The student hasn’t become the master yet.
An All-Star? Yes.
An MVP candidate this season? Definitely.
But Luol Deng at least has bragging rights over Jimmy Butler for the time being, as Deng’s Los Angeles Lakers beat the Bulls, 96-90, Wednesday night at the United Center, avenging a loss between the two teams just a week earlier.
Not a loss that sat well with coach Fred Hoiberg.
“Disappointing,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Lost momentum, lost our pace, lost our flow. I thought they were the more physical team all across the board.’’
But there was an important subplot in the loss.
If Dwyane Wade has helped Butler deal with stardom and leadership this season, Deng has to be the one credited for originally even pointing Butler in that direction.
Selected with the last pick of the first round in the 2011 NBA Draft, Butler was on a team full of championship promise and veteran players. There was very little playing time, and not a lot of teammates interested in grabbing the Marquette product by the hand and showing him the ropes.
Deng, who played for the Bulls from 2004-2014, was.
According to Butler, Deng would call him up and take him to the Berto center for some late-night shooting, making sure Butler was not only understanding the system of then-coach Tom Thibodeau, but also what it meant to work like an NBA player.
“Lu showed me the ropes when I got here as a first year,’’ Butler said. “The way I look at it, I owe him a little bit.’’
Deng wasn’t looking for payback.
“For me, I mean when I was grabbing Jimmy to go to the gym all the time and telling him a bunch of stuff, I wasn’t thinking about what he was going to say about it later,’’ Deng said. “To me it was just a guy that outside basketball was a very good kid that I cared about. I didn’t know where it was going to end up. I knew he was going to be good, but I never really thought about it just basketball-wise. It was more of keeping him sane, making sure he understood an opportunity would come, and he took it all and flew with it.’’
And still soaring.
Butler entered the game against Deng with back-to-back All-Star seasons under his belt, as well as a 40-point game last week in Los Angeles when the two teams met.
While Butler had his struggles in the Wednesday rematch, he still tried to play hero late, hitting a game-tying three-pointer with 1:30 left. But Deng and his Lakers would have the final say, as Julius Randle hit the go-ahead lay-up, and Butler went ice cold.
Three times Butler had looks to get the Bulls (10-7) back in it at the 39 second mark, and three times he missed, finishing the game with 22 points, but also just 4-for-18 from the field.
As far as Butler’s sidekick in Wade, the veteran was a game-time decision to play because of a fractured root canal, but put in 30 minutes of work and 17 points.
Coincidentally, Deng finished with 10 points.
“I’m not surprised with the player Jimmy has become,’’ Deng said. “I say this: When you come into the NBA the guys around you really matter, and the system really matters. He learned a lot from that system right away. A solid system from Tom Thibodeau. And he had vets at the time that were just hard workers.
“So Jimmy had the talent, but when you adapt that and you think that the league is about hard work, it all becomes second nature.’’