Heat coach Erik Spoelstra misses Luol Deng even after the two needed time to get to know each other and “get on the same page.”
“I really enjoyed Lu,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. Deng makes his first return to Miami tonight since signing with the Lakers.
“I’d love to have Lu right now and have him suit up. I enjoyed my relationship with Lu. At first it took us a while to get on the same page and get to know each other. I really respected him as a competitor playing against him in Chicago in the playoffs a couple of times. But it didn’t click right away. It didn’t click from a basketball standpoint and even getting to know each other in our coach-player relationship. Then we spent a lot of time getting to know each other better off the court.”
After two years in Miami, in which he averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, Deng accepted the Lakers four-year, $72-million contract offer last summer. Deng, 31, told the LA Daily News he called Heat president Pat Riley and Spoelstra to say this was something he could not turn down and Spoelstra agreed.
“We thought there was a chance we would get him at a way smaller number,” Spoelstra said. “There was that discussion that he wanted to come back and we wanted him to come back. But we obviously weren’t in a position to make that kind of deal.”
The 6-foot-9 Deng joined the Heat during a tumultuous time. It was 2014, LeBron James had just left and Miami was looking to salvage the summer. Hanging onto Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and adding Deng was a nice recovery.
The Heat were so vulnerable at the time that Riley called it “one of the most important free-agent signings” in Heat history.
Deng played in 146 games the next two years, starting all but one. He played power forward and small forward, his role affected by Bosh being in and out of the lineup after he was diagnosed with blood clots.
“I sat back, really just focused on my game and saw how I could help out,” Deng told the Daily News. “I enjoyed it and loved it. It was a great system.”
Deng is averaging a career-low 8.0 points and shooting just 39 percent in 31 games this season.
“When you’re with a new group, guys start to realize what you can do and what you can’t do,” Deng said. “A lot of times at the beginning of the year, guys were just standing still. The way I play, I’m always moving.”