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Former Laker David Nwaba has found a home with the Bulls

When Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was asked about David Nwaba, his face brightened.

“We love David and hope he’s here for a long time,” Hoiberg said before Friday’s game.

The Lakers gave Nwaba his first chance in the NBA. But when they needed to clear salary cap space to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last summer, Nwaba was a casualty.

When the Lakers waived Nwaba, the Bulls claimed him off waivers and he’s been a good fit.

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“I’m enjoying every second and they’re believing in what I bring to the team and what I can bring defensively,” Nwaba said. “That’s where it all started. Lakers gave me an opportunity because of what I brought on the defensive end, so it’s good that they can see what I bring on that end and I just look to give my best effort and do the best I can to get stops.”

The change of scenery was dramatic for Nwaba, who went to University High in Los Angeles and played college basketball at Cal Poly.

“I felt like I had to get away,” Nwaba said. “Just been in Cali all my life. I think it was just a good opportunity to grow as an individual and just experience something else, something different. I think the transition worked out in my favor.”

Bulls guard David Nwaba tries to cut off a drive by Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry during a game Jan. 17.
(Tannen Maury / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock )
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Nwaba played 20 games for the Lakers last season and already has played 37 for the Bulls, starting three. He was averaging 22.8 minutes, 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds entering Friday and contributed eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes against his old team.

His defense, though, was his hallmark in Los Angeles, and it still is.

“He can guard one through four,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve had him on [Stephen] Curry late in games in the fourth quarter, we’ve also had him on Giannis [Antetokounmpo] in Milwaukee. There’s just not a lot of guys that have that type of defensive versatility.”

Deng keeping busy

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About 50 minutes before Friday’s tipoff, Luol Deng checked with a locker room attendant to find out if the weight room would be open during the game.

He’s got to keep himself occupied while his team plays, after all.

“There’s things that I can’t control, but every day I work out as if I’m going to play the next day,” Deng said a few minutes earlier. “…They’ve made it clear that I’m not wanted here, so for me, I’ve just gotta focus on what I gotta control.”

Deng has not played since the season opener, when he started while Caldwell-Pope served a suspension. That didn’t change Friday as he returned to Chicago, where his career began as a first-round draft pick who was part of a group that reinvigorated the franchise.

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He is not in the Lakers’ plans and has made clear that he does not want to remain with the team. He’s asked to be traded or released, but his salary cap number has made it impossible. Deng signed a four-year deal worth $72 million in the summer of 2016. By February 2017, the Lakers had benched him for the rest of the year.

“It obviously hasn’t been an ideal situation for him and he wants to play, but he’s been great,” coach Luke Walton said. “If you come in any of our shootarounds and practices, he’s out there with the young guys afterwards and he is getting his work in, he’s running, he’s staying in shape; he has been a complete professional about it.”

What’s Deng’s motivation for doing that despite his disconnect with the franchise?

“It’s not their fault that I’m not playing,” Deng said. “I can’t really blame them for anything. … We have a good group of guys. If I don’t help, I’ll always regret it.”

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tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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