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NBAGround >> Deng in position to add to already-lengthy resume


5/17/11 6:29 PM
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The Destroyer88
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 www.nba.com/2011/news/features/steve_aschburner/05/17/chicago-luol-deng/index.html

He is, arguably, the most interesting man in the NBA.

With possible challenges from Phoenix's Steve Nash (Renaissance man) and Milwaukee's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (a real-life prince in Cameroon) -- and with Dikembe Mutombo and Charles Oakley tucked away in the ranks of the retired -- Chicago forward Luol Deng can muster a pretty persuasive case for that unofficial title.

Covering LeBron James for as many as seven nights in the blood contest known as the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, and getting the best of that matchup in Game 1 Sunday, is merely the latest impressive line on Deng's fascinating professional and personal resume. By comparison, he makes that bearded beer-pitch man look like some office drone who spends his weekend nights at Applebee's:

• A member of the Dinka tribe, Deng was born in the Republic of Sudan as one of nine children. He remains devoted to his homeland through his Luol Deng Foundation, which focuses on charitable work in Chicago, in London and back home. He is especially active in the Lost Boys of Sudan efforts to help.

• His father, Aldo, served in the Sudanese parliament and was the country's Minister of Transportation before sending his family to Cairo, Egypt, to avoid Sudan's civil war.

• While in Egypt, Deng received basketball instruction from former NBA center Manute Bol, another Dinka tribesman.

• When Deng was 8 years old, his father was granted political asylum in England. That explains his participation in international competition with the Great Britain national team, with an eye on the London Games in 2012.

• He came to New Jersey at age 14, sent with his older sister Arek. They enrolled at Blair Academy, a prep school in Blairstown, which promptly became a serious basketball threat. Arek went on to play at Delaware, their brother Ajou played at Fairfield and Connecticut and Deng spent the 2003-04 season at Duke.

He averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Blue Devils and became the seventh pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. (Phoenix traded his rights to Chicago for Jackson Vroman and a 2005 first-round pick that became Nate Robinson.)

• Deng averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds as a rookie, then boosted those numbers in each of the next two seasons. He attracted enough attention to hear his name bandied about in trade rumors involving Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. Finally, most seriously, he was dangled by the Bulls in autumn 2007 in a proposed deal for Lakers' star Kobe Bryant.

The plan got scuttled after Bryant threatened to veto any trade that had Deng criss-crossing back to the Lakers. Considering how seldom Bryant speaks up on behalf of actual teammates -- go ask Gasol -- it was high praise that he would be so adamant about a prospective one.

• Deng -- the player so vital to the Bulls in 2010-11 and indispensable in Game 1 Sunday night -- heard boos in Chicago after signing a six-year, $71 million contract extension in July 2008. He had turned down an offer of $50 million the previous offseason and, though he won that gamble, he lost the war with some Chicago sports fans.

Of course, he had gotten booed prior to the contract by those who expected more (his stats drooped in 2007-08) or felt that Deng was fragile and soft. The 6-foot-9 forward had missed 21 games as a rookie, then 19 in 2007-08 with back pain and a bum left Achilles tendon. In 2008-09, he was limited to 49 games and missed Chicago's brief playoff appearance due to assorted leg injuries, including a right tibia stress fracture.

• Deng was a mere afterthought when the Bulls, with money to spend, went after Cleveland's LeBron James last summer. Chicago guard Derrick Rose's lukewarm involvement in that wooing -- driven by his presumed reluctance to lobby for the replacement of a teammate he liked and respected -- might or might not have influenced James' thinking. But it bonded Deng and Rose like never before.

• On the actual night James turned down the Bulls and four other teams, announcing that he would sign with the Miami Heat in that hamhanded, televised fiasco, "The Decision," Deng was off on a humanitarian mission in northern Kenya. James' people had signage for and bottles of Vitamin Water strategically placed in camera range that night as part of an endorsement deal. Said Deng of the tent city where there was no TV, no electricity: "You had to walk for miles for clean water."

• Deng was considered expendable again by many Bulls fans when the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors flared up and flamed on for more than half of this season. The idea of Anthony serving as point man for Chicago's complex and tireless team-defensive tactics on James, in the Eastern Conference finals, in so incongruous as to be laughable.

• In January, Deng was cheered by fellow relocated Sudanese at a makeshift polling station on the city's North Side when he voted on a historic independence referendum for that country. At one point, he draped the Southern Sudan flag around him. The effort was successful and in July, the southern state will officially secede and Deng's proud father Aldo will be there.

"It's OK for people to take basketball seriously," Deng told a New Jersey reporter after practice Monday. "It's not something to resent or lecture them about, 'Oh, you take all this for granted.' ... But I know how good I have it. Sometimes people struggle, even here in Chicago, and it's no more than bad luck."

• Oh yeah, we almost forgot: Deng is President Obama's favorite NBA player.

More important at this moment, Deng is one of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's favorite players. Rose is the team's and the league's Most Valuable Player, but Deng might be Chicago's pivotal guy for his willing work on both ends as a complementary player. He has been locked in playoff matchups so far with Indiana's Danny Granger, Atlanta's Joe Johnson and Josh Smith and now James, whom he pestered last spring in the Bulls-Cavaliers first-round series.

"Luol, you can count on him every night," Thibodeau said. "But Luol, it's not only his individual defense, it's his team defense. I think it's critical for us. So it's not only when he's guarding LeBron with the ball but when he's away from the ball, he fulfills his help responsibility so well. He's a big multiple-effort guy. He can help, recover, challenge his shot and get back and rebound."


5/17/11 6:29 PM
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The Destroyer88
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From the day he was hired as head coach in June, Thibodeau courted Deng as the team's "most underrated" player. Deng's days of being left to stand in the corners, waiting for the ball for two seasons under coach Vinny Del Negro, were over. He constantly is in motion now, his length and wingspan have been a perfect fit for Thibodeau's defensive preachings and Deng even remade himself as a 3-point threat. In 2010-11, he upped his total attempts from six previous seasons (327) by getting up 333; ditto for his makes, 101 through six years but 115 this season for a respectable 34.5 percent.

And no one was on the floor more for the demanding, exacting coach. Deng averaged 39.1 minutes, fourth in the NBA, and was the only one in the top six who played in all 82 games. He is benefiting in the playoffs from off days between games. But when Bulls GM Gar Forman, at 7:30 on the morning after Game 3 in Atlanta, went down to the hotel workout room for some cardio, there was Deng, "stretching, taking care of himself."

Watch him at halftime, when the other players are back on the court for a few warm-up shots. Deng is sprawled on the floor, a Bulls trainer bending, stretching and treating his legs the way folks treat wishbones on Thanksgiving.

An adult at age 26 in ways few NBA players are, Deng shrugs off the workload the same way he shrugs off his defensive assignment. Recently, he admitted that he might look back this offseason and be disappointed that he didn't make the coaches' all-defense teams. Yet when TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager asked him Sunday what was working so well against James, Deng said: "Nothing. He just missed shots he normally makes. He's a great player."

James finished Game 1 with 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and two steals. Deng had 21 points on 7-of-15, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals. It was far from a one-on-one showdown but the Bulls' small forward reminded people that, y'know, Rose did have some help in this MVP season of his.

Said Thibodeau: "I always had a lot of respect for him as a player because I felt he could do a lot of damage, particularly if you weren't paying close attention to him. But then after being around him and seeing how hard he works and his leadership ability, I didn't realize what a great leader he is."

And that's fine, the coach who famously has no life outside of basketball having a man-crush on a player whose life away from the game is as layered, as serious and as interesting as anyone's in the NBA.

5/17/11 6:30 PM
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The Destroyer88
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5/17/11 6:35 PM
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Floppy Divac
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yawn
5/17/11 6:42 PM
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The Destroyer88
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Floppy Divac - yawn

 Yes, that's what I do when I watch a Kings game. ;)
5/17/11 7:57 PM
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WrestlingSucks
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Deng is no Scottie Pippen, which is fine but Chicago fans are starting to get a little too quick with that comparison.
5/17/11 10:40 PM
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HeatleMania12
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 Deng is far closer to Scottie than Rose is to Jordan
5/17/11 11:22 PM
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supersaiyan
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they still gonna get their butts whipped by the MAVERICKS
5/18/11 12:27 AM
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The Destroyer88
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WrestlingSucks - Deng is no Scottie Pippen, which is fine but Chicago fans are starting to get a little too quick with that comparison.

 I think what hurts Deng's chances of ever being as good as Scottie is that he has no Jordan. Scottie was nothing before or after being with Jordan. You put Deng with someone like Kobe a few years ago and THAT would have been a great Jordan/Pippen comparison. It's a shame the Kobe to Chicago deal never worked out all because of Deng.
5/18/11 5:01 PM
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WrestlingSucks
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Pippen was a really, really good player. I hate the revisionist history that Jordan could have won titles on any team he played on.

Pippen was amazing. His CAREER average in every statistic category are better than Deng's in any year he's played. Jordan didn't make Pippen a better rebounder.

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