Luol Deng

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Luol Deng retiring by signing with Bulls

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Luol Deng will be remembered for being the subject of then-Hawks general manager Danny Ferry’s racist statement and signing an exorbitant contract with the Lakers.

It’s a shame.

Deng was a very good player on some strong Bulls teams. He’s returning to Chicago to say goodbye.

Bulls:

Deng’s prime was cut short by health issues. He played hard in big minutes with Chicago, including deep playoff runs, and was never the same after leaving there.

But he made an All-Rookie first team then had eight more good seasons with the Bulls. He made two All-Star games, providing steady defense and nice complementary offense. We only remember Deng as leaving something on the table because he entered the NBA as a teenager and it feels like someone still so young should have continued to thrive.

As he began to decline, Chicago traded him to the mess that was the post-LeBron James Cavaliers. Then, Deng left for the post-LeBron Heat. Deng had some good moments in Miami, but his body was continuing to break down.

The four-year, $72 million contract in Los Angeles followed. He just couldn’t play effectively anymore. That wasn’t his fault. Blame should fall onto Mitch Kupchak and his crumbling regime for signing Deng to that deal. The Lakers bought out and stretched Deng, who will collect paychecks from them through 2022.

He spent last season with the Timberwolves, barely playing. At 34, he’ll return to the Bulls for what’s surely an unguaranteed contract then waiver.

Deng played 15 years in the NBA. His prime last eight years and peaked at All-Star status. Don’t dwell on the woulda/coulda/shoulda. Appreciate what’s in front of you.

That’s a fulfilling career.

Trae Young first rookie with consecutive 35-point games since Allen Iverson (video)

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ATLANTA (AP) — Trae Young had 36 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in the Atlanta Hawks’ 131-123 in overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

Young, who scored 36 points against the Rockets on Monday, became the first rookie with consecutive 35-point games since Allen Iverson in 1997.

John Collins scored 18 points of his 34 points in the fourth quarter as Atlanta, which trailed by 13 points late in the third period, rallied to force the extra period.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 37 points and 17 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins had 21 points.

DeAndre Bembry scored six of his 16 points in overtime for Atlanta.

Vice Carter made a 3-pointer to open the overtime period. Back-to-back baskets from Bembry gave Atlanta a 125-118 lead.

Following a timeout, Towns had a jam and a 3-pointer – his season-high fifth of the game. Bembry, who had only 10 points through regulation, answered with his third basket of the extra period, giving the Hawks a 127-123 advantage.

Each team missed last-second shots in regulation.

After Young’s basket tied it at 118, Derrick Rose missed a short jumper for Minnesota. Atlanta called timeout with 0.5 seconds remaining. Young made a jumper off the inbounds pass from Carter, but a video review confirmed the shot came after the buzzer.

It was a damaging loss for Minnesota, which began the night three games behind eighth-place San Antonio in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Timberwolves took a big lead of 13 points at 94-81 late in the third and led 95-86 entering the fourth period. Atlanta pulled even at 102 and again at 114, but each time it couldn’t take the lead.

Young, the rookie who scored a career-high 36 points in a loss at Houston on Monday night, stayed hot with 20 first-half points. Young had help; every Atlanta starter had scored by the time the Hawks led 19-10.

Josh Okogie, the Timberwolves’ rookie from Georgia Tech, had 15 points in his return to Atlanta.

Timberwolves point guard Jeff Teague missed his second straight game with a sore left knee. Tyus Jones again filled in as the starter.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: F Luol Deng did not return after leaving with a sore left Achilles in the first half. … F Robert Covington was sent to G League Iowa as he moves closer to his return from a bone bruise on his right knee. He has missed 23 consecutive games since suffering the injury on Dec. 31. Covington is expected to practice only at Iowa while the Timberwolves are on the road. … F Cameron Reynolds was signed to a 10-day contract.

Hawks: Dewayne Dedmon had seven points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 3:06 remaining. … Kent Bazemore‘s frustration grew as he missed each of his 12 shots through three quarters. He complained when no foul was called on a miss late in the period and drew a technical foul. He missed two shots – a 3-pointer and a layup – on Atlanta’s next possession and didn’t attempt another shot.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: Continue three-game trip at Indiana on Thursday night.

Hawks: Host Chicago on Sunday.

Pelicans name Danny Ferry interim GM, still considering long-term options

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Much like when a team makes a young coach hire a proven veteran head coach as an assistant — a sign they want someone in place if things go sideways — so eyebrows around the NBA were raised a few years ago when the Pelicans hired former Hawks GM Danny Ferry to be a consultant to the New Orleans front office. It was like they were lining up a potential replacement.

Friday morning, the Pelicans fired Dell Demps as GM.

Now they have named Ferry as the interim GM the team announced.

Ferry will be in the mix long-term, but owner Gayle Benson wants a new structure in place in New Orleans. Demps reported to Micky Loomis, the NFL’s Saints executive, and in comments on the firing of Demps she said she wants to set up a more independent structure for the Pelicans.

“We will immediately begin the process of restructuring our basketball operations department,” Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson said in her statement. “This will include a comprehensive, but confidential, search aided by outside consultants to identify a new leader of our basketball operations, directly reporting to me…

“As difficult as these decisions are, my responsibility is to provide the leadership and resources necessary to deliver a winning team to our fans and community. I take that responsibility seriously and would like to assure our fans that I am prepared to provide any, and all, resources required to compete for championships. My expectations, and the expectations of our fans, are that this team will compete at a high level for the remainder of the season. While we still have many more critical decisions to make when this season comes to an end, I am focused on making sure we are properly positioned to succeed and that we are headed in the right direction.”

Ferry is in the big chair now and will be in the running for the main job. He reshaped the Hawks roster into a 60-win team without bottoming out and tanking, although the team could not sustain that level of play. He was let go in a messy situation where he relayed a racist scouting report comment about Luol Deng (he “had a little African in him”). Ferry may not have authored the remark but he didn’t edit it either and that understandably landed him in hot water. Add to that he was caught in the infighting of the Hawks’ ownership groups at the time (the team has since been sold) and Ferry was destined to lose his job.

Ferry is not the only big name being considered for the permanent gig, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Griffin is the biggest name on the board, and if Benson is looking for someone who wants the control and knows how to organize a basketball operations side top to bottom he would be a great choice. (Part of the reason he did not get the Knicks job was Griffin wanted that control and couldn’t get it.)

Mike Zarren has been one of the assistant GMs most mentioned as getting a promotion for some time. The interesting thing there is Zarren works for the Celtics and would suddenly be the guy in charge of where Anthony Davis gets traded. And the Celtics want Davis. That doesn’t make it a done deal — Zarren is smart and would ask for the world — but NBA front office work is a relationship business and if someone has a preexisting relationship with another GM deals are more likely to come together.

Rumor: Kyrie Irving interested in teaming up with LeBron James in Los Angeles

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How about this “Big Three” for the Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving.

That is a long, long, long way from coming together, but the dreams of Lakers fans are rarely grounded in reality. And there is some fuel for this one. Davis — through his agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (also LeBron’s agent) — is trying to force his way out of New Orleans and to Los Angeles. To the point of getting fined.

And according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Kyrie Irving would be good with joining those two in Los Angeles.

…a source close to the Celtics confirmed that Kyrie Irving is genuinely interested in reuniting with his former Cavaliers teammate. “That is for real,” the source said.

While Irving said publicly he would re-sign in Boston, the buzz around the league that he might not has grown throughout the season. The idea that he could join LeBron in Los Angeles, while seemingly farfetched, has had its own strange momentum.

The idea of a LeBron/Davis/Irving big three has been bounced around league circles as well.

Of course, there are a lot of complications here.

If (as expected) the Pelicans do not trade Davis by the Feb. 7 deadline and wait to see what Boston offers, things get complicated for the Lakers. Nearly every observer rates the Celtics’ package of players/picks better, and while Danny Ainge understands Irving may be restless, Ainge also knows if he lines up a trade for AD then Irving will stick around to play with him. That’s the plan (and he’s not worried about Davis’ “only in LA” threats). Ainge could have two of those Lakers’ big three in Celtics’ green.

Also, if the Celtics make a run to the NBA Finals with Irving as the team’s leader and star, is he going to leave? Davis or not?

Finally is a logistical issue: If the Pelicans decide to trade Davis to the Lakers at the deadline, even if the Lakers send out all their young stars and renounce others, Los Angeles will not have enough cap space to offer Irving a full max contract this summer (blame that Luol Deng stretch). It will be reasonably close, but is Irving willing to take a haircut to play with LeBron and Davis?

That’s a lot of things to get in the way of a new potential big three in Los Angeles. Don’t bet on it happening.

But Lakers fans (and maybe their front office) can dream.

Timberwolves in turmoil

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves won 47 games and ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, and their core group returns. Few teams can match the 1-2 star power of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson are strong complementary pieces, and Andrew Wiggins has the tools to excel.

But it feels like Minnesota was decimated by a meteorite this offseason.

Butler’s unsatisfied trade request casts a shadow over the upcoming season. It has shined a spotlight on the discord permeating through this organization in so many directions – Butler and Wiggins, Butler and Towns, Towns and Tom Thibodeau, Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor.

Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.

This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.

That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.

Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.

The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.

Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.

In that area, it might be too little, too late.

Offseason grade: D