Deng's Destiny -

Deng’s Destiny

By Sam Hart@the_line_131

Like LeBron, London’s Luol Deng is taking his future into his own hands with free agency… but where will he end up?

Lewis Hamilton, fresh from rounding the final corner of Silverstone and taking the chequered flag at the British grand prix; Wayne Rooney, fresh from dejectedly trudging off the field following England’s disastrous World Cup campaign; and Andy Murray, resting up after a disappointing attempt at retaining the Wimbledon men’s singles title. These may be obvious first thoughts for this country’s highest-paid active athletes… but the man whom The Guardian once dubbed ‘Britain’s Secret Superstar’ is looking for his next payday, projected to be somewhere between $10-12 million over four or five years. And the ball is in his court.

Like many this NBA off-season, Sudanese-born, London-raised Luol Deng is tasting the free-agency waters and weighing up his many options. At 29, this is the move that will shape the rest of his basketball career; the one that could ultimately determine whether he will ever lift that Larry O’Brien Championship trophy.

Although LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony – draft-buds who have apparently always wanted to play with each other – will dominate the free agency gossip and rumour columns, along with, to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce, Deng is a tier-two superstar (and two-time All-Star) who is serious hot property this summer for franchises all around the League. A guy that plays both ends, plays with energy, has Playoff experience and could be a great final piece for somebody.

Luol’s stay at the Cleveland Cavaliers never felt long-term. It was an uninspiring move for him and a lacklustre attempt at competitiveness for a franchise that have, for the most part, failed profusely since losing you-know-who. It didn’t fit. Now he can try on a few different options for size.

The latest reports suggest advanced talks with the Atlanta Hawks, who have rebuilt and so impressed in the 2014 Playoffs, and, far more attention-grabbing, a one-on-one meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley. Or maybe one-on-two, if coach Erik Spoelstra was present.

A move to South Beach, South Florida, of course, must depend greatly on what it looks like Mr. James is going to decide upon, as well as how much money Bosh and Dwyane Wade will want to pocket, should they decide to stay. All being well, it thrusts Deng firmly into a Championship shot, even more so than at any point during his impressive stint with the Chicago Bulls. But will he be willing to buy in to Riley’s shrewd vision and take less cash? Early indications seem not.

But so much is up in the air that the two sides will reportedly “meet again next week”.

The Hawks grabbed a few of the headlines and initial stirrings on Twitter because they were seemingly one of the first teams to meet with Deng or sound out interest in him, but what actually came of any meeting nobody really knows.

Other reliable media sources have implied that a conversation with Doc Rivers is on the cards with regards to a possible sign-and-trade deal taking him to the Los Angeles Clippers, and other interested teams have made contact, including the Dallas Mavericks.

Even the Orlando Magic, a team seemingly putting off and putting off their full-on re-build, are considering a move for the 6’9” Team GB small forward. As previously alluded to, though, they’ll need to land somebody else big-time to even turn Deng’s head, otherwise they are nowhere near ready for a deep Playoff run, even in the East, let alone trophies, even with more salary cap space than most saved up. He can’t afford to ride out a fresh start for three or four years if he wants success now.

Dallas could be a great fit. They have veteran players, pushed San Antonio to the limit last year and are looking to add other pieces alongside Deng, including, apparently, one Pau Gasol. With Nowitzki still going strong, that front court would be nothing to mess with.

For British basketball fans it’s going to be one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the summer.

It’s hard to picture ‘Melo leaving New York, despite the Lakers apparently pitching hard and impressing, and it’s even harder to see James breaking another city’s heart and leaving Miami, despite some indication to the contrary, but Deng’s future is a little less predictable. You get the impression that he is being advised well, is considering all avenues carefully and is going to take his sweet time.

And when you came from nothing, with a shot at everything, who the hell could blame him?

Image Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

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