Deng represents everything that Cleveland wants but has yet to get from its small forward position. The 10th-year pro can shoot, slash, pass and, most importantly, defend.
He may also be on the trade block.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Cavaliers are looking to upgrade their small forward spot, and Deng is their top target.
General manager Chris Grant needs to blow up Chicago's phone line with offers for Deng. Here's why.
Cleveland's Small Forwards Are the Worst in the NBA
I really wish this was an exaggeration, but it's not.
Here's how the Cavs' small forwards rank in major stat categories, per hoopsstats.com.
Cleveland's combination of Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark are at or near the bottom of almost every small forward stat. They rank dead last in scoring and are in the bottom eight for rebounding, assists, field-goal percentage and efficiency.
Mike Brown has swapped Gee and Clark in and out of the starting lineup and rotation, with neither stepping up to claim the job. Both have team options for next season and aren't viewed as potential long-term solutions at the position.
On the other hand, Deng is averaging 19.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and is shooting 45.8 percent from the field this season. In his 38.6 minutes on the court, Deng is easily outperforming every Cavaliers small forward combined.
What Deng Really Means to a Team
Chicago fans already know this, but Deng is like, really, really good.
His name never comes up in MVP talks, but it's clear the Bulls are a completely different team with Deng on and off the court.
This season, Chicago is averaging 103.6 points and allowing just 99 per 100 possessions with Deng in the game. With him on the bench, the Bulls score just 89.7 points and give up a whopping 107.5 in these same 100 possessions, per 82games.com.
Deng is also one of the top defensive wing players in the NBA.
Listed at 6'9" and 220 pounds, Deng is built to smother opposing players. He has a wingspan of over seven feet (per draftexpress.com), and is both quick and strong enough to keep ball-handlers from driving past him. Last season, Deng had more combined blocks and steals per game (1.5) than personal fouls (1.4). In his first nine seasons with the Bulls, basketball-reference.com tells us that he contributed 31.3 wins, just with his defense alone.
The small forward crop in the Eastern Conference is strong with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Josh Smith. Come playoff time, the Cavs will need a defensive stopper to stick on one of these guys. Does anyone really feel confident Gee or Clark could handle the job?
At 9-14, Cleveland may need a player like Deng just to sneak into the playoffs. The Cavs entered the year with a postseason-or-bust attitude, but are yet to crack the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Deng's scoring (19.4 points) would rank just below Kyrie Irving's 21 per game. His rebounding (7.1) is second among all small forwards and would make him the third-best overall on the Cavs behind Tristan Thompson (10.1) and Anderson Varejao (8.5).
Defense and Experience
Mike Brown was brought in to establish a culture of defense and intensity, both attributes Deng specializes in.
At 28 years of age, Deng is likely in his prime. Only two players on the Cavs (Varejao and Jarrett Jack) are his senior, but neither have played as many NBA seasons as Deng has. Cleveland is tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for youngest overall roster, with players averaging 23.8 years, per besttickets.com.
Playoff experience should also be factored in: Deng has been to the playoffs with Chicago six different times, totaling 16.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 48 games. His leadership and experience would be invaluable to a young Cavaliers team in the postseason.
It's unclear how much Chicago would want back for Deng, who's set to hit free agency this summer.
Cleveland could technically re-sign Deng after any trade would happen, up until June 30. Would Deng give up hitting the free-agent market to sign a long-term deal with the Cavs? His value would be hurt due to fellow free-agent forwards James, Anthony and Gordon Hayward, although Deng should still get at least $10 million annually.
If the Bulls choose to go into rebuild mode and try to get their luxury tax payment down, Deng may not be that difficult to acquire.
Here are three ways it could happen.
Bulls Receive: C Anderson Varejao, SF Alonzo Gee, 2015 First-round pick (via Miami Heat)
Cavs Receive: SF Luol Deng
The Bulls get to choose whether to keep Varejao and Gee next season or take the cap space by voiding their team options. They also get a first-rounder in next year's draft.
Bulls Receive: F Anthony Bennett, SF Alonzo Gee, F Earl Clark
Cavs Receive: SF Luol Deng
Chicago gets a project with big upside to build around in Bennett, then hold team options for next season on Gee and Clark.
Bulls Receive: G Marcus Thornton, F Earl Clark, SF Alonzo Gee, G C.J. Miles, G Jimmer Fredette
Sacramento Kings Receive: F Carlos Boozer
Cavs Receive: SF Luol Deng
The Bulls get to dump Boozer and the $16.8 million he's owed next season. They also see Clark, Gee and Miles come off the books and add backcourt help in Thornton and Fredette. The Kings add a proven starter at power forward in Boozer, and dealing Thornton means more minutes for promising rookie Ben McLemore. The Cavs get to keep Bennett and Varejao while adding Deng.
Of course, draft picks could always be added to all three deals.
However it goes down, a Deng trade to Cleveland needs to happen for the Cavs to take the next step.
Their current group of small forwards is holding the team back, and the Cavaliers should make every attempt possible to bring in Deng.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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