So now we know Luol Deng's decision - he will enter the draft without an
agent and may return if he slips below fifth in the lottery - but looking at nbadraft.net,
that seems highly unlikely.
His family views this as an opportunity to establish significant security,
and after their odyssey, who can blame them for that?
What they probably don't know is that, if nbadraft.net
is right, that Luol is headed for at least three miserable years as a Washington
Aside from the fact that the team has struggled since the 1970s, and blown
draft after draft, and made tons of bad moves - oh wait, that was our basic
point. What else is there aside from that?
Well, look at the roster. Christian Laettner has a warrior's heart, but
he is on the downside of his career, and got in trouble last year for an
apparent pot habit. Gilbert Arenas has a lot of potential, as does Jared
Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes, but once you get past those guys, things slow down
Kwame Brown was a #1 pick out of high school, but so far, he's been a bust.
Jerry Stackhouse is not necessarily a great teammate, having squabbled with
teammates quite often in the past, and since he'll be fighting with Luol for
playing time, he won't be a mentor or anything like that.
Mitchell Butler? Brendan Haywood? Etan Thomas? Chris
Whitney? These names are barely recognizable.
Then there's the recent, and we might add quite ill-advised, habit of
collecting former Maryland players - Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, and Lonny
Baxter. All valiant players, not a great one in the bunch. Baxter
has scored 513 points in his career; Blake is averaging 6 points and 3 assists;
Dixon gets 9.4 ppg and 1.9 assists.
Washington won the title in, what, 1977? With Wes Unseld nursing his knees
through a few last seasons, and Elvin Hayes backing in for turnaround jumpers,
they knocked off Golden State. They also had Phil Chenier and Kevin Grevey, who
was useful, though limited.
Since then, basically, zip. They tried putting part of the Fab Five
back together again, but surprise, Chris Webber got in trouble in Washington,
and he and Juwann Howard had a major falling-out. Both ended up leaving,
with Webber traded to Sacramento, and Howard, who never lived up to the huge
contract Washington gave him, following him out of town later.
This was followed, within a few years, by Michael Jordan's
"comeback," which was yet another stunt designed to draw attention, if
In the locker room, resentment was high, with Rip Hamilton and Jerry
Stackhouse both displeased with being cast as "Jordanaires"for the
mostly mortal Jordan.
It might mean something to Luol to play for Manute Bol's old team, but they
didn't keep him around too long, either. They also drafted Muggsy Bogues,
but gave him up to Charlotte in the expansion draft.
Which reminds us: they have to expose players to the Charlotte expansion
draft again, so some of those duds mentioned above may end up there, and Deng
may be their teammate if Washington is stupid enough to pass on him, which they
might well be.
The other allure for Deng might be being in D.C., which would put him in a
position to lobby for his people, and as a pro athlete, and a very sharp and
admirable guy, he could do some good things.
On the other hand, D.C. has many downsides, including a very high murder
rate, high crime in general, a city government which has been at times an
absolute disaster, and obviously Washington is a prime target for
terrorism. With the planned (but thankfully disrupted) chemical attack
planned for Jordan, which the Jordanians estimate would have killed 20,000, or
60,000 less than the attackers were hoping for, terrorism moves into ever more
ambitious phases. We have no idea how hard it would be to get that sort of
thing into Washington, but you can be assured that it is being diligently
Finally, then, we arrive at this: basketball-wise, and this is a great
irony in D.C., one of the truly great talent beds in America, the Wizards arouse
no passion and almost no interest. The loud music all NBA teams play in lieu of
fans cheering dominates the arena. Ticket prices are very steep, which
shuts out the people who love basketball the most, which is to say kids, and the
tickets increasingly are bought up by corporations who give them to people who
couldn't care less about the game.
There is no question that the money is beyond great. It's impossible to
imagine, say, a programmer in college talking about his desire to program for
free. We understand this inherent difference between college and the NBA
all too well.
But we also remember Shaquille O' Neal and Stanley Roberts talking about how
much they enjoyed their college days. We remember how miserable Kevin
Garnett was at first, sitting alone in his hotel rooms, night after night,
Luol is a very bright guy, and we expect that he'll avoid most of the
pitfalls of the NBA life. But chances are there will be a point next year
when he won't feel so great, and the music is way too loud, and people in the
stands are being stupid, or bored, maybe in March or so, when the passion of the
tournament is on, and he'll find himself drawn to that which he can no longer
have, and he'll probably have figured out what a disaster the Wizards are, and
then realize what most of these guys figure out eventually: money is good, but
it can't buy everything.
What has become clear to us over the past few days is that it certainly can't
buy back the affection Duke fans had for him.
Duke fans largely had him figured as a guy who probably would leave early,
but nonetheless, as a guy who valued education and who shared the reverence for
what happens in Cameron.
It's become clear to us that while Coach K and his staff obviously appreciate
that, unfortunately some of the love which goes into that from us fans is
No one begrudges Luol's success or his soon-to-be millions, but with all due
respect to his father, Aldo, while we think (and certainly hope) that Duke fans
will continue to respect Luol, he has given up something besides his college
career (we know he hasn't yet, but realistically, he's not coming back).
In ten years, if you went to a game in Cameron, and the announcer said,
"we'd like to welcome back some former Blue Devils: Bruce Bell, Shane
Battier, Billy King, and Luol Deng," you'd hear three bursts of genuine
affection and one polite bit of applause. Chances are you'd hear more if Luol
had been more open about his interest, and had actually talked to anyone in the
media about it.
The sad part is that while we used to feel certain that the guys who played
on that floor felt what we felt, that's hard to be sure of anymore. The
tie the fans have to the players is loosening, and we're not sure that can be
prevented. Since that love and respect is at the heart of what makes Cameron a
very special place, it's a troubling development. There's an intimation now of mortality, a whiff of Ebbett's Field.
On the other hand, when William Avery and Corey Maggette so terribly
disappointed Duke fans (that Elton Brand would leave was a foregone conclusion
and obviously in his best interest, but Maggette and Avery were less than fully
upfront about their moves), all it took to put that in the past was a scrappy,
very tough team which never gave up and played with enormous heart. That
may well happen again. We certainly hope so. Our interest, and our
passion, is with and for guys who want to be part of what Duke offers.