For both Chicago Bulls followers and hyper-aware NBA fans alike, "why is Luol Deng still out there?" was a familiar and oft-asked question from anyone that has live-tweeted a Chicago Bulls game over the last two years. Despite Deng's longstanding injury woes (including a fatigue-related broken leg in 2009), Luol has ranked fourth (in 2010-11) and first in minutes per game over the last two years, despite the Bulls averaging the NBA's top points per game differential over that span. Even without his injury-plagued past, Deng's skinny frame and sometimes gaunt appearance late in blowout wins have even the most ambivalent of NBA watchers wanting to help him towards that gurney and eventual IV.
[ Related: Deng plays to repay his debt to Great Britain ]
It may have struck some Bulls fans the wrong way when Deng announced plans to further delay the needed surgery on his left wrist for a few months in order to play for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, but considering the London setting and Deng's willingness to put the surgery aside to finish off the 2011-12 season for Chicago, most got over it. Then they all watched in wonder, and presumably horror, as Deng played for all but 63 seconds of GB's loss to Russia on Sunday. A 20-point loss, by the way.
To hear Deng tell it, to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, Bulls fans needn't be worried by their team's best player (with Derrick Rose potential out until after the 2012-13 All-Star break) playing nearly 39 of 40 potential minutes in a blowout loss:
"The wrist is great," he said. "I'm not thinking about it. I'm just playing out there. These games are helping me. So far, I've had no trouble. For those who say I only drive right, I drove left a couple times (Sunday)."
Deng, who was born in the Sudan but gained political asylum as a child in England, sees his role on Great Britain as a payback of sorts, and it's hard to not root for the guy along the way. Even if he is dragging a bit while working as one of two NBA players (recent Portland Trail Blazers signee Joel Freeland is the other) on Great Britain.
Here's Luol's take on what he's feels he owes the United Kingdom, as delivered by K.C. Johnson:
"When you're a refugee, you ask for political asylum," he said. "Great Britain did that for my family. I'm very thankful. I've had the opportunity to live a dream and play basketball."
Though Deng missed 19 of 27 shots on his way toward 26 points in the 95-75 loss, he was positively chipper following the contest according to the Tribune. He received the loudest ovation on Great Britain's squad from the London crowd, and talked up the experience postgame, referring to how much regret he'd feel were he to miss out on what could be a once in a generation chance for Team GB to take part in the men's basketball tourney. The home country hasn't taken part in the tournament since 1964.
It's such a nice piece, with such a warm tone from Luol that you almost forget that the oft-injured player who led the NBA in minutes per game last year played all but 63 seconds of a 20-point blowout loss while working with a severely injured left wrist that is due for surgery immediately after the Olympics end. Whew.
Of course, as Yahoo! Sports' Les Carpenter pointed out following the contest, Deng's contributions go far beyond his work on the court. Even though he's always on the court:
"Yeah, he gives everything he has for this team," said Great Britain assistant coach Nick Nurse. "He's a tremendous leader. He's been A-plus every day."
Great Britain is not expected to medal in this tournament, so it's possible that coach Chris Finch (not this guy) could pull back on Deng's minutes as play moves along.
Then again, Deng's probably not sure what he'll do if the minutes do decrease. He's probably forgotten what all those chairs on the sideline are for, at this point.
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