The courtship between the Cavaliers and Luol Deng for a long-term commitment is under way. How this ends is anyone’s guess, but the looming question now is how will the acquisition of Deng impact this summer’s chase of LeBron James?
In short, it simply gives the Cavs more options.
It’s a Jordan-from-the-free-throw-line-sized leap, of course, to assume James wants to return to a team that enters Sunday’s game at Sacramento 10 games under .500, but for the sake of this argument, let’s assume he does indeed have an interest in returning to Cleveland.
The Cavs, at least theoretically, could fit both Deng and James under their salary cap next season, but it’s going to take a lot of work. And it might come down to which would the Cavs (or James) prefer — Deng or the duo of Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao? They won’t be able to keep them all.
We don’t yet know the numbers for next season’s salary cap, so we’ll have to base everything off this year’s cap figure of $58.679 million. There is at least a decent chance that will increase for next season, which should help the Cavs’ cause.
No one knows what Deng is seeking in his next contract. He sought out the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson last week after his initial press availability in Cleveland to make it clear he never asked the Bulls for $15 million a season. Of course, Deng may have been willing to take less to stay with the only franchise he’s ever known and the Cavs may not catch such a break.
Josh Smith signed with the Detroit Pistons last summer for $13.5 million per season. The two are about the same age, but Deng has been the superior player. It stands to reason he’ll want at least that much on his next contract, particularly since he’s making more than that this year.
It’s no guarantee, however, the Cavs will be willing to give him that much. Deng will turn 29 soon and has battled injuries throughout his career. To his credit, he has always done his best to play through them, but he played in less than 70 games four times during his nine full years in Chicago.
He’s also among the league leaders in minutes every season, so there are a lot of miles on those tires. It stands to wonder how comfortable the Cavs would be handing him a four-year, $56 million contract given his history.
“I’m fine. I do a great job of taking care of my body,” Deng said. “I started early [in the NBA], but I’m only 28. I eat healthy. I take care of myself. I feel great.”
The Cavs have Deng on a minutes restriction right now as sort of a precaution given the Achilles problems he had last month, but he dismissed all the concerns over his heavy workload throughout his career — like the time he played a total of 98 minutes on consecutive nights earlier this season.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Deng joked. “People talk about minutes, but it’s not like I’m playing 60 minutes and the stars are playing 30 minutes. It’s just like 2 minutes difference, so it’s not a big deal.”
Deng and James play the same position, but both are so talented they shouldn’t have much of an issue playing together if the opportunity occurred. Besides, James can play about anywhere on the court.
Assuming the Cavs are willing to give Deng $14 million a year and assuming Deng takes it, the Cavs would have to trade Jack and Varejao in order to get in the neighborhood of offering James a max contract. And that still doesn’t take into account the draft slot for their 2014 first-round pick, which also chews into their salary cap.
Mike Brown loves Matthew Dellavedova and presumably would feel comfortable enough letting him handle the backup point guard duties next season if it meant the opportunity to acquire James and retain Deng. Jack is guaranteed $6.3 million each of the next two seasons. It’s a sizable amount, but nothing that can’t be moved.
Only about half of Varejao’s $9 million contract for next season is guaranteed, which should make him appealing to a number of teams.
As for the looming extension for Kyrie Irving, that doesn’t factor into next season’s payroll because Irving is still on his rookie contract for another season. Any extension for Irving won’t begin until the 2015-16 season, which is why the Cavs’ window to add impact players is limited to this summer. After that, the nucleus of this team starts getting more expensive.
If James returns, they can make this easy and simply part ways with Deng. If James elects to stay in Miami, they can aggressively pursue Deng. At this point, there are more questions than answers.
But in the Cavs’ never-ending quest to pair Irving with another star, they’ve finally found one. Now both sides have to ask, for how long?
By Jason Lloyd - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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