CLEVELAND: Seventeen thoughts for 17 points from Luol Deng in what could’ve been his final game with the Cavs in a 101-93 win over the Magic, their sixth straight victory…
1. Connect the dots with me: Herb Rudoy is Luol Deng’s agent. Rudoy was Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ agent. Chris Grant hired Ilgauskas to be his special assistant and teach him the ways of an NBA front office. Grant had a nice working relationship with Rudoy. Grant was fired two weeks ago.
2. As the Cavaliers continue to listen to trade offers for Deng with Thursday’s trade deadline approaching, it’s important to understand Deng is upset Grant was fired shortly after he was brought here. Deng conceded to me after Wednesday’s game he was close to Grant and wished for more time with him. Grant was fired after Deng played 14 games with the team, and there is a belief in certain circles that the price to retain Deng in Cleveland went up after Grant’s firing. Deng did little to dispute that following Wednesday’s victory.
3. “I spoke highly of the organization here and how great everything is and how the players are taken care of to perform at their best, but there’s a lot of questions here that aren’t answered,” Deng said when asked if he’s determined to hit free agency. “We just got rid of our GM, the guy who traded for me, so I really don’t know what’s going on. If it’s clear exactly what’s going on, it’ll make everything easier.”
4. All of that is part of the reason the Cavs are listening to offers for him, plus there is a concern how well he fits into this system. If the Cavs can obtain a first-round pick for him, plus find a replacement at the 3, Deng could be moved today. He wasn’t traded for 9 ½ years, but now he could be dealt twice within two months because he’s in the last year of his deal.
5. “I really believe if it wasn’t my contract year, I wouldn’t have been here,” Deng said. “Chicago felt, for whatever reason, they couldn’t keep me and made a move. Now I’m here and because it’s my contract year it’s going to come up again.”
6. And in case you were wondering whether or not Deng wants to be here, he addressed the elephant in the room and perhaps became the first pro athlete to admit, “Nobody is going to come out and say I want to be traded. That’s not me anyway. The situation I’m in, I always work out whatever I go through. I’ve never been the guy to come out and say, ‘I don’t want to be here.’” Not exactly a ringing endorsement to remain in Cleveland, however.
7. Jarrett Jack came here willingly, signing a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth year. Yet he, too, could be moved today. The Cavs have been actively shopping him for weeks.
8. He hasn’t been what the Cavs expected on the court and he hasn’t been the locker room influence many expected, either. Jack admitted tonight he hasn’t had the type of year he was expecting and knew full well people were expecting a year similar to last season at Golden State, when he averaged 12.9 points, 5.6 assists and shot 45 percent.
9. Jack’s 8.4-point average this season is his lowest since his rookie year and he’s shooting below 40 percent for just the second time in his career. But Jack said the role he has been asked to play is far different than last year with the Warriors, when he had the ball in his hands more often because Steph Curry was comfortable in an off-ball role. Kyrie Irving plays with the ball in his hands much more, although Jack’s assists totals have increased since he was moved into the starting lineup.
10. “The way I’ve played in past situations is different here,” Jack said, conceding people were expecting numbers similar to what he produced last season. “Here Kyrie is more of an on-ball kind of guy. Steph is more of a guy who can float at times because he shoots so well. He pretty much likes that. With me, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way. Sometimes they’re a lot, sometimes they aren’t. That’s the way the ball bounces at times. You stick with it through the ups and downs, good and bad and keep rolling. Right now, six wins in a row, there’s no need to focus on anything individually.”
11. So why are the Cavs so anxious to unload Jack? Part of it is his lack of production, part of it is his contract and I have to believe part of it is how much Mike Brown loves Matthew Dellavedova. It’s hard for Brown to find him minutes right now, but he has proven capable of handling the backup point guard duties.
12. The Cavs need to clear as much payroll as they can for this summer. That starts with Jack. They have discussed sending Jack to the Sacramento Kings for weeks and the two names mentioned most frequently, as I wrote on Tuesday, were Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton.
13. But Thornton was traded to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and ESPN is reporting the Cavs are trying to find another home for Thompson, whose guaranteed money is about the same as Jack’s over the next two seasons. The Kings have tried unsuccessfully for months to unload Thompson, so I’m not sure how much luck the Cavs will have. Teams just don’t want to take on much guaranteed money right now.
14. Having said all that, the Cavs remain confident they’ll get something done before the deadline. One executive warned that while the Cavs are buyers, they could make a deal that doesn’t seem to fit with the “buying” mentality, but it could lead to a better fit elsewhere. As we get closer to the 3 p.m. trade deadline, that type of definition fits for both Jack and Deng.
15. By the way, there was a game tonight and the Cavs won again. It was encouraging to see them fight back after playing poorly in the third quarter and giving away most of a 21-point lead, only to hold on and win. This is the type of game they’d have lost a couple months ago, but now that they’ve won a few they have the belief they can win these types of games. The Magic, however, are 0-for-2014 on the road and likely have the sense something will go wrong and cost them the game. And they were right.
16. I understand why they’re trying to unload Jack, but I’m not sure moving Deng is the right decision unless they’re absolutely positive he’s going to walk at the end of the season and I don’t think they can be sure of that. I don’t see how they can be. Sure, maybe he’s upset right now. But Deng wants money this summer. Lots of money. And the Cavs have the money to spend.
17. We’ll see what happens. Happy Deadline Day. Talk to you Friday from Toronto.