Hawks eye Deng at start of NBA free agency

The Hawks have their eye on Luol Deng.

The small forward is at the top of the Hawks’ wish list as the NBA free agency period begins Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Hawks’ biggest offseason need was to add a small forward and wing defender. The team selected power Adreian Payne, center Walter Tavares and guard Lamar Patterson in last week’s draft. Free agency is the next opportunity to fill the current void.

The Hawks enter free agency with more than $15 million in salary cap space. The team agreed to trade Lou Williams and the rights to 2013 first-round draft pick Lucas Nogueira to the Raptors for John Salmons late Sunday in a move to free up salary cap space. The Hawks will waive Salmons, for a $1 million buyout, to create the extra room.

The Hawks are unlikely to spend the entire available $15 million on Deng, who will likely have other suitors.

LeBron James, Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh, who all opted out of their contracts with the Heat, and Carmelo Anthony, who opted out of his deal with the Knicks, are the top available free agents. James, Wade and Bosh are working together and appear to be aligning to re-sign with the Heat in deals that would allow the team to add additional players. Anthony will reportedly begin a free-agent tour that will include the Bulls, Rockets, Mavericks and Lakers. The Hawks certainly have interest in speaking with James and Anthony but would have to clear additional salary cap space to sign either player.

NBA rules prohibit teams from talking about specific players prior to the start of free agency. Hawks general manager Danny Ferry spoke in general terms about free agency during last week’s press conference to introduce the draft picks.

“It’s another good opportunity to improve your team and to add to your team,” Ferry said. “We feel like we have a great opportunity here for us in that we have a good core group of players, really good. We start to build an identity as an organization of how we want to play and we are looking for people to add to that and make us better is what the focus is going to be.”

Deng, 28, would fit the Hawks’ philosophy on and off the court. The 10-year veteran is a two-time All-Star and played his first nine seasons with the Bulls. He was traded to the Cavaliers in the middle of last season in a year he averaged 16.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists. His career numbers are a similar 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Deng was given the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the Professional Basketball Writers Association for outstanding community service last season. He was honored for his work in his native South Sudan. Deng beat out current Hawks player and former Bulls teammate Kyle Korver.

Other unrestricted free agents at the small forward position include Trevor Ariza, Chris Singleton, Al-Farouq Aminu and Josh McRoberts. Chandler Parson is a restricted free agent but the Rockets are likely to match an offer he receives.

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