When Tim Leiweke took hold of the reins at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (‘MLSE’) it signaled the era of conservative moves by the sports media conglomerate was coming to an end. Leiweke has come through with the cash so Toronto FC could add some high priced help on the soccer pitch and he has made it very clear the Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri had a blank check if needed to escape mediocrity and produce a winner.
However, Ujiri’s moves so far this season have been to unload big contracts and create flexibility and as a general manager noted for patience and getting the best possible deal, there really hasn’t been a good opportunity available to spend any of MLSE’s cash. All-Star caliber talent is difficult to trade for or acquire in free agency, but if Leiweke is ready to put MLSE’s money on the line, there may just be a target that would push all of Ujiri’s hot buttons.
While Luol Deng’s name has not come up in trade rumors, Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders notes, “there is one All-Star caliber player who may be available. Luol Deng, an All-Star over the last two seasons, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in early January, but he could be dealt again before the deadline.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers are mired 13 games below .500, have fired their General Manager and even the acquisition of Deng from the Bulls probably isn’t enough for them to leap frog 3 other teams to grab the eighth and final playoff spot needed to be fodder at the hands of the Pacers. As Deng is on an expiring contract and isn’t likely to stay with a dysfunctional rebuilding team if he has any other options, interim GM David Griffin’s best move is likely to canvas the market to see if he can get back the first round draft pick and two second round draft picks Chris Grant gave away to get Deng 5.5 weeks ago.
A two-time All-Star with Eastern Conference Finals experience, Deng is a noted two-way player who would slide into Coach Casey’s disciplined defensive schemes without a hitch. After playing for Coach Tom Thibodeau for the past 3.5 seasons, the culture shock of coming to Toronto should be minimal and more like relief after spending time in Cleveland.
Deng also has long term potential with the Raptors that other teams may not be as comfortable with. Ujiri’s passion in life is promoting the development of basketball in Africa and acquiring the best player in the NBA from Africa would have to hit a personal hot button and help when it came to negotiating a new deal for next season. Ujiri has shown in the past he’s not afraid to take risks to acquire star level talent that fits with what he believes his team needs.
Deng will be 29-years-old when the playoffs start in April and up until he was traded, he was having the best season of his career. This is a player that would make a difference in this season’s run to the postseason, the playoffs and beyond.
Griffin can’t be expecting much in return for Deng as players on expiring deals have been tough to move and all the Cavaliers gave up for him was draft picks and salary cap space. If he could get draft picks and short term deals back, he would have to be ecstatic.
The tight-lipped Raptors organization isn’t leaking any clues, but Deng is the kind of opportunity Ujiri should be pursuing over the next week. The question becomes, should he be willing to give up draft picks to get a deal done?