MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves have signed free agent forward Luol Deng, the latest former Chicago Bulls player to reunite with coach Tom Thibodeau.
Deng’s one-year deal is for the minimum salary of $2.4 million for a player with his experience, according to a person with knowledge of the contract who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team does not release terms.
Deng will join former Bulls teammates Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose in Minnesota. They all played for Thibodeau with Chicago, too.
Just two seasons into a four-year, $72 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Deng was waived on Sept. 1 in a buyout move that allowed them to spread the final season of that albatross deal over a three-year span of the salary cap limit.
The contract was a remnant of the administration of former Lakers basketball boss Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, the duo that was dismissed seven months after handing out hefty deals to Deng and center Timofey Mozgov that didn’t pan out.
Deng appeared in 56 games during his first season with the Lakers, but he played in just one game in 2017-18 with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in charge of the front office. He appeared in the opener before dropping out of the rotation and eventually spending long stretches away from the team, an awkward fit for coach Luke Walton’s fast-paced system. Deng requested a buyout or a trade, but the Lakers found no takers for the 33-year-old and didn’t want to absorb the salary-cap constraint of waiving him during the season.
Deng debuted with the Bulls as a 19-year-old in 2004, when the native of South Sudan was the seventh overall pick in the draft out of Duke. Deng played 10 seasons for Chicago, including 3½ for Thibodeau, but Minnesota will be his fifth team in six years.
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Deng has a career average of 15.0 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting from field-goal range, to go with 6.1 rebounds per game. He was picked for two All-Star games during his time with the Bulls and has participated in the postseason seven times, once with the Miami Heat.
With the Wolves, who ended a 13-year absence from the playoffs last spring, Deng will likely be more of a spare player for locker room support than a significant contributor on a team with a glut of forwards. Behind Andrew Wiggins and Gibson are Anthony Tolliver and rookie Keita Bates-Diop.
Though the assembly of “Timber-Bulls” by Thibodeau has become an internet meme, all of the ex-Chicago veterans have performed well since they arrived in Minnesota. Butler was an All-Star in his first season, and Gibson gave the starting lineup a major upgrade with his toughness, rebounding and scoring while playing in all 82 games. Even Rose, the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player award winner who hasn’t been the same since then, provided valuable minutes off the bench.