That was quick. A little more than a month after acquiring Luol Deng via trade, the Cavaliers are reportedly gauging what Deng might fetch on the trade deadline market, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
The primary concern behind Cleveland's exploratory discussions, according to Windhorst, is whether the nine-year veteran would re-sign with the Cavs as an unrestricted free agent this summer. That's probably something that should have factored more seriously into former GM Chris Grant's thinking at the time of the deal, but there's no harm in Cleveland's turn toward self-awareness under new management. It's not altogether necessary for acting GM David Griffin to trade Deng before the deadline, though the Cavs are wise to at least see what kind of return he might bring as they evaluate their broader options.
At best, Deng has been a bit out of sorts since his arrival in Cleveland, as he's adjusting to a new team climate for the first time in his carer and a new offensive and defensive system for the first time since 2010. At worst, it's been reported that Deng has been none too impressed by the Cavaliers' operation -- a claim that Deng himself has denied. With the truth likely somewhere in between, Cleveland has good reason to doubt whether Deng would voluntarily sign himself back into the same situation for the next 3-4 years. The Cavaliers could offer more handsome year-to-year raises than any other team by way of owning Deng's Bird rights, and very clearly have an opening for him in terms of minutes and a prominent role. But they won't be the only franchise capable of putting together an attractive offer, and when given the choice Deng might opt for a more stable working environment than what he's found thus far in Cleveland.
Surely this possibility factored into Grant's evaluation of the deal at the time of its execution, yet the Cavs now face the possibility of having traded a protected first-round pick, the right to swap first-round picks in 2015 (provided Cleveland isn't in the lottery), and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for just a few months of Deng's services. In that light, seeing what other teams might offer for Deng -- whether as a means of picking up some attractive asset or simply hedging losses -- is the only responsible course. It also should be noted that Griffin, while a respected executive around the league, may have only a limited time to put his mark on this particular team. If he can redeem some long-term value by flipping Deng, that might help toward dropping his interim status when the Cavs consider GM candidates this summer.
Landing something substantial in return for Deng might be easier said than done, though, as few teams are generally willing to part with assets of much value for a player set to enter unrestricted free agency. Even the first-round pick Cleveland gave up to acquire Deng came with a catch; if the rolling protections on the pick, which originally belonged to Sacramento, don't allow it to convey by 2017, it becomes a lightly protected secondround pick instead. Even that kind of conditional pick might be more than many teams are willing to give up, and trade rules prevent the Cavs from packaging Deng with another player to net a more attractive return. Still it makes sense for Griffin to make calls to other front office types with Deng as a topic of conversation. There was decent logic behind the move to land Deng in the first place, particularly for a Cavs team not meeting its own internal expectations for playoff contention. The deal just hasn't translated to the court as expected, leaving Cleveland to deal with the very real possibility of Deng's offseason departure.