Ranking Most Logical Landing Spots for Luol Deng
Luol Deng is a 29-year-old small forward who was named to two of the last three All-Star games. Not including players with contract options, he enters the summer as one of the league's most desirable unrestricted free agents, and in a market this thin, will be paid handsomely for his trouble.
Deng is on the record discussing what he wants, as he told CSNChicago’s Sam Aggrey:
I want to win. A winning situation, that's it. I want to be in a place where guys are committed, the team is committed, the organization is committed, the coaching staff knows what direction they're going.
To me, I play better and I shine better and I'm a better player on a team that's committed to winning. I've been on teams that are losing in the past, and it's shown that it isn't for me because it just drags everybody down. But when a team knows where they're going, what direction they're going, I want to be in a winning environment. That's where I want to be.
Not mentioned: He wants to get paid, and any potential suitor should be more than willing to exceed the three-year, $30 million offer the Chicago Bulls reportedly made before trading Deng last season. His current contract averaged out to approximately $11.8 million per year over the last six seasons, and this next one should be between $48-56 million over four years.
Most of the organizations that will go after him are looking to win right now; they need a player like Deng to to push them over the hump. Here are five, ranked on the likelihood Deng actually ends up wearing their jersey next season.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant’s contract is a gallon of spilt milk in a house with no paper towels. What’s done is done, and it makes deciphering his team’s short-term goals an extremely confusing exercise. Do they want to win now? Are they about to embark on a (relatively) prudent renovation?
The Los Angeles Lakers have cap space and would objectively like to be better than the 27-win broken carnival ride that was their 2013-14 regular season. From that perspective, signing Luol Deng to a long-term contract makes a lot of sense.
Deng is a wonderful defender for his position. He can knock down open threes and wiggle his way to scoring some points on his own. He’ll make Bryant’s life easier, sure, but will he be a building block? Probably not; there are too many miles on his legs.
But does that mean the Lakers wouldn’t do all they can to make sure they get him? Even if it means throwing up a four-year, $52 million deal (what the Sacramento Kings briefly offered Andre Iguodala last summer)? Aside from preserving cap space for next summer, when more desirable players flood the market, there’s no way to gauge what this team’s motivations currently are. Paying Deng $14 million per year is probably a bit much, but would anyone be shocked if the Lakers actually did it?
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Right now, New Orleans doesn’t have nearly enough cap space to sign a free agent with Deng’s price tag. But if they can find a taker for Eric Gordon’s heavily-shopped contract, or the approximate $32 million left on Tyreke Evans’ deal without taking back much money, Deng is someone they’ll surely target.
With the offensively impotent Al-Farouq Aminu coming off the books, New Orleans needs to find another long wing defender who can also (reasonably) space the floor for Anthony Davis. Deng wouldn’t be thrust into anything he can’t handle, either.
As the third or fourth option on offense, he could focus on defense (something New Orleans sorely needs) and rebounding. Deng would also be the veteran presence a young Pelicans squad could really use as they gear up to puncture a very loaded Western Conference playoff picture.
3. Washington Wizards
They can also let Ariza and/or Gortat walk, maintain cap flexibility and take a minor step back in the short term so they can jump forward when Wall and Beal are entering their respective primes. Or, they can sort of do both by replacing Ariza with Luol Deng. Signing the two-time All-Star to a pricey four-year deal wouldn’t come without risk: Deng led the entire NBA in minutes per game for two of the last three seasons.
He’s an “old” 29 and paying him $11-14 million over the next four years would be locking into a Wall, Beal and Deng trio that may or may not be good enough for title contention, especially if Deng starts to decline sooner rather than later.
But for the next couple of seasons, Washington would still be extremely potent on both ends with Deng's dependability.
2. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have their name in just about every rumor involving a superstar. Luol Deng isn’t on the same tier as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh or LeBron James, but he’s a perfect fit for this basketball team.
The Rockets desperately need perimeter defense (check) and a veteran with on-court leadership qualities (check) who’s familiar with deep playoff runs (triple check).
A starting lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Deng, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard would be monstrous on offense, and, though undersized, come equipped with three All-Defensive team quality players.
To sign Deng, they’ll need to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts, but that feels like an organizational mandate regardless of which new players they choose to bring in. Is Deng enough to push an extremely talented Rockets team into the NBA Finals? Perhaps. He certainly makes sense on paper.
1. Dallas Mavericks
This is the player Dallas has its eye on: A versatile wing who'll help them on both ends.
If everyone stays healthy, the Mavericks will already have one of the NBA’s best offenses next season. Where they can stand to improve is on defense, which is why signing Luol Deng makes quite a bit of sense for a team looking to maximize the final few years of Dirk Nowitzki's career.
Here’s Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington on Deng and the Mavericks:
I think you go to somebody like that, he gives you things that you need because I don’t think that Shawn Marion’s coming back. This is a guy who is a good small forward, a good two-way forward, he plays defense. This is like a younger version of Marion that you’d be getting here. I think it’s absolutely imperative they get a guy like that.
Dallas has been one of the most financially careful teams in the league since the newest CBA was ratified. Nowitzki still needs to sign his next deal, but even after that, they should still have enough cap space for two max contracts, either this summer or next.
Deng doesn't deserve a maximum deal, but signing him to a four-year contract that pays upwards of $11 million per season wouldn't be a bad decision. Dallas would still have enough room to go after a bigger fish next summer, and Deng alone pushes them closer to the league's elite than most might think.