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Report: Luol Deng expected to sign with Minnesota this week

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It started out as a half-joke around the league, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Tom Thibodeau went after Luol Deng?” Chicago Wolves jokes ensued. Then pretty quickly it became clear this was no joke.

For weeks now, every source around the league has expected Luol Deng to sign with the Timberwolves sooner rather than later. Marc Stein of the New York Times confirmed this.

Just to be clear, that gives Minnesota Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng from Thibodeau’s old Bulls team.

The question is how much Deng can contribute. He was benched in Los Angeles during season one of the Lakers’ youth movement last season, but still some veterans got run under Luke Walton while Deng sat the final 81 games of the season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and finished with the lowest point total of his career (7.6 per game), shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, a PER of 10.1, and he was below a replacement level player. Was that season’s decline an aberration, or has Deng (like other former Tom Thibodeau players) worn down earlier in their career than expected?

There’s not a ton of minutes for Deng to get. The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench beyond that.

But the deal looks like it will soon be done, and then we’ll see what Deng still has in the tank.

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.

Markelle Fultz’s new free throw stroke is… different.

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Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz is in his own head with his free throw stroke now. (And, likely much more than that, but we’ll stick with the free throws for now.)

Earlier this week Fultz double-clutched a free throw attempt and his stroke was a mess.

Each game that stroke seems to change and the latest one is… different. Very different.

As Vecenie notes, this is actually an improvement in terms of the release, but that doesn’t make it good. Fultz was 1-of-2 in his one trip to the stripe (as of this writing).

Still, I have never seen someone pass the ball back-and-forth between their hands as they go into their shooting motion like that. Very, very odd.