago to make his retirement official. “It’s what made sense,” Deng said, per Woodyard at “Chicago means a lot to me when you look back, just at my career as a basketball player coming here as a young man, 19, but it’s a lot of history here and I wanted it to end the right way. The best way to do it is with familiar faces and people that know me very well.”

Luol Deng Announces Retirement

Luol Deng will retire from the NBA after 15 seasons, according to a press release from the Bulls. Deng signed with the team today so he could announce his retirement with the organization where he had the most success. Chicago waived Perrion Callandret to create room for the signing.

“We’re very fortunate and humbled that Luol has chosen to retire as a Chicago Bull,” said President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf. “He was a role model on and off the court during his nine-plus years in Chicago, and he gave everything he had to help us win. I want to thank Luol for not only what he accomplished on the court for the team, but also for the leadership he demonstrated through his philanthropic efforts.”

Deng spent 10 years with the Bulls after being selected with the seventh pick in the 2004 draft. He also spent time with the Cavaliers, Heat, Lakers and Timberwolves, averaging 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 902 career games.

He remained productive in Cleveland and Miami, but his career hit a roadblock after signing a four-year, $72MM contract with the Lakers in 2016. He played just one game during the second season of that deal and was waived during the following offseason.

Deng ended his career last season in Minnesota, averaging 7.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 22 games.

Charania’s Latest: Nets, Heat, CP3, Noah, Clippers

Despite the fact that multiple Nets players are reportedly pushing for the team to sign Carmelo Anthony, Brooklyn appears very unlikely to do so at this point, league sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic.

According to Charania, the Nets are more likely to fill their 20-man offseason roster they’ve worked out in recent weeks, including perhaps veteran forward Lance Thomas and swingman C.J. Williams. Dante Cunningham and Luol Deng are among the other free agents who have emerged as viable targets for Brooklyn, Charania adds.

With Wilson Chandler facing a 25-game suspension, the Nets could theoretically move on from the former Nugget to open up a spot on their 15-man regular season roster, but they currently have no plans to do so. As Charania points out, keeping Chandler on the suspended list during his 25-game ban will allow the franchise to recoup some of his salary. Plus, team executives believe Chandler would be quickly scooped up by another team if he were released later in the season.

Here are a few more items of interest from Charania’s latest round-up:

  • The Heat still have some level of trade interest in Thunder point guard Chris Paul, according to Charania. Miami is expected to wait to see how the start of the season goes before seriously considering whether to renew its pursuit of CP3, who would reciprocate the Heat’s interest.
  • Free agent big man Joakim Noah intends to join the Clippers for workouts this week, sources tell Charania. Noah’s father first suggested earlier this month that his son would be working out for the Clippers.
  • Nuggets guard Malik Beasley, who is eligible for a rookie scale extension up until October 21, has hired Rich Paul and Lucas Newton of Klutch Sports for representation, says Charania.
  • Although DeMarcus Cousins is only a one-year contract and seems likely to miss the entire 2019/20 season due to his torn ACL, the Lakers aren’t ready to move on from him yet. The Lakers wants to integrate him into the club’s culture, according to Charania, who notes that Cousins is expected to be around the team during its mini-camp in Las Vegas this week.

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.