Cleveland Cavaliers fans can rest easy knowing their organization hasn't abandoned all hope of landing LeBron James this summer.
Did I say "easy?" Sorry, I meant "uneasy."
"He's a great player, why wouldn't you look at him?" Deng told Spears. "If he wants to come back home, that's great for him and great for this organization. He's a great player. Why not?"
James, who has the option of becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer, threw Cleveland a bone last season when he wouldn't rule out a potential return.
"I think it would be great, it would be fun to play in front of these fans again," James said at the time, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
And so began a whirlwind of speculation.
The Cavs were projected to have cap space come summer 2014, which meant they would be a viable landing spot. By that point James would have already won two or three titles and perhaps be more focused on bringing a championship to Cleveland.
The Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd went as far as reminding us last January that the Cavs wouldn't make any moves compromising their ability to sign James in 2014:
Executives and agents around the league are convinced the Cavaliers won’t do anything to jeopardize their ability to sign a free agent to a max contract during the summer of 2014, when LeBron James can again become a free agent. As fans in Northeast Ohio continue to howl and remain divided about the possibility of his return, more and more people around the league believe there is a strong possibility James will indeed return to Cleveland after next season.
The Cavs are well aware of this, too, and won’t take on a bad contract if it compromises their cap space in two years. That means any bad contract they would obtain in a potential trade would have to expire after next season. It doesn’t make a deal impossible, but it dramatically reduces the field—and it decreases the price the Cavs can command since their future obligations would be brief.
Signing Deng—who general manager Chris Grant told The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer the Cavs want to keep—would certainly jeopardize their already slim chances of landing James. They cannot sign both.
Deng rejected a three-year, $30 million contract extension from the Chicago Bulls before being traded, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, ensuring the Cavs cannot meet both his and James' contract demands.
Cleveland has less than $36.2 million in guaranteed salary commitments for 2014-15. If everything goes the Cavs' way, and they're able to bid farewell to the non-guaranteed contracts of Anderson Varejao, Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark, they'll have enough cash to offer James the maximum allowed.
But there's no guarantee James returns. The Miami Heat could win a third straight title. Seduced by the opportunity to win a fourth, James could re-sign or simply opt in for another year. Should they fall short, however, that leaves James one title shy of forging a dynasty, possibly prompting the same action.
Chances of James leaving Miami this summer are slim either way. And while the Cavs appear prepared to hold off on any major moves until they know for sure, this is one gamble they may not want to take.
Kyrie Irving will be eligible for an extension this summer. Players on rookie deals typically re-sign with incumbent teams because of dollar signs. But that doesn't mean Irving will.
If he doesn't see the Cavs trending in the right direction, he could elect to explore restricted free agency in 2015. If the Cavs haven't turned things around by then, he could simply accept their qualifying offer before entering unrestricted free agency in 2016. That could happen.
Putting a team together worthy of selling Irving in the future is imperative, and it must happen soon.
Deng, while not a superstar, is a two-time All-Star. Locking him up early, just after he told Spears Cleveland was an "amazing organization," makes sense if the Cavs are truly sold on him making a difference.
Should the Cavs keep Luol Deng?
Waiting only gives Deng the opportunity to explore free agency, where he could be the most talented player available. After Carmelo Anthony and James, the free-agency pool is vastly overrated, littered with players likely going nowhere.
Can the Cavs afford to let Deng hit the open market? Potentially after failing to make the playoffs? Where they may have to pay him well above his market value, restricting their ability to build around Irving and himself moving forward?
If it meant landing James, absolutely. After all, this Andrew Bynum and Anthony Bennett business, though, holding off on signing Deng won't mean landing James.
More likely than not, it will represent another mistake in a long line of follies that have limited Cleveland's ability to remain relevant in the post-James era.
*Salary information courtesy of Hoopsworld.