Free Agent Stock Watch: Luol Deng

April 18 at 12:32pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Luol Deng is eighth in the latest version of our 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, but there’s a strong chance that he’ll be the most valuable free agent changing teams. It seems that there’s at least a better shot of that happening than there is of Deng re-signing in Cleveland, given the rumors that have surrounded him since the Cavs brought him in via trade on January 7th. Cleveland was 19-21 with Deng in the lineup, and while that’s better than the team’s record without him, his arrival didn’t exactly bring about drastic change to a moribund Cavs franchise. Deng began to privately express displeasure with the Cavs shortly after the trade, and a dispatch from last month indicated that Deng was simply counting the days until he could leave.

Deng took a much more positive tone in public, saying shortly after the trade deadline that he was pleased with the direction of the franchise. Less than a week after Cleveland acquired him, he expressed a willingness to sign an extension and referred to the Cavs as an “amazing organization.” It wouldn’t be in character for Deng, the winner of season’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and a tireless worker in his days with the Bulls, to lash out or undermine his team in on-the-record statements. Still, it appears he holds some misgivings about the Cavs, given the reports that have leaked, and it’s telling that his most forthcoming statements about his future came months ago. Extension chatter has vanished, too.

The Cavs were in talks with several teams about flipping Deng at the deadline, a sign that the club isn’t confident about its chances to keep the small forward, who turned 29 on Wednesday. The Wizards, Pistons, Pacers, Kings, Warriors and Mavs were among the teams reportedly in the conversation, though the Cavs were apparently merely gauging the market and never closed in on a deal. Still, some teams seemed reluctant to take on a player who can walk away this summer, reflecting a greater sentiment of uncertainty over just where Deng is headed in the offseason.

The Lakers and Suns have interest, and the Mavs, Celtics, Magic and Bobcats are reportedly likely suitors as well. Deng, when asked, didn’t rule out the notion of returning to the Bulls, though that seems a long shot. Agent Herb Rudoy has publicly pointed to Andre Iguodala‘s four-year, $48MM deal with the Warriors as analogous to Deng’s value, and some believe Rudoy will seek annual salaries greater than the $13.5MM Josh Smith makes. Deng was upset with the assertion that he sought an extension of $15MM a year from the Bulls before Chicago traded him, so it would be surprising if Rudoy attempted to go that high. Still, Deng scoffed at Chicago’s final offer of three years at $10MM each, so he’ll almost certainly seek more than that in free agency.

The seventh pick in the 2004 draft put up numbers this season that were similar to the ones he had the past two years, when he was an All-Star with the Bulls, though much of that is a product of strong performance in the months leading up to the trade. He was scoring 19.0 points and dishing out 3.7 assists per game in Chicago this season, which would have been career highs in spite of him having played fewer minutes than he ever had under Tom Thibodeau. Those minutes took an even sharper decline once he arrived in Cleveland, down to his lowest rate in six years, and his production suffered accordingly. Some of that could simply be a regression to the mean after his hot start, but Deng’s half-season with the Cavs hasn’t been memorable.

Deng’s most valuable contributions are usually on defense, and indeed the Cavs were a better defensive team with him on the floor, giving up 1.1 fewer points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. He didn’t revolutionize the Cavs defense, which finished tied with the Magic for the 13th most points per 100 possessions allowed, but drastic improvement was probably too much to ask, considering the shortcomings of the rest of the team’s starting unit.

His half-season as a Cavalier probably didn’t hurt his value, since he had such a strong start with the Bulls that his performance essentially evened out. Some teams may worry that Deng was a product of an effective system in Chicago, and that he’d more closely resemble the Cleveland version of himself on most NBA teams, but Thibodeau, for all his accomplishments as a coach, is no offensive genius, and Deng’s defense has held steady.

The shock of a midseason trade and the turmoil in Cleveland, where GM Chris Grant lost his job just weeks after acquiring Deng, probably didn’t help him play his best. Injuries to his back, ankle and Achilles tendon all forced him to miss time, which helps explain his offensive drop-off, too. Perhaps the ailments signal that his body is breaking down as he nears 30, after having led the league in minutes per game the past two seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his suitors insist on non-guaranteed money at the back end of his deal.

Deng is no superstar, and he won’t ask to be paid like one. He’s been a valuable starter for eight playoff teams in his 10 seasons, and he became an All-Defensive Second Team selection under Thibodeau’s guidance in 2011/12. He’s the sort of player who can help an established team that’s ready to start contending, and he’d be a better fit with teams like the Mavs, Wizards and Suns than the Lakers, Magic, or any other team with cap flexibility but without a semblance of a playoffs-worthy core. Deng might have to settle for salaries closer to Iguodala’s than Smith’s to fit into the sort of ascendant team that’s ideal for him, but that might be the best way for him to sustain his value for his next contract, particularly if his new coach watches his minutes. His signing won’t be July’s leading story, but it might make a significant difference come the following June.

Northwest Rumors: Hayward, Rubio, Saunders

April 18 at 11:29am CDT By Chuck Myron

Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey isn’t promising that restricted free agent Gordon Hayward will be back with the team, but Lindsey said Thursday that he wants to have Hayward remain in Utah for the rest of his career, observes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. Hayward’s teammates are confident he’ll stay with the Jazz, though Hayward didn’t offer much in the way of hints.

“Utah has been great for me,” Hayward said. “But it’s a business.”

Hayward and the Jazz have nonetheless indicated plenty of mutual interest, as I detailed when I examined the small forward’s free agent stock. Here’s more from around the Northwest Division:

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune expects Ricky Rubio and agent Dan Fegan to ask for an extension that’s closer to the maximum, with an average annual value probably in the neighborhood of $15.5MM, than to Stephen Curry‘s four-year, $44MM deal.
  • The sale of the Bucks will likely be a boon to Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, as Zgoda writes in the same piece. Saunders’ share of the Wolves will be 6% by the end of his five-year contract, and if the $550MM price of the Bucks dictates the value of the Minnesota franchise, Saunders’ stake will be worth about $33MM.
  • The NBA has approved the sale of a minority stake in the Thunder to Tulsa energy company executive George B. Kaiser, the team announced in a press release. It’s the portion of the team that fellow energy executive Tom L. Ward had owned. Kaiser’s net worth is $10.1 billion, according to Forbes.com. Minority owner G. Jeffrey Records also transferred some, but not all, of his share to others within the ownership group.

Pelicans GM On Jackson, Smith, Morrow

April 18 at 9:59am CDT By Chuck Myron

The Pelicans endured a nightmare season, losing Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and a host of others for significant time because of injury. They finished 34-48, far outside the playoff race but with little chance of moving up in the lottery to keep their first-round pick from going to the Sixers. GM Dell Demps said this week that he likes the team’s core and wants to see more of it at full health. He had plenty more to say in his season-ending press conference, and John Reid of The Times Picayune transcribes his remarks. His entire piece is worth a look, especially for Pelicans fans, but we’ll pass along Demps’ most relevant quotes here:

On Jason Smith, an unrestricted free agent this summer:

”It hurt when we lost Jason [to a knee injury]. But obviously we want to continue getting better. [We] like what he brings to the core, like his ability to shoot, his energy and he’s a good guy in the locker room. [But] you also look at how you improve your roster. We’ll look at that, but we can do both.”

On Pierre Jackson:

”He’s an interesting one. He played really good in the D-League. I think he was the leading scorer. We’ve followed him and been in contact with him. When we made the trade last year, we knew we were giving up our draft pick and we kind of looked at him as our draft pick for this year. So we have his draft rights and he’s going to be experienced, a little bit older. Can I promise Pierre Jackson is going to be on our team next year? I can’t say that right now. But he’s definitely an asset. I want to make sure I say that. He’s done everything and exceeded expectations.”

On whether Anthony Morrow will exercise his roughly $1.15MM player option for 2014/15:

”You’ll have to talk to Anthony about that. Obviously, Anthony has a player option at the end of this season. I think he had a very good year for us. I think he’s helped us win some games. We like Anthony and there are some things we can’t talk about right now because of certain rules. But we do love Anthony.”

Jazz To Explore Extensions With Kanter, Burks

April 18 at 9:22am CDT By Chuck Myron

Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey acknowledged Thursday that the team needs stability after last summer’s whirlwind of changes, and he told reporters, including Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, that the team will consider rookie scale extensions for Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Both will be eligible to receive the extensions between July and the end of October.

“It’s definitely something we’ll explore,” Lindsey said. “Whether we get a deal done, I don’t know. But we’ll sit down and talk to both of their representatives when the time comes.”

The team signed Derrick Favors to a four-year, $48MM extension this past offseason, but it didn’t come to terms on an extension with Gordon Hayward, who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. Kanter, a Max Ergul client, and Burks, who’s represented by ASM Sports, would hit restricted free agency in 2015 if the Jazz don’t extend their contracts this year. Both saw about twice as many minutes this season than in 2012/13 as they established themselves as integral members of the team’s rotation.

Kanter nonetheless said Wednesday that he wanted to see the Jazz use more lineups that put him together with the team’s younger players. Hayward, 24, is the oldest of a group that includes Kanter, Burks, Favors and rookie Trey Burke, all of whom were lottery picks. The groundwork for long-term stability appears to be there if the Jazz want to keep them together.

The Jazz’s only commitment beyond next season is to Favors, leaving the team with plenty of cap flexibility. Neither Kanter nor Burks is likely to approach the kind of deal that Favors got, and while rookie scale extensions are mostly the purview of potential stars in the making, role players occasionally wind up with rookie scale extensions, too. Quincy Pondexter, who scored a four-year, $14MM extension with the Grizzlies this past fall, but Kanter and Burks can probably command more than that, given their youth and upside as lottery picks.

Steve Kerr Would Coach Knicks If Offered Job

April 18 at 8:19am CDT By Chuck Myron

Steve Kerr “absolutely expects” the Knicks to offer him their head coaching job, and he intends to accept such an offer, a source tells George Willis of the New York Post. Kerr has already spoken to TNT about adjusting his broadcasting schedule for the playoffs so he can start working for the Knicks, Willis hears.

Kerr has reportedly been the front-runner for the job for a while, and his name was linked to the Knicks as a possible candidate even when the team was still negotiating its deal with Phil Jackson. Mike Woodson is under contract to coach the team in 2014/15, but the Knicks had reportedly been planning to fire him if they failed to make the playoffs. Even after falling short of the postseason, Woodson received strong public support from Carmelo Anthony, who on Thursday referred to Woodson as “almost a father figure, a friend, a guy I can bounce stuff off of,” notes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. Woodson still appears on his way out, according to Isola, who hears from a source who says that Woodson and Jackson will speak Friday, and either set up a meeting for next week or discuss the terms of their parting.

Several teams apparently would like to bring Kerr aboard as an executive, but his focus is on coaching. Marc Berman of the New York Post suggests Jim Cleamons as a potential candidate to become the top assistant coach for the Knicks if they hire Kerr as head coach.

Thaddeus Young Could Request Trade?

April 17 at 10:09pm CDT By Alex Lee

Depending on what the Sixers do this offseason, forward Thaddeus Young said it is “a possibility” that he asks the team to trade him, writes Tom Moore of PhillyBurbs.com. Young is under contract next season and has a player option for 2015/16, but it would be hard to blame him for not wanting to endure another tank-fest in Philadelphia.

“I think it’s one of those things where everything has to be talked about and put on the table, and everything has to be laid on the line,” Young said.

However, as Moore points out, come June the Sixers are likely to have two top-10 picks in what many pundits consider to be a loaded draft. They also have plenty of cap room and will add Nerlens Noel to the mix next season, so it isn’t out of the question that Young’s excitement level for Philly’s future could receive a significant boost in the short term. He recently said he’s become more optimistic about the team’s potential.

Young averaged a career-high 17.9 points per game in his seventh season in the NBA, but had to wade through a record-tying 26-game losing streak after the Sixers front office dealt Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline. Turner and Hawes were essentially the only other notable veterans on the roster besides Young. There seems to be some discord in the Philly media regarding whether or not Young is part of the team’s future plans.

Western Notes: Lakers, Faried, Corbin, Wolves

April 17 at 9:43pm CDT By Alex Lee

It is certainly no surprise that, after we rounded up the Lakers’ exit interviews earlier tonight, there is already more buzz coming out of Los Angeles. This is the Lakers, after all. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Pau Gasol would consider reuniting with former coach Phil Jackson, now running things with the Knicks. Citing a source, Spears hears that the interest is mutual.

Meanwhile, Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report mentions both Van Gundys, Stan and Jeff, as names that stand out to him should the Lakers part ways with Mike D’Antoni. Within the same story, Ding breaks down the team’s draft lottery odds as well as maps out the complicated status of their draft picks beyond this season. Here is what else is going on in the Western Conference:

  • Earlier this month it was Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly that had some kind words to say about Kenneth Faried. On Thursday, it was Brian Shaw’s turn. As Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post writes, the head coach wants and expects to have Faried in a Nuggets uniform next season. Faried was frequently mentioned in trade rumors this season.
  • The fate of Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin will hang in the balance just a little longer, according to Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune, who writes that the team will take a “decompression period” before making a decision on whether or not to bring the coach back. Luhm reports that a decision could come down as soon as this weekend.
  • With Rick Adelman’s departure imminent, the Wolves head coaching wish list includes Tom Izzo, Fred Hoiberg and Stan Van Gundy, reports Spears in his final power rankings column.
  • It’s a small silver lining in an otherwise ugly season in Minnesota, but ESPN’s Marc Stein tweets that the Wolves can take solace in the fact that they refused to deal rookie Gorgui Dieng at the trade deadline before they knew what they had (Twitter links). The Louisville product was a bright spot in Minnesota down the stretch and figures to be a key contributor in his second season.

Central Notes: Bucks, Monroe, Billups, Pistons

April 17 at 8:47pm CDT By Alex Lee

Earlier tonight we broke down the bevy of news coming out of Cleveland. Here is what is going on in the rest of the Central Division on Thursday night:

  • Once the dust settles from the Bucks ownership change, many league insiders expect the new regime to make changes in the front office and on the coaching staff in Milwaukee, writes Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. As Kyler notes, general manager John Hammond and assistant GM David Morway are both under contract for two more seasons. Head coach Larry Drew inked a four-year, $10MM pact last summer.
  • Soon-to-be restricted free agent Greg Monroe spent what might be his last season with the Pistons keeping his head down and concentrating on his own production, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press suggests the Pistons would probably exercise their $2.5MM team option on Chauncey Billups for next season if the 37-year-old elects not to retire, but it seems questionable that the team would commit to that kind of money to him.
  • Several Pistons players conceded that chemistry issues plagued the team all season, with Brandon Jennings admitting that he never would have agreed to come to Detroit last summer had he known how things would turn out, writes David Mayo of MLive.com. Based on player comments, Mayo infers that veteran Josh Smith, the team’s highest paid player, is one of the reasons for the team’s fractured locker room. In a separate piece, Ellis concurs.

Lakers Notes: Young, Gasol, Farmar, Kelly & More

April 17 at 7:35pm CDT By Alex Lee

Well, it’s exit interview time for the NBA’s bottom half and there are few teams with as much uncertainty and flexibility as the Lakers. Beyond Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, there are no significant contracts on the books for Los Angeles in 2014/15. The Lakers must also determine if they want to keep head coach Mike D’Antoni, a decision ESPN’s Dave McMenamin examines. Let’s round up all the personnel buzz coming out of Lakerland:

  • Nick Young‘s upbeat attitude and surprising play were two of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. Young expects to be a hot commodity this summer, indicating that general manager Mitch Kupchak already expressed interest in retaining his services (via Ding on Twitter). Meanwhile, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News tweets that Young will prioritize both business and his affinity for L.A. when weighing his options.
  • A free agent for the first time, Pau Gasol insinuated on Thursday that he is not yet sure whether he wants to return to the Lakers, writes Medina. Among the priorities for his destination is going to a contender that plays to a “controlled pace,” Medina adds on Twitter.
  • Jordan Farmar is fairly confident he’ll return to L.A. next season, writes Medina. Farmar, symbolically sporting two championship rings, told reporters today that general manager Mitch Kupchak indicated the team’s interest in bringing him back will hinge on their options in the draft and free agency. Ding also tweets that Farmar would be content returning in a starting or reserve role.
  • After averaging 8 points in 22.2 minutes per game as a rookie this season, power forward Ryan Kelly believes the Lakers want him back for his sophomore campaign, tweets Medina. A second round pick last summer, Kelly said, “They drafted me and certainly want me back. I want to be here. But it’s a business.”
  • Jordan Hill said it is “tough to say” whether he returns to the Lakers, Medina writes. In a separate post, Medina also says that Chris Kaman would like to return to Los Angeles in the “right situation,” and adds on Twitter that Wesley Johnson thinks that there is some mutual interest in his return (Twitter links).

Cavaliers Notes: Brown, Irving, Griffin

April 17 at 6:28pm CDT By Alex Lee

There is no shortage of work to be done in Cleveland this summer. Before the annual personnel decisions come down, the Cavs must figure out who is making them and, ultimately, who will coach the players their general manager has assembled. However, Cavs fans shouldn’t expect any answers this weekend, Bob Finnan of the News-Herald writes, as Dan Gilbert is attending the Board of Governors meeting in New York City on Thursday and Friday.

Here is the latest coming out of Cleveland:

  • Cavaliers’ players are lining up to advocate the return of head coach Mike Brown, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. Point guard Kyrie Irving predicts the coach will stay and is happy about it, tweets Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio. Meanwhile, Dion Waiters was perhaps Brown’s most vocal proponent, tweets Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, saying: “I’d like to see coach back. I don’t think we need any more changes. Coach fits the team.”
  • Speaking of Irving, the point guard came as close as he ever has to indicating that he’d like to remain in Cleveland after Wednesday night’s season finale, writes the Plain Dealer’s Jodie Valade. From Irving: “I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this,” he said. “We’re making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland.”
  • In a blog post chock full of Cavs tidbits, Lloyd believes the team should at least kick the tires on trading Irving this summer, reminding us that some within the organization are unsure he is worthy of a max deal. We heard much of the same in February from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. This is the first offseason that Irving is eligible to sign an extension.
  • Amico writes that the Cavs, who were 17-16 in their final 33 games, should first focus on what went right this season before determining what needs to change, adding that they have a lottery pick, some movable contracts and cap space to play with. That 33-game stretch was under the general management of David Griffin, who is the front runner to retain that position, according to Amico.