By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: One of Luol Deng’s first orders of business upon arriving at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Wednesday was choosing a jersey number. He wore No. 9 with the Chicago Bulls for nearly a decade, but undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova already owned it in Cleveland.
So after practice, during which Deng wore No. 8, he sat down with Dellavedova in the locker room for an awkward conversation.
“It was one of the hardest things I had to do. I knew I had to speak to him at some point,” Deng said. “I think we sat in the locker room for a little while looking at each other. It was almost like we were about to break up.”
Deng just went through his first professional breakup when he was traded away from the Bulls. He participated in his first practice with the Cavs on Wednesday and will practice again today. Coach Mike Brown said Deng likely will be the starting small forward Friday when the Cavs began a five-game West Coast trip at the Utah Jazz.
As for the number, Dellavedova surrendered it without much debate and took No. 8. Deng has worn No. 9 since entering the NBA as a tribute to his mother, Martha, who had nine children.
In his first practice with the Cavs, Deng was everything Brown was expecting to see. He is considered a “two-way” player who defends as well as he scores. Now he’ll have nearly two weeks on the road to get to know his new teammates.
“Anytime you’re in a place for [nine] years, I don’t care who you are, when a change happens, especially when it’s not in your control, it can be a little surprising,” Brown said. “Even talking to his agent [Herb Rudoy], he’s excited about being here, he’s excited about trying to impact not just what he can do on the floor the right way, but just impacting the city and the organization and the team culturally in the right way. So we’re looking forward to having him around.”
Now the looming question is how long will he be here? Deng is in the final year of a contract that pays him $14 million this season, but his relations in Chicago seemed to sour toward the end of last season and then during the summer when the two sides discussed an extension.
Deng missed the Bulls’ second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat last season when a spinal tap issued by the Bulls caused complications that Deng classified as life-threatening.
Deng was frustrated with how the situation was handled, but said Wednesday he didn’t carry any bitterness into this season. But when the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on an extension — the Bulls confirmed Tuesday that Deng’s agent rejected an offer last week — the Bulls moved quickly to trade him.
“I wish we would have handled the whole contract situation better, but at the end of the day, either way I think the decision was going to have to be made,” Deng said. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for them, either. But it happened.”
Deng said it was too early to declare if this would be a long-term relationship, but he is open to discussing the idea.
“Anytime anybody’s a free agent, it’s a two-way street,” Brown said. “I don’t think any of us are sitting here saying, ‘He’s ours forever.’ It’s got to be a good chemistry, a good feel on both sides for this to continue in a positive way.”
Deng is an immediate upgrade at small forward over the combination of Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee. Deng has scored 438 points this season, well ahead of Clark’s and Gee’s combined total of 296.
Since LeBron James departed four seasons ago, the Cavs have tried Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Anthony Parker, C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi, Clark and Gee at small forward without much success. Now they believe they’ve finally filled the position — at least for the next 3½ months.
“I’ve been traded from one great organization to another one,” Deng said. “That book is closed. I’m really looking forward to starting brand new and getting going.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.