The Orlando Magic reportedly were interested in signing Luol Deng as a free agent this off-season, but lucky for them that dream is likely over before it started. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders says, “Luol is a friend. I know him very well and I can tell you he’s not looking at the Magic this summer. He is going to look for his championship ring.”
Some might assume that is a huge blow to the Magic’s brand and culture. It’s hard to win without attracting elite players, and you can’t attract elite players unless you win. It’s the catch-22 of a rebuilding team. The reality though, is that Luol Deng isn’t an elite player. He hasn’t been for years, and there are various red flags across his resume that suggest signing him to his next contract would be a huge mistake.
Advanced stats aren’t kind to Deng, and paint a picture of a player in decline. He hasn’t produced an above average True Shooting % since 2010-2011. His career high PER was solid at18.7, but that was all the way back in his age 21 season. Since it has hovered just above the average of 15. Deng is a fine player, but his current reputation is buoyed by his early career success.
Even though he is still in only 29 years old, he’s got the mileage of a typical 32 year old. Deng led the league in minutes played for game last year (38.7 mpg) and the year before that (39.4) according to basketballreference.com. That minutes burden has only been compounded by the Bull’s frequent trips to the playoffs. All starters play more in the playoffs, but last year Deng played 44.8 minutes per game before missing the rest of the playoffs after a spinal tap. A spinal tap!
And therein lies the counter argument. Deng will give you 100% until he can’t. There’s no drama, no complaining. He was the Swiss-army knife in Chicago’s elite defense, something that doesn’t show up in the advanced stats. He’s a winner, at least until he reached Cleveland.
The trade to the Cavaliers has taken some sheen off the all-star. He was expected to push the Cavaliers back into the playoffs, but his presence hasn’t moved the needle. His impact is most valuable in a team concept, something Orlando may not be ready to provide yet.
Signing Deng or any free agent is really contingent on the outcome of the Magic’s draft this June. If they select Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, it’s hard to imagine that they would block their path with a veteran (of course, this is the same team that played Glen Davis 30 minutes a game over 3 more valuable prospects). And if the Magic do sign a free agent small forward, it will be an admission that they aren’t confident in the development of Maurice Harkless.
What do you think? Is signing Luol Deng a mistake for the Orlando Magic? Let us know in the comments section below! Want more Magic? Sign up for our newsletter!