Season-in-Review: LUOL DENG

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by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Season Overview: When you’re as talented an athlete as Luol Deng, it’s really saying something to assert that he’s as good a person as he is a basketball player. But that’s truly the case for the two-time All-Star, and he even has the hardware to prove it.

After eight-and-a-half seasons in the Windy City, Deng became a Cavalier on January 6 when the Wine and Gold sent Andrew Bynum to Chicago, along with the rights to the Kings’ first-rounder that Cleveland acquired in the J.J. Hickson trade, the two second-rounders acquired from Portland on Draft night and the right to swap its 2015 first round pick – lottery protected.

The consummate pro hit the ground running for Cleveland – suiting up for the first matchup of a five-game West Coast trip. In that first appearance, a 113-102 win over the Jazz, he went 4-of-8 from the floor for 10 points. But that was just a warm-up. Two games later, Deng went 5-of-5 from beyond the arc – dropping 27 points on the Lakers in a 120-118 win over L.A. The Wine and Gold would go on to finish the West Coast trip with a 3-2 mark.

Deng would eventually start in 40 games for the Cavaliers this season, averaging 14.3 points, 5.1 boards and 2.5 assists. He led Cleveland in scoring nine times, in rebounds five times and in steals on eight occasions. With the Cavaliers, Deng topped the 20-point plateau in eight games. And although he struggled with a sore Achilles when he arrived, Deng was very durable, missing three games with a left ankle sprain and a three more in the final week with a sore lower back.

The team changed with Deng in the lineup and the Cavs would go 19-21 after his arrival. The 29-year-old former Duke standout provided a strong veteran presence to a team that was the league’s second-youngest entering the 2013-14 season. He blended seamlessly into the lineup and seemed to have a natural chemistry on the floor with Anderson Varejao.

Near the end of the season, Deng was presented with the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his tireless community work in Sudan, the U.K. and right here in the States. Deng became the third Cavalier in franchise history – joining Austin Carr and Eric Snow – to win the award.

Highlight: Deng has always been a consistent performer and was that way with the Wine and Gold, but he played some of his best games when he first arrived in Cleveland. On the previously-mentioned West Coast trip, Deng averaged 18.4 ppg – netting 27 and 25 points in back-to-back games against the Lakers and Blazers. He wrapped up the five-game junket with an 18-point effort against Denver in a 117-109 win over the Nuggets.

Lowlight: Deng’s low point of the season matched a rough stretch for the Cavaliers, missing three games after spraining his ankle in a loss to the Clippers in L.A. During that time, the Cavaliers dropped three straight contests to some formidable foes – Miami, OKC and Houston. When Deng returned to the starting lineup, the Cavs would go on to win five of their next six games.

Odds and Ends: Luol Deng wears uniform No. 9 because he is one of nine children. When he arrived in Cleveland, rookie Matthew Dellavedova wore that jersey, but the two discussed it and Delly gave No. 9 to his new teammate. “I knew I had to speak to (Dellavedova) at some point,” laughed Deng. “And I think we stood in the locker room for a little while looking at each other. It was almost like we were about to break up.”

By the Numbers: 15.7, 11-11 … Deng’s scoring average and the Cavaliers’ record on the road during his 40-game stretch this season.

Looking Forward: Deng will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will have no shortage of suitors. He’s a two-time All-Star and former All-Defensive performer. He’s a former Olympian and constant humanitarian. The Wine and Gold would undoubtedly love to retain his strong veteran influence, but that’s a decision both parties will hash out over the next couple months.

Quotable: Deng on being traded for the first time in his NBA career …

“It’s been awkward. I had my family over for Christmas and New Year’s and my mom doesn’t really understand being traded. And to me, that was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do – explain to her that the organization that I’ve been with for nine years no longer wanted me. And she couldn’t understand why, so I had to explain to her. She was asking me: ‘Are you not playing well?’ So that was the hardest part.”


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