Luol Deng's future is up in the air.
The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for him, taking advantage of a Chicago Bulls front office that seemed desperate to improve the team's standing in the draft lottery (whoops), but they did so knowing full well that he'd end up hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
That's where we are now, and the early indications point toward Cleveland just letting him walk.
Here's the latest from Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that the Cavs could increase their chances of retaining free agent Luol Deng should they hire [Adrian] Griffin to be their coach, but the Cavs tried trading Deng at the trade deadline three months ago and haven’t expressed much interest in bringing him back.
It's worth noting that there's plenty of time left before anything can actually be done. The playoffs have to end and the moratorium has to lift before teams can begin negotiations with free agents, which can drag on for quite some time.
So this by no means firmly indicates that Deng is never going to play for Cleveland again. It just hints that he won't.
Why? There are three primary reasons.
The first is that Deng just wasn't as good once he left the Bulls, with whom he'd spent the first nine-and-a-half seasons of his career:
Secondly, the small forward didn't exactly enjoy his first go-round with the team. He joined at the height of the Cavs' dysfunction, reportedly telling a friend after a short stint, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, "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."
On top of that, he just doesn't fit in too well with Cleveland's future plans.
Not only are Sergey Karasev and Anthony Bennett—let's not give up on him just yet, bad as his rookie season may have been—waiting for bigger opportunities, but the Cavs have access to either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker with the No. 1 pick. Both play the same position as Deng.
There's that to consider, and then there's LeBron James.
If Cleveland hopes to buck the odds and bring the four-time MVP back home, it has to preserve plenty of cap room, and renouncing Deng's future with the squad is one of the necessary steps in doing so.
Will Luol Deng play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014-15?
Deng is a great player, even a borderline All-Star some years. As Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports writes, "He isn’t the type to anchor a team, but he would be an excellent veteran piece to solidify a winning situation that’s already in place."
That doesn't sound like Cleveland, even though this squad is undoubtedly on the rise, especially with its recent pingpong-related fortune.
Given the Cavaliers' current situation, it might actually be more surprising if reports indicated the team planned on heavily pursuing him during the upcoming offseason.