Six wins in a row didn't stop the Cleveland Cavaliers as the trade deadline approached. Interim general manager David Griffin dealt a package to Philadelphia in exchange for center Spencer Hawes and heavily shopped guard Jarrett Jack. But the big fish on the Cavs roster was always Luol Deng.
Deng is on an expiring contract paying him $14.3 million this season, and teams were unwilling to trade Cleveland a first-round pick without the assurance that the small forward would sign an extension, reports Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Even the Phoenix Suns didn't want to part with a first-round pick for Deng, reports CBS Sports' Ken Berger. Phoenix was looking for an upgrade for a playoff run, and while messing with the chemistry was the obvious risk, the fact it wasn't comfortable losing a pick for a solid rental said a bit about the importance of picks over players. The Suns, with all their cap flexibility, were worried about Deng's future -- that, or they didn't see the fit.
The worry around the league makes sense considering the value of first-round picks has become so inflated. In fact, some teams were having trouble dealing capable rotation players at the deadline for even second-round picks -- see the Lakers failing to trade Jordan Hill or Chris Kaman for second-round picks.
Deng reportedly is set on testing free agency, where the Cavs would maintain his Bird Rights and be able to sign him for five years.
Still, there have been rumblings Deng isn't happy in Cleveland. After he was traded from the Chicago Bulls in the Andrew Bynum deal earlier this season, a report surfaced that indicated Deng was taken aback by the poor locker room culture under head coach Mike Brown. When general manager Chris Grant was fired, Deng wondered aloud where the franchise was going. According to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, Deng was disturbed that Grant had been removed weeks after trading for the forward.
Because of the expectation Deng will consider leaving Cleveland this summer, the Cavs made sure to feel out the market for their forward. It became clear other teams were just as wary about his contract situation.
Deng will probably garner a minimum of $10 million and the 28-year-old could be pushing for more if a team with cap space this summer, like the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks, wants to pay him well.
In the immediate future, he will contribute his usual talents to a Cavs team that's rolling. The trade sending Earl Clark, Henry Sims and picks to Philadelphia for Spencer Hawes showed that Griffin isn't satisfied standing pat and then hoping for the lottery balls to again bounce Cleveland's way. The bolstered frontcourt will help a 22-33 team chase after a playoff spot, and surprisingly, the Cavs are only three games back of the eighth-seeded Charlotte Bobcats.
Deng now holds the cards in his favor, to a degree. He can increase his own market value if his inconsistent play with Cleveland is fixed, and especially so if the Cavs turn the ship around.