Once the balls started bouncing, Luol Deng's priorities changed.
That doesn't mean that his offseason still doesn't resonate, just that Tuesday's exhibition against the visiting Atlanta Hawks is more about developing continuity with his new Miami Heat teammates than making a social statement.
The veteran forward stressed after Monday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena that he is not necessarily moving on from the racially insensitive comments made amid a scouting presentation by Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry, but that with the Heat 0-3 in the preseason, this is neither the time nor the place, despite the opponent.
"I'm focusing on us and what we've got to do," he said, noting that he still is trying to find his way through the Heat's defensive scheme, taking blame for his positioning errors in recent games. "It's another opportunity for us to keep jelling."
Ferry is on a leave of absence from Atlanta, having already been privately sanctioned by the Hawks, with the team's majority stake for sale amid a racially insensitive email by an owner.
"Obviously that's going to be in the back of your head, but it's not the players that I'm playing against," Deng stressed when asked of any animosity toward the Hawks. "They're not the ones who said what was said."
What was said was this, according to an audio tape released in September of a scouting report Ferry offered in June:
"He's a good guy overall, but not perfect. He's got some African in him. And I don't consider that in a bad way other than is he's a guy that'll side deal behind you, if that makes sense. Like he has a storefront out front that's beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you."
Deng said during last month's media day that he had spoken to Ferry, forgiven him, and planned to place his focus on adjusting to his new team.
But with the Hawks the next opponent, the questions returned Monday.
"Like I said, I spoke to Danny Ferry before and it was over with after that," Deng said. "I told him what I had to say, and I really meant what I said. I really forgive him. I know it keeps coming up, but, honestly, I'm totally over it."
Deng prefers to see positives that might come out of the episode.
"The way it was used is a bad term," he said, "but it gave an opportunity for all the young African kids to hear me speak out of how proud I am of being African, so that's an advantage I would take out of that."
Deng previously spoke with Ferry about a joint project to avoid such episodes going forward.
"Hopefully we will. I think in the future it's going to keep coming up and people are always going to talk about this incident and I just feel like we could make it in a way where somebody would benefit from it, because of the outcome of it," Deng said.
"If nothing was said, maybe we wouldn't have done anything. Now that's something has been said, let somebody benefit from all the mistakes that were made for the words that were being said. Basically, just turn a negative into a positive. So when everybody looks back at it, we can always say. 'They turned it into something better than it was.' "
The irony is that Deng thought the Hawks would be his landing spot in free agency, with Atlanta still left with a void at small forward, DeMarre Carroll again the likely starter. Instead Deng signed with the Heat well before the ill-worded scouting report became public.
"It sounded like it was the spot for me," Deng said.
The irony is that Heat center Chris Bosh was in Africa at the time, helping the Heat make their pitch to Deng, a native of South Sudan who was raised in England.
"C.B. was in Ghana with a couple of my friends that I grew up with," Deng said. "And C.B. kind of spoke to them and they reached out and stuff like that. And the more I looked into it, it really didn't matter if LeBron [James, who left in free agency to the Cleveland Cavaliers] was here or not. I know some people said that I came afterward. But it just made sense for me."
Now, Deng has moved forward, hoping all those involved can, as well.
"I really just want to focus on my team, on my teammates, on what we have to do and how to get better," he said. "This is my job and that's what I want to focus on. The time will come when there's an opportunity to do something."
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