The Los Angeles Clippers desperately need to upgrade the roster around All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They won't take the next step toward a championship without boosting the supporting cast.
Losing out on 26-year-old guard Darren Collison—Doc Rivers' No. 1 priority, per the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner—wasn't an ideal start to the offseason.
Nevertheless, a former All-Star at a different position has been thrust to the forefront of Clips rumors.
According to a tweet from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Los Angeles is exploring sign-and-trade possibilities to land Luol Deng:
Free agent Luol Deng intrigued with Clippers sign-and-trade possibilities, sources tell Yahoo. He's expected to speak with Doc Rivers today.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 3, 2014
Looking for an upgrade at the 3 makes perfect sense for the Clippers, and Deng is the best on the market not named LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.
If Doc's targeting an improvement at the position, Deng's reputation and resume as a two-time All-Star speaks for itself.
The feasibility of landing Deng even with mutual interest, though, presents some problems. First, "Lob City" will have to figure out exactly who (or what) it'll trade away.
As Turner writes, "It's no secret Rivers wants to upgrade his small forward position and that he has been trying to trade starting small forward Matt Barnes."
The 34-year-old veteran out of UCLA is a solid two-way role player. He'd also go to war for his teammates at the drop of a hat. Nonetheless, he seems to be the odd man out in a starting rotation that features CP3, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick.
While trading Barnes is a clear possibility, keeping him as a valuable bench commodity could prove fruitful.
Oddly enough, Deng doesn't present himself as a clear-cut statistical upgrade when compared directly with Barnes.
|Matt Barnes||63 (40 starts)||27.5||43.8%||34.3%||9.9||4.6||2.0|
|Luol Deng||63 (all starts)||35.1||43.1%||30.2%||16.0||5.7||2.9|
Deng's shooting efficiency, especially from beyond the arc, dropped off considerably during the 2013-14 campaign. In fact, it hit its lowest mark since 2006-07.
The Sudanese swingman also notched more minutes per game when compared to Barnes, so it's easy to understand why he scored more points, grabbed more rebounds and dished out more assists.
In addition to generic stats for 2013-14, the tattooed California native held opponents at his position to a lower player efficiency rating (12.6 versus 15.1, according to 82games.com). He was also more relentless when finishing at the rim (62.1 percent compared to 54.9 percent for Deng, per NBA.com).
One area where Deng could provide a huge upgrade, though, is in crunch time. During the fourth quarter or overtime when the game was within a five-point margin, Deng's teams held opponents to an offensive rating of 99.3. The Clippers with Barnes on the court in such situations surrendered 110.8 points per 100 possessions.
The Clips' offense was vastly superior in the clutch, but balance wins championships.
Keeping Barnes clearly isn't an urgent matter for Doc, but the Clips could mull other scenarios.
For instance, they could consider moving Jared Dudley. The Boston College product had a dreadful year after a solid tenure with the Phoenix Suns. If packaged along with draft pick(s) or a young player—either Reggie Bullock or rookie C.J. Wilcox—L.A. may be able to ensure depth by keeping Barnes.
There's one more name that enters the conversation of trade bait, however, and Clippers fans may consider his departure a tough pill to swallow.
The 2013-14 Sixth Man of the Year winner would clear the most cap space when compared with Dudley or Barnes. In order to add Deng at a reasonable price, Crawford's offensive firepower may very well get sent packing.
How Deng Fits
While Deng clearly didn't have a stellar year from a shooting standpoint, he's still a dynamic talent. We may even look back on his statistical dip from downtown as an anomaly. Remember, he was thrust into the role of go-to guy when Derrick Rose was kept out of action for the past two seasons.
As Helin wrote, "He's a strong defender who works well as a third scoring option as either the roll man or cutting off the ball (plus he will get out in transition and finish)."
Instead of merely spotting up beyond the arc—as Barnes and Dudley are wont to do—the 29-year-old free agent features a steady repertoire tied to his sky-high basketball IQ.
Deng can cut to the bucket off the ball, take advantage of mismatches, drive past his defender or pull up for mid-range shots. His comfort level as a guy who doesn't need to be the No. 1 (or even No. 2) option on offense would fit quite well with Paul and Griffin.
Of course, everything is tied to his defensive prowess. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote in his NBA 200 series, "Deng excels as a shutdown wing defender, especially when opponents make the mistake of trying to post him up. That's just a recipe for disaster, although it's not exactly easy to find a method of attack that leaves the small forward all that vulnerable."
LAC doesn't need Deng to be a volume scorer on offense. He simply needs to be a complementary cog—a role he's perfected over a long career.
If the Clippers somehow managed to swing a sign-and-trade deal with the Cavs for Deng, they'd undoubtedly increase their title odds for next year.
His defense, complementary scoring, will to win and leadership all make him an ideal match for Coach Rivers.
They have to be willing to work together, watch tape together, watch tape with the coach. They've shown they can play together. There's times where they've looked great. They're human, but in terms of can they play together? Yeah. I've played in this league for 10 years and I know they can.
That's a guy you want in your favorite team's locker room, especially considering the entire hullabaloo of rumors exiting Cleveland.
Deng's ability to thrive and play at an All-Star-caliber level without being a team's No. 1 option is perfect for this Clippers roster.