Now that the Dallas Mavericks have righted the ship and won their first playoff games since 2011, it's time to take another step in the right direction.
Since Dirk is aging and the roster isn't exactly young, this next step requires a little outside help. According to Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com, GM Donnie Nelson and the rest of the front office plan to be very aggressive about bringing in new pieces this offseason.
Given that their franchise superstar Dirk Nowitzki will turn 36 in June, aggressive is good.
That's the kind of attitude it will take for the Mavs to go out and get their man. And yes, there is a player who the Mavs should focus in on; one guy who could vault this team up a notch should he come to Dallas.
Luol Deng would look pretty good in those crisp home whites don't you think?
He's not the sexiest acquisition, or the youngest, or even the best free agent at his position should Carmelo Anthony opt out of his deal. But Deng is a perfect fit for the Mavericks. And that's what matters.
Of course, some Mavs fans might instead want a younger player like Eric Bledsoe or maybe even a big guy like Tyson Chandler, who ESPN Dallas' Marc Stein says the Mavs are pursuing. Both are very enticing players, but believe it or not, Deng makes more sense.
While that may seem like a bold statement, let's first take a step back and discuss what exactly Dallas was lacking this season and what it needs to fix moving forward.
First and foremost, the Mavs need defensive help. The team ranked in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency, opponent field-goal percentage, rebounding rate and threes made.
No matter how you slice it, the defense was bad last year.
Dallas also could really use a reliable third scorer. It sure would be nice for the Mavs to go into a game with some idea of who might step up behind Dirk and Monta Ellis instead of crossing their fingers that the 37-year-old Vince Carter or Devin Harris has a good night.
Of course, this squad with no consistent third option won 49 games, but I don't think anyone is opposed to giving Rick Carlisle a new toy to throw into the mix on offense. Vince Carter is great and all, but if he's a prominent part of the offense in 2014, that might not be a recipe for sustained success.
Defense and a third scorer are the two glaring holes for the Mavs. And optimally to help solve these problems, Dallas would add an elite two-way guy, but we all know those don't grow on trees.
Luol Deng is one of those rare two-way guys.
Deng flourished under the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau in Chicago before being traded to Cleveland this past year where his play dropped off. When he was still a Bull last season, Deng was on pace to average career highs in both points and assists per game at 18.3 and 3.6, respectively.
As a Cavalier, Deng's play slipped, and he even admitted that his defense wasn't there in the early going, which is remarkable given that defense has historically been his calling card.
But given how shocking the trade was and how seemingly toxic the Cavaliers situation could be, Deng's slippage can be somewhat explained.
What's more important than Deng's subpar stat line last season is how he could fit into the Mavericks' system. Owner Mark Cuban said that for Dallas, fit is most important in looking at new pieces: "We pay less attention to what they did in their last system than what we believe they will do in our system with our group of players."
Deng would be a great Maverick. Given that Shawn Marion is aging and a free agent, bringing in another solid wing defender is essential. Deng is also versatile, playing 16 percent of his minutes at the 4, which would allow Dallas to go small at times.
And though he's not an elite scorer, Deng is a perfectly suited third option. He isn't a player who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and despite his struggles last season, he still managed to score 16.4 points per 36 minutes, which is above his career average.
This is of course perfect for Dallas. With Ellis and Nowitzki taking most of the defense's attention, Deng can be free to move without the ball and take advantage of mismatches, two things he has excelled at over his career.
This may all sound well and good, but I'm sure some people were looking for an acquisition with a bit more pizazz. An addition with a little more wow attached to it.
Someone like Eric Bledsoe.
And I'm sure Carlisle and Nelson would love to get their hands on the 24-year-old point guard known as "Mini LeBron." He's fast, quick, strong and would inject a youthful, budding star into the Dallas organization.
Unfortunately, the Mavs probably can't have him.
There's the matter of fit, which isn't perfect. Bledsoe thrived in the Phoenix Suns' fast-paced system this past season, and though Dallas isn't slow according to ESPN's pace statistics, they aren't fast either.
Anybody who watched a Suns game would tell you that the Mavs and Suns don't look anything alike offensively.
But of course Bledsoe is a great talent, and this might be one of those situations where the Mavs brass say, "never mind fit, we'll make an exception for this guy called 'Mini LeBron.'"
If the brain trust does decide to pursue Bledsoe, it likely won't bring anything. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, and in an interview with ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Suns GM Ryan McDonough said Phoenix will, "have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him."
If that remains the case, then Bledsoe won't be coming to Dallas.
Bledsoe would be fun, but let's remain realistic. Signing Deng is a more achievable goal and a better fit in the end. Though he doesn't know the system quite as well, Deng can be a kind of upgraded Shawn Marion, which is immensely valuable moving forward.
Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News seems to agree.
Worst case is that they lose Marion and don't get Deng and now they don't have any defense except for Devin Harris. If they add Deng and another nice piece, and keep Carter and Harris, and Ellils keeps improving and Dirk doesn't show much more decline, I think they could win 54 games. If they don't get Deng and lose Marion, it's probably a 46-win team, at best.
Winning 50 games in the Western Conference these days is no walk in the park. But if Deng can provide an upgrade and tack on a few extra wins over the course of the 2014-15 season, he'll be well worth the signing.
Would Deng be sexy? No, probably not. Would he be exciting? No, not exactly. Would bringing him in be a smart basketball move?
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