5 Better Places for Luol Deng to Be Than Cleveland Cavaliers Next Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

5 Better Places for Luol Deng to Be Than Cleveland Cavaliers Next Season

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Happiness has eluded Luol Deng since being traded from the Chicago Bulls to Cleveland Cavaliers.

    According to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, he's basically disgusted with how the Cavs go about their business:

    As Deng recently told one close friend, “the stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess."

    Deng was brought in to help clean it up when he arrived in a deal for Andrew Bynum on Jan. 7. But since then, he’s seen players get thrown out of practice, take off their uniform tops at halftime and threaten not to play, mouth off to Brown and generally act like spoiled brats. Entering Saturday’s game at Houston, the Cavs had lost seven of their last 11 games since the Deng trade.

    Deng has denied Lawrence's report, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd.

    "I’ve never been in a situation where I start talking and turn my back on what’s in front of me. It’s not me, it’s not who I am," Deng said. "I’m really upset that’s written about me and I just hope guys within the team understand that."

    I'm not sure they will, Luol. The 16-31 Cavs don't understand much of anything right now. Like how to win basketball games, for instance.

    The rest of us understand and sympathize with you. Being shipped from a never-say-die contingent like Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls only to find yourself surrounded by losing and inbred chaos must be near-impossible to deal with. How could it not be?

    Despite what you say, we all know you can do better. Much better. And we also know that when given the opportunity to flee Cleveland this summer as an unrestricted free agent, you should take it.

    Run. Sprint. Get the hell out of dodge. Find a better situation and never look back.

    *Salary information via ShamSports.

Honorable Mention: Houston Rockets

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    One can dream, can't they?

    As the Rockets have favored smaller lineups, it's become clear Deng would be an excellent fit in their system. He may not space the floor as well as most small forwards, but his skill set allows him to play alongside Chandler Parsons and James Harden on the wing while leaving Dwight Howard to do whatever it is he does down low these days—snack, smile, giggle and score the occasional basket.

    Ambitious? Yes. Completely far-fetched? Not quite.

    The Rockets are approaching an interesting dilemma with Parsons, who is eligible for a raise this summer. Declining their team option worth under $1 million on him allows him to enter restricted free agency, where they can match any offer he receives. Exercising the team option guarantees he'll enter unrestricted free agency next summer, which while a risky move, gives them more flexibility over the offseason.

    Houston already has over $60 million on the books for next season, meaning it cannot offer Deng a sizable contract. This is where moving Omer Asik and/or Jeremy Lin comes in. Trading either of them and netting a return comprising expiring contracts diminishes their future financial commitments considerably.

    Moving Lin will be difficult, but if the Rockets are willing to accept reality, Asik can be dealt.

    "At this point, Omer is very likely going to be here until the end of his contract at the end of next season, not this season," general manager Daryl Morey said in a question-and-answer session with Rockets season-ticket holders, responses from which were made available Twitter user @MiggysWorld35 and relayed by ClutchFans.net's Ben DuBose.

    Re-opening the window to trade him gives the Rockets options, perhaps putting them a move or two away from offering Deng a contract that convinces him to join Parsons and Terrence Jones within their stretch-forward ranks.

Phoenix Suns

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Yes, please.

    The Phoenix Suns have been the NBA's most surprising team. Once considered obvious tankers, they've firmly planted themselves in the Western Conference's playoff conversation. 

    Armed with a plethora of imminent draft picks and financial flexibility, the future is bright. And Deng can make it blinding.

    Including all player and team options, the Suns have nearly $34 million in salary committed to next season. Though that doesn't account for the steep contract restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe will demand, it should leave them with enough financial plasticity to make a run at Deng this summer.

    And they should most definitely make a run at Deng this summer.

    As a veteran with offensive and defensive chops, Deng is valuable to any team looking to take that next step. While the Suns are a promising and exciting outfit, they're in need of impact players to enter championship contention.

    Plenty of depth exists on the wings, most notably in Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Markieff and Marcus Morris, but they lack that two-way force. Deng could serve as a three-and-D guy of sorts. His career three-point clip (33.2 percent) fails to impress, but he can space the floor in certain situations. 

    Athleticism like his will also mesh well next to the run-run-Rudoplph stylings of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe. Having already worked their way into the top half of defensive efficiency, Deng could be the missing piece that thrusts the Suns into two-way dominance and championship conversations.

    In Cleveland, meanwhile, the words "championship and "Cavs" don't go together—unless they're in some way followed by "not going to happen."


Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Let's all agree this is awesome.

    Not even those who despise the perpetually middling Atlanta Hawks can deny a core consisting of Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Deng would be scary promising. The way I see it, they're all threats to earn All-Star selections in a shallow Eastern Conference if healthy.

    Atlanta has roughly $47.9 million committed to player salaries next season. Even after necessary cap holds and paying its draft picks, there should still be funds available to show Deng The Peach State can be sexy, too.

    Deng keeps Horford at center and Millsap at power forward, where they both belong. He also makes it so Kyle Korver can come off the bench. Playing him next to Lou Williams would be fun to watch. Just saying.

    Signing Deng also increases the strength of a team that already ranks 11th in defensive efficiency under rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer, taking the Hawks from stellar to potentially elite. He does the same thing on offense too, where they also check in at 11th in efficiency.

    Really, Deng just gives Atlanta the ability to escape deep-seated mediocrity and enter the Eastern Conference playoff picture as more than just an average team capitalizing off near-conference-wide impotence.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Brow meets Deng sounds too good to be true.

    This season is lost for the New Orleans Pelicans, who have watched Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday go down, and Tyreke Evans earn less than half what they're paying him. The rest of 2013-14 will be spent marveling at the NBA's newest top-10 superstar, Anthony Davis.

    Imagine pairing Davis, Holiday and Ryno with Deng. Dripping with excitement, yet?

    New Orleans' defense is a mess. Even with Davis blocking all kinds of shots, generally protecting the rim with a look that says, "Drive on me, fool. I one-eyebrow, triple-dog dare you," the Pellies rank 27th in defensive efficiency.

    Inserting Deng into the starting lineup bolsters their perimeter attack on that side. Offense, too. While with the Bulls he proved he could shoulder the offensive burden of an entire team. Playing second or third fiddle on an already-strong Pellies offense should be a breeze.

    Signing him will admittedly be tricky, though. All options included, the Pellies have more than $56 million on their books next season. We already know Deng rejected a three-year, $30-million extension in Chicago thanks to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, so attempting to sign him at roughly half that will go nowhere.

    But, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, the Pellies are open to moving Eric Gordon, who is owed $14.9 million next season, and Evans, who is due almost $11.3 million. Flipping one (or both) of them in favor of expiring contracts would open up enough room to bring in Deng.

    After watching Davis defend three or four guys on any given possession on the regular this year, that sounds good to me. And what the Pellies have to offer Deng's future sounds much better than anything Cleveland can promise him. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Time for us to go here and never look back.

    Deng is perfect for the Los Angeles Lakers. Perfect I tell you.

    Not only do the Lakers need a wing defender who can score consistently—sorry, Wesley Johnson—but Deng could be had at a reasonable cost. He likely won't command a four-year contract; he could possibly be had for three or less.

    With Kevin Love's impending free agency on the brain, the Lakers must find a way to remain competitive next season for Kobe Bryant without jeopardizing their financial plasticity for summer 2015. As someone who can be used as a traditional 3 or stretch 4 in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, Deng offers the best of both worlds.

    Since his contract wouldn't cost the Lakers—who are slated to have $20-plus million in cap space available this offseason—anywhere near what Carmelo Anthony would demand, pairing Deng and Bryant with Love isn't completely out of the question.

    Finances are admittedly complicated in that scenario, but it is possible. 

    Better still, Deng is also a valuable trade piece should the Minnesota Timberwolves make Love available before next season's trade deadline. The Lakers don't have anyone of substantial value on the roster right now; Deng provides them with a package centerpiece the Timberwolves won't laugh uncontrollably at.

    Investing multiple years and (likely) eight figures annually in a player isn't normally part of some bigger, trade-him-almost-immediately scheme. That could hold true in Los Angeles, too.

    But Deng gives the Lakers options. And it gives Deng the opportunity to vault a historically proven franchise back into playoff contention.

    That's more than we can say for his current situation in Cleveland, where the Cavs are hapless and hopeless, and no end to self-foisted mayhem is in sight.

Detroit Pistons

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    There's disappointing, there's absolutely awful and then there's what the Detroit Pistons have done this season.

    After investing roughly $80 million in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings over the summer, they've proven themselves an expensive disaster. Worse, they're an expensive disaster incapable of playing defense. Or scoring points. 

    Detroit ranks 20th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because apparently reckless spending doesn't buy a distaste for long twos and affinity for proper shot selection. Which brings me to Deng, who would be a great fit for this roster.

    Let's make one thing clear first: The fact that I'm naming a team so recently prone to incompetent decision making shows just how freaking terminally hexed the Cavaliers are. Now, moving on...

    The Greg Monroe-Smith pairing has been predictably bad for the Pistons. Both are better off at the 4, operating on the block. With Andre "I can't shoot free throws but I got plenty of other on-court swag" Drummond in the fold, there just isn't enough room for all them to coexist.

    The solution: Trade Smoove. The realistic solution: Part ways with Monroe.

    It sucks, I know. Monroe is the more promising player, but Smoove's contract is likely immovable. Monroe is entering restricted free agency this summer and is easier removed from the picture.

    Although The Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis says the Pistons are unlikely to trade Monroe this season, it doesn't matter. They create financial flexibility just by letting him walk over the summer anyway; their all-inclusive total is at $42.1 million, and that's with his $5.5 million qualifying offer accounted for. 

    Trying to package him with a less favorable contract would be prudent—perhaps Jonas Jerebko's—and give them more wiggle room, but either way, the Pistons have means to create room for Deng. And doing so would be smart, because he gives them an asset on both ends of the floor. Someone who can play alongside Smith.

    Someone who pretty much stands for everything they don't right now—consistency and winning and hope and more hope—which is a good thing.