Luol Deng, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Tolliver have played a combined 2,089 games over 37 seasons in the NBA.
At various times this season, that total wasn’t going up as much as it could have, as each found himself riding the bench for extended stretches.
But of late, the Timberwolves have needed their veterans to get through a stretch in which four regular contributors have been hurt.
One word you’ll hear a lot of their teammates and their coach mention when talking about them is “professional” — how they haven’t disrupted the team with their disappointment in not playing, and how they have stayed ready, waiting for a moment like this when the Wolves would need their services.
“I told these guys, you always got to stay ready and stay positive,” Deng said. “You just never know. It’s such a long season and when you’re not playing it’s all right to be frustrated but you can’t let that affect your work ethic or your attitude toward your teammates. Once you do that, it sets you even back further.”
Deng has played in seven of the past eight games under interim coach Ryan Saunders, after Tom Thibodeau used the veteran forward only in mop-up duty. Tolliver has been in and out of the rotation all season — and didn’t play Sunday against the Jazz — but played in 12 consecutive games before that, while Saunders has asked Bayless to play major minutes as the only healthy point guard on the roster.
Bayless played 40 minutes Friday against Utah and nearly 37 on Sunday. Deng and Bayless turned in a pair of strong performances Sunday, with Bayless scoring 19 points and hitting four of six three-pointers and Deng scoring 15 in 26 minutes.
“It means a lot,” Bayless said.
“Honestly, it’s been a tough couple years for me, realistically. This is the first time I really played in a long time and got a chance to really play. I’m just thankful for that and hopefully it stays.”
With no definitive timeline on the injuries to Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Robert Covington and Tyus Jones, it may last a little while longer.
Deng said he was cognizant of the example he was setting for the younger players on the Wolves, showing them how to handle situations when they might not be playing as much as they would like. It seems to be getting through.
“You see guys like that who have had successful careers and you see their preparation on things, it makes you want to emulate them,” said rookie Josh Okogie, who has seen his playing time fluctuate this season. “It gives you no reason to hang your head; be prepared and ready for your opportunity.”
Bayless and Deng are glad they can show the league they still have something in the tank.
“I’m not 40, I’m 30, so I’m not that old,” Bayless said. “I’m ready. I’ve been ready and just been waiting for the opportunity. This league is interesting when it comes to situations like this. It can flip in a switch.”
The conventional thinking when it came to Deng was he was all but done after he played in just one game for the Lakers last season. He didn’t hide how much it meant to be able to contribute again.
“I can’t fight opinions,” Deng said. “When you’re a basketball player the only way you can win an argument is just by playing. You guys have the pen and paper. You’re always going to win that fight. For me, when I get the opportunity, I just have to perform.”
Because these chances don’t always come.