Esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore has identified Luol Deng, once of Chicago and lately of Cleveland, as the Atlanta Hawks’ top target, realistically speaking, in free agency. (The Hawks will try to woo LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but neither pursuit would seem realistic.) What would landing Deng do for the local franchise?
It would give them a better No. 1 small forward than DeMarre Carroll, who shouldn’t be starting for an upper-level NBA club, and would make their first five — Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Deng, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague — one of the league’s 10 best. Deng is a good defender and a proven scorer. He has twice been an All-Star.
He’s also 29, having spent 10 seasons as a pro and logging more than 26,000 minutes (counting playoffs). He was the No. 2 option in Chicago during Derrick Rose’s rise to MVP status — Korver was a sub on those teams — but last winter the Bulls, who would finish as the East’s No. 4 seed even without Rose, shipped Deng to Cleveland.
His agent told USA Today’s Sam Amick that Deng wouldn’t be opposed to returning to Chicago if the Bulls can’t sign Anthony — they’re considered one of the favorites for Carmelo’s services — and Deng isn’t without other options. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, he won’t come cheap.
By trading Lou Williams to Toronto for John Salmons, whom they plan to waive July 10, the Hawks will be $15 million under the salary cap. That’s not enough to offer a maximum contract to LeBron or Carmelo, though more money could be cleared. But $15 million is too much to pay for Deng, especially when we consider that the Hawks signed Paul Millsap, the best free-agent buy of last summer, for $19 million over two seasons.
The Hawks are also believed to be interested in Greg Monroe, the Detroit forward/center, and Lakers forward Pau Gasol. (This according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.)
But $15 million wouldn’t be enough to land both Deng and Monroe/Gasol, and it’s unclear where either of the latter two would play. As noted, the Hawks have Horford and Millsap at the 5 and 4 spots. The bigger need is for a wing, which is why this correspondent wasn’t overly thrilled with the Hawks’ drafting of power forward Adreian Payne in Round 1.
Deng is more what the Hawks lack, and he’s a good player who wouldn’t mess up what they’re trying to do. (As opposed, say, to Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, who’s more gifted and who’s also available but who might wreak internal havoc. Though I must admit Stephenson is intriguing, if only on a conceptual level.)
We’ll more in the next 10 days, but if the past two summers have taught us anything it’s that Hawks general manager Danny Ferry will do something major, if not quite huge, and something smart. That’s not a bad baseline to have set.
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