When he was a boy, the country of Luol Deng’s birth was desecrated by the Second Sudanese Civil War, a war that lasted 22 years and killed close to two million civilians because of starvation and drought and disease. Four million refugees sought life somewhere else. The death toll was the largest of any war since World War II. It was this climate in which Luol Deng’s father, a member of the Sudanese Parliament, knew he had to get his family out. He knew what the consequences were going to be if they stayed. And so the Dengs went to Egypt first. After political asylum was granted some 5 years later, the same kind of asylum President Donald Trump is preventing Deng’s fellow Sudanese countrymen from grabbing with both hands, the Dengs made a home in England.
Luol Deng played basketball in the United States from the time he was 14, his Sudanese war past well behind him. Of his high school class he wasn’t the most talked about national player, that would be LeBron James but Luol Deng was next. Luol Deng was a five star recruit.
Deng played at Duke for one year and played in the Final Four where he lost to the eventual champs the UConn Huskies. He left Duke leading all freshman in the conference (ACC) in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.
Scouts had this to say:
His game consists of post ups, midrange jumpers and pull up jumpers, the long ball and a boatload of intensity. His passing skills are great for a player his size and his ability to drive to the basket makes him an even more dangerous passer. An exceptional athlete who possesses great competitive and intellectual skills, Luol has now became a great defender. At this age Luol is not fully physically developed. He is truly a joy to watch. He is hardworking, unselfish and exceptional athlete. (nbadraft.net)
Unselfish is what Luol Deng is putting into practice 13 years after leaving Duke and embarking upon a professional career. The unselfish wait their turn. Deng waited in Chicago but Derrick Rose always got hurt. Deng waited in Miami but Chris Bosh was hurt. Now with the Lakers he is waiting once again.
In Monday night’s game, Deng was benched as the Lakers wanted to play their young guys a lot of minutes, particularly rookie Brandon Ingram. When you compare Ingram’s stats on the season to Deng’s, Ingram isn’t better but he is young, he is more versatile and he needs to play more to learn more. Ingram will be a future starter, once Deng is long retired from his NBA life.
This off season Deng had a choice to make. The Lakers threw a lot of cash at Deng, more than he could afford to turn down at the age of 31. This may be his last contract and it was a very generous deal for what Deng, who has played tough his entire career, can fairly earn in an open market economy. No one in the NBA was going to pay Deng $72 million. The history of the Lakers has always been to overpay and overvalue what they want. They overpaid Luke Walton, Kobe Bryant and now Luol Deng. It guarantees Deng will be in Los Angeles until 2020. There are no-opt outs. And worse, Deng’s skills have badly eroded. He is 31 going on 37.
Deng is playing the fewest minutes of his career, is making the fewest shots, is shooting a career low 39.0%, has an anemic three ball, 31.8%, rebounds sparingly, doesn’t move the ball. He has never averaged less than 10 points a game until this year. Three more years of this is nothing to look forward to.
When Deng was benched in favor of Brandon Ingram he took it in stride. Over the summer he was pitched on his role as a mentor as much as a player and so Deng knew what he was getting into, no playoffs probably for the rest of his career, and perhaps, the money makes up for it. But you have to remember the boy from the war torn country is Luol Deng too. A long time ago he was under the weight of murder and destruction. The playoffs take on a different texture. This truly is a game.
If Deng needed reminding all he had to do was listen to how his name was constantly coming up after the Donald Trump travel ban. Sudan, Deng’s home country, was one of the countries on the list. Technically, it prevented Deng from going out of the country for the All-Star break weekend but Deng has dual citizenship so he is fine. The ban though created a lot of stress for those from the Sudan trying to escape torture. They were stuck until a judge ordered a temporary stay of the executive order. The implication that being from the Sudan meant you were a terrorist grated on Deng.
“A lot of refugees go through a lot of things that they have no control of. To really see a light at the end of the tunnel and to go toward that light and then that light is turned off is very difficult and not just individually but for the family. I remember when I was a kid, as a refugee in Egypt, every day, there was always a hope that we’d get to leave tomorrow and we’d get to go somewhere. You never knew where but you just wanted somewhere where we could have an opportunity to make something out of it. That opportunity came 5 years later. I know what it feels like to wait.”
And so he is waiting. Not with life or death consequences this time. He has $18 million in change in his pocket for this season so no one feels sympathy for Deng. But in a way, something is over for him, as he watches on the sidelines 20 year old Brandon Ingram try to figure the NBA out. Luol Deng is waiting his turn once again as his NBA career enters its final phase.
photo via llananba