Pros and cons of OKC Thunder adding Luol Deng to roster

Luol Deng, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot OKC Thunder (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Luol Deng, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot OKC Thunder (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Since Luol Deng reached a buy out agreement with L.A. and the OKC Thunder have an open roster spot, should Sam Presti consider adding the veteran?

Given the OKC Thunder decision to waive and stretch Kyle Singler the team enters training camp with one open roster spot.

There are several options for General Manager Sam Presti to make regarding that open varsity roster position. It isn’t uncommon for Presti to keep an open spot throughout the entire campaign. It accomplishes several goals with flexibility being the primary benefit.

Moreover, with the Thunder dealing with heavy luxury tax they aren’t in a rush to increase that total which signing another player would do. What the team will decide to do with rookie Kevin Hervey will play a factor. Although at this stage it seems more likely OKC will follow a similar direction as they did with Devon Hall. This could result in Hervey either playing overseas or with the OKC Blue G-League squad.

This season there are also a number of new players to work into the mix:

In spite of these five varsity additions and the two way contracted players the team returns with the guts of the core from last season. Granted, Andre Roberson is stating his time table to return is December. This means by December four-fifths of the starting rotation will be on hand. Barring another signing the fifth member of the starting rotation will be one of Patrick Patterson or Jerami Grant. Patterson has a full season under his belt in OKC and Grant returns for his third season, so their comfort level will be greater this season in the Thunder system.

In terms of depth returning the Thunder welcome back Raymond Felton and Terrance Ferguson for their second campaigns while Alex Abrines begins his third season with the Thunder.

What becomes of the final roster spot therefore comes down to a few simple factors:

  • Economics
  • Fit within system
  • Versatility
  • Specific ‘role’
  • Age composition

Luol Deng overview:

The release of the vet had some wondering if Presti would consider adding him to OKC’s roster. There are pros and cons to each side of the equation. Deng played a single game last season and 56 the season prior for the Lakers.

He’s three years removed for his last major contribution in Miami when he played in 74 games and was a vital part of the Heat rotation.

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Certainly with so many youngsters on the squad adding a veteran would be wise as the more voices to help acclimate the new players and youngsters would be considered a strong benefit.

Deng is a player who hasn’t played much the past few seasons. That said, he demonstrated in South Africa he still has game and the one thing Deng won’t do is make dumb decisions on the court. Although he remains out of shape, if healthy he’s wily enough to add value on both ends.

His skill set is varied with the ability to help in any system. Although he won’t necessarily be a player who thrives in a fast pace he would provide another playmaker, can score, is a solid rebounder for his position, can play at either forward position and will do the little things like set solid screens and provide help defense.


For as young as the OKC Thunder appear to be they rank in the middle of the league with an average age of 25.7 years. And while a veteran could prove beneficial adding Deng would mean players like Luwawu-Cabarrot, Abrines, Ferguson and Nader may not get consistent minutes essential to develop their skills in season.

A lack of playing time over the past three seasons leaves questions over how much Deng has left in the tank. Moreover, could he contribute on a consistent basis and can he get into shape in order to produce consistently.

To that end, how injury prone is Deng given his lack of playing time? And, Luke Walton has proven to be a solid coach both with his time in Golden State and in developing the young assets in L.A. Therefore, the question is was Deng held out simply due to injury or was he deemed someone who could no longer contribute? There is the caveat the Lakers wanted to finish poorly so that needs to be considered as well.


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Considering the pros and cons what might tip the scales is Deng’s desire to be a consistent contributor. This means someone on the Thunder would lose playing time if the Thunder signed him. Conversely, if OKC added Deng and didn’t play him it could adversely affect the locker room chemistry. OKC already have players with questionable reputations in Noel and Schroeder, so this is a red flag Presti will likely want to avoid.

Ultimately, it makes more sense for Presti to leave the position open at least until the trade deadline or until other vets get released later next season. Given Deng isn’t a sharp shooting perimeter scoring he also doesn’t address a priority of the Thunder.

Deng has an existing relationship with Pat Riley having played in Miami and with Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. That seems to point to the Heat and Timberwolves being at the top of potential teams where Deng will land.

Luol Deng was a player who ranked among the best two-way NBA players when he benefited by the 2016 free agency summer. The uncertainty of where his game is presently and his desire to play a major role  however are concerns.

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And, in this case it is enough for OKC to pass on using their last open roster spot on him.