SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Luol Deng is open to discussing a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he also understands why the Cavs might want to put off those talks to first focus on trying to sign another All-Star small forward.
"He's a great player, why wouldn't you look at him?" Deng told Yahoo Sports. "If he wants to come back home, that's great for him and great for this organization. He's a great player. Why not?
"I'm all right with that. I'm here to do what I can do and be Luol Deng. I don't really worry about it. I don't have the mindset that I can control what everyone else thinks. I just do what I can do and try to be the best at what I do."
The Cavaliers acquired Deng in a trade from the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7 for center Andrew Bynum, who was waived, and three draft picks. The Bulls' surprising move came after the two-time All-Star turned down a three-year, $30 million contract extension. In Deng, the Cavs landed an elite veteran small forward that they have coveted since James departed for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010.
If Deng, 28, isn't signed to a contract extension by June 30, he will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason for the first time in his career. He already likes what he sees in Cleveland and said several times – unsolicited – the Cavs have impressed him with how they treat their players, calling the franchise an "amazing organization."
The Cavaliers are interested in keeping Deng long-term, but also know there is plenty of time to evaluate him and begin extension talks, a league source said.
"I'm very open to sit down to talk," Deng said. "At the same time, I'm OK with waiting until the summer."
It seemed far fetched four years ago that Cleveland would even consider trying to pursue James after he announced he was going to the Heat. Some Cavs fans burned his jersey and threw stones at his billboard in downtown Cleveland. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent out a letter to fans promising that his franchise would win a championship before James.
Since then, James has won two championships, and much of Cleveland's hate has dissipated. Gilbert has said he regrets the letter. It is not a given that James will opt out of his contract this summer to become a free agent. It's also not a given the Akron, Ohio, native would even consider the Cavaliers if he becomes a free agent. It would require some contract maneuvering, but there's a small possibility Cleveland could try to sign both James and Deng.
"I really think for Cleveland that LeBron knows the way he left, and he apologized for it already," Deng said. "…And at the end of the day, he is a great basketball player and I think for him to come back to Cleveland is not only a great story, but you can't hold grudges forever."
The Bulls entered this season with championship aspirations because of Derrick Rose's return only to lose Rose to right knee injury on Nov. 22. For the second straight season, the Bulls' title dreams disappeared with Rose's absence.
Deng said he wasn't surprised he was traded because of his stalled contract talks. Even so, he thinks he wouldn't have been dealt if Rose hadn't gotten hurt again.
"I'm sure I still would be there because we would have had one of the best records and Derrick would have been the story with his comeback," Deng said. "You don't want to make any trades and all of the sudden the team goes the other way and the talk is that 'I was healthy, I came back and I tried to win a championship but ya'll moved guys.' There would have been that pressure. Unfortunately, I think the injury changed a lot of stuff."
The Cavaliers were 12-23 before Deng arrived. They're hoping he gives them a jolt. Deng fills a needed position, can score, is a versatile defender and adds leadership. Deng has already told his new teammates that winning will bring all the attention they desire.
"I'll slowly become a vocal leader," Deng said. "It's not going to happen overnight. But the goal is to bring a winning attitude and winning mindset because this team is very talented. We have a group of guys who can score. So it's just about bringing that attitude and playing hard every night."
Deng also expressed excitement about the Cavaliers' young players, most notably point guard Kyrie Irving. Deng said the "sky is the limit" for Irving who he believes can be reach stardom like a healthy Rose did.
"What Derrick had to learn and these guys here are going to learn is that [Irving] is such a great player that when we get a 10-point lead we got to look at him and say, 'This is your time,' " Deng said. "That's what makes a great team and everyone else on the team has to be OK with that."
Regardless of whether he stays in Cleveland or leaves, Deng knows he's in a good position.
"If we sit down and something comes up in time, I'm more than open to it," Deng said. "I'm not the type of guy who wants to be chased. I'm going to play hard and work hard and look for what the best situation is for me."
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