ESPN’s Marc Stein mentioned yesterday that the Bulls had plans to meet with free agent center Erick Dampier last night. The meeting happened, but that’s about it. Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald tweeted: “Bulls may meet with Erick Dampier in Dallas, but at this point have no plans to sign ex-Mavs center, a source says.”
I’m not trying to overlook or undersell that story, I just don’t see Dampier joining the team. I doubt the Bulls want to spend too much money on Dampier, and I think Dampier is probably looking for his final NBA payday. Those two concepts go together like peanut butter and motor oil.
No, I’m much more interested in this story K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune wrote about Luol Deng. Here’s the summary: Deng is healthy and happy — which hasn’t been the case for a few years — and new coach Tom Thibodeau wants to make more effective use of Deng’s varied skill set than, ahem, other recent Bulls coaches.
Here are some of what Deng had to say:
“I have a big smile on my face just driving to practice. I’m able to move a lot again. That’s my game. The way we’re playing offensively, there are so many different ways I can move without the ball. I find myself all over the floor, which is good. It allows me to use my instincts.”
“I feel great. I’m real happy that I got to play (for the Great Britain national team) in the summer. Last year with my (stress fracture) injury, I didn’t play until training camp. This year, I came in better shape and that’s helped me a lot.”
Now here’s what Thibodeau had to say:
“I don’t know what happened in the past. I just know when we competed against the Bulls, you always worried about where he was going. I like what I see. He’s professional and works hard every day. He can score in a number of different ways. He’s so unselfish.
“Often, he cuts hard and he may not get the ball but it opens offense up for someone else. A lot of times, he gives himself up for the team. He’s very effective without the ball. He’s got a terrific mid-range game. He’s better in the post than people give him credit for.
“And he’s becoming a more confident shooter. His versatility — particularly now when we’re looking for different ways to score with Carlos (Boozer) out — is something we’ll take advantage of.”
Under Vinny Del Negro, Deng became fairly one-dimensional. More of a stand-still, spot-up shooter from that infamous 16-23 foot range (a.k.a. “the worst shot in basketball”). Apparently, this was frustrating for Deng, which is understandable. After all, he can make great cuts without the ball, he can slash to the hoop, and he can post up too.
Why reduce his ability to contribute?
I often found myself wondering that last season. In particular, I remember watching Deng have two successful trips into the post on consecutive possessions at home against the Golden State Warriors…after which he never again got the ball down low. I found myself wondering why Vinny wasn’t exploiting what seemed to be an obvious mismatch.
Frankly, I’m still wondering.
Maybe things will be different now. It sure seems as if change is in the air. Thibs recently stopped practice because Deng had launched a long two-pointer from just inside the arc. The message: Step back and take the three-pointer because it’s a better shot.
I also hope the ball movement and improved spacing that Thibodeau is preaching will open up more drives for Luol. And now that he’s (fingers crossed) fully healthy (knock on wood), maybe he’ll be able to finish with some serious authori-tah. It would be nice if Deng could return to his 2006-07 form, when he converted 67 percent of his shots at the rim.
I’ve made this point before: Deng is one of the best small forwards in the league. And even though it feels like he’s been around forever, Deng is only 25 years old. He hasn’t even reached his athletic prime yet.
Look, we know Derrick Rose is a rising star. We know Joakim Noah is force on defense and the boards. We know Carlos Boozer (when healthy) is a double-double machine. But Deng could be a real X-Factor. With the right coaching and the right system, Deng might become the All-Star caliber player everybody predicted he would be during the 2006-07 season.
Maybe I’m being crazy. But I’m still really looking forward to seeing how Thibodeau’s coaching affects Deng’s game.