I'm shocked I'm doing this but it's actually warranted and deserved. Follow me...
I have been one of Luol Deng's biggest detractors. Why? Well it's kinda complicated. First off it started in the '04 draft where the Bulls had a chance to draft a SF that many scouts were comparing to Scottie Pippen. I was enamored at the thought of us drafting an athletic SF to go with our improving PG (Hinrich), our growing young front-court (Chandler and Curry) and our newly drafted SG (Gordon). I wanted Andre Iguodala in the worst way. Instead we drafted a winner from Duke with a lot of skills that I seen play throughout the NCAA tournament. So even though I wanted Iggy, I was willing to give this Deng guy a shot.
For the first 2 years I was excited. Despite him not shooting the 3, I saw a guy that could hit the outside jumper with consistency and had a nice drive to the lane. I had high expectations for Deng and by the end of 2006 I had come to the conclusion that we had the next Paul Pierce on our hands. But many issues started to arise, his lack of athleticism, his plateauing skill set as a player, his frailty, and last but not least his contract.
I'll start off by saying that I was and still am a Ben Gordon fan. Flaws and all, he was a player that I watched win many games for this team in the "Baby Bulls" era. In 2006 I watched our young PG get a 5 year 47 million dollar contract, one that I felt was way too much for a player of his skill set. I knew then that the standard was set and that one of our other young core players were about to get his feelings and pockets hurt. Two years later I watched Luol Deng receive a 71 million dollar guaranteed deal after turning down a previous one before the season. Paid on expectations more than results, I disagreed with such a rich contract for a player with his skill set. So watching BG not offered a similar contract given that he used the same tactics as Deng in negotiations was upsetting and frustrating. After watching Deng play in 167 games in the next 3 years after his deal and watching Hinrich go from being compared to a young Steve Nash before his contract to averaging 10ppg and 4.2ast a game the next 3 years after his deal, I had more than enough ammunition to want them both gone...but then we won the lottery. All of a sudden there was a new sheriff in town and decisions had to be made on who would fit with this new PG. As late as the beginning of this season, I didn't think Deng could play with Rose but something has changed...
Something weird has happened this season and especially over the last say 20 games or so. Deng has found his place. No he still can't dribble without looking at the ball and yes I wish he was more athletic, but I have to admit, the guy is playing brilliant ball. He's playing great defense, he's getting where he needs to be on the floor for Rose to find him, and he's doing something I didn't think he could ever do...he's spreading the floor and hitting the open 3! I never thought that stepping back 2 steps could change a guy's career but for Deng it has. Four years after that bad contract, it's not so bad anymore and what we have now is a smart player who's playing a bunch of minutes, who's holding his own on the court and not complaining about it. Yes Carmelo would be a great fit and he is still the better player. But Luol has done a great job this season and deserves more credit for that.
Does one great half of a season totally erase all my feelings about Deng? No. I still have my reservations from time to time. But at this time, I'm more than happy to admit I was wrong about Luol in terms of his fit on this team. He has always been the X-factor and if he keeps this up, we will only be a decent upgrade at SG away from having a serious chance to win a title this year. And for that I have to say....My bad Luol.