Deng It, Cavs: Breaking Down Last Night's Trade
While the crazy BCS Championship Game was ending, a trade between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers was taking place. The details are below:
- SF Luol Deng
- C Andrew Bynum
- Sacramento's first-round pick (protected top 12 in 2014, top 10 from 2015-2017, then becomes a second rounder)
- Two second-round picks in 2015 and 2016
- Right to swap their own 1st round pick with the Cav's 1st round pick in 2015, if it falls between 15-30
The trade sparked a discussion amongst the numberFire NBA writers. And as a result, instead of providing a traditional breakdown of the transaction, numberFire hoops writers Bryan Mears and Russell Peddle are here to discuss it in more of a debate form, as the two see different trade winners.
Bryan: Russell, to be blunt, I hate this trade for the Cavs. Sell me on it.
Russell: I like it for the Cavs, actually. They created this contract for Bynum to give it - him - a shot. It didn't work out, but they gave themselves an excellent out and turned that money (which no one else was taking to sign there) into Deng for this season. They lost inconsequential picks (ostensibly), now own Deng's Bird rights, and are positioned to either resign an underrated two-way all-star this offseason, or just be in basically the same position they would've been in if they had just waived Bynum (tons of cap space). They're going to have a hard time attracting free agents, so I agree with snagging one through a trade and trying to entice him to stay. Small markets have no choice but to go that route these days.
As for their fortunes this season, they've been terrible and are still only three games out of the playoffs. They can't really hope to be that much worse, can they? There are simply too many bad teams in the East, and tanking this far into the season would seem impossible. Nothing is given in the East after Heat and Pacers, so the three and four seeds and homecourt are very much up for grabs.
For teams not quite in the tank (no one's catching the Jazz, Bucks, etc.), I see the desire to give fans at least a shot at the second-round. If built properly for the matchup, who's to say that a team like the Raptors, Cavs, etc. can't at least challenge those teams in the second round? They'd never win, but at least they have given their fans something to cheer for. They haven't made the playoffs since LeBron left, regardless of how many high lottery picks they've had. I get it.
Bryan: Here's what I don't understand - just because every team not named Miami or Indiana is right around .500 or worse doesn't mean that there is a ton of playoff potential there. News flash, other East teams: none of you are even getting close to beating the Heat or Pacers in a playoff series barring a catastrophic injury. I get that they're only three games out from the 8th seed, but they're also the fifth-worst team in the league right now. That means they would have the fifth-best odds at landing Wiggins, Parker, Randle, and so on.
If this was a Deng for Bynum swap so the Bulls could save money and the Cavs could have Deng's Bird Rights and have options this summer, that would be fine with me. I'm even fine with throwing in a second round pick. But a first? That's where this deal gets me.
Russell: That first assumes the Kings get out of being in the bottom third of the league over the next four years. After that it becomes a second-round pick. Don't forget that Sacto has been a lottery team for seven years. Even if they do get it, it's going to be somewhere from 11-30. It gets very hit-or-miss in that range.
Also, right now the Cavs have the fifth-best odds in the lottery, but there are only four games separating them and Washington for fifth place in the East. They're not a lock to stay that low as teams like Philly and Boston always have the potential to lose more games than Cleveland, regardless of whether or not they have Deng. A week from now, there could easily be 10 teams with better lottery odds.
By the way, are we convinced that Deng is going to make this team that much better? We kind of have a tendency to think that moving a great player to a bad team suddenly makes the team good. What's Deng good for, maybe 2-3 more wins? Hollinger's Trade Machine has this trade as a net zero. It's not like adding him makes them a lock for the playoffs, it simply gives hope. I understand that the Cavs were getting tired of talking rebuild and draft picks when they've had four top-four picks in the last three years and still stink.
The way I see it, Deng gives you the chance to look like you're trying. Owning his rights gives them options, and they were going to trade or waive Bynum anyway. Other trade options were Pau Gasol from the Lakers or Richard Jefferson from the Jazz. Isn't trying out a potential free agent that might be worth keeping a good move? Let's be honest, LeBron is a pipedream and it's not like any of the top-tier guys like KD, Love, Melo, etc. will want to go there. If they had just waived Bynum and somehow fell out of the top 5-7 in the draft due to other teams' tanking efforts or an accidental playoff berth, their franchise would be borderline unsaveable.
They made the best move they could make right now short of replacing Irving with a D-Leaguer and shooting on their own basket. I don't think intentional tanking is going to work out for too many squads this year. I mean, weren't the Sixers, Celtics, and Suns supposed to be the three worst teams in the Association this season? Weren't they the ones clearly "Riggin' for Wiggins"? The intentional tank is not an exact science.
Bryan: Well, if Deng doesn't move the needle at all and won't make them any better then why trade for him at all? Have we gotten to the point where we care more about the illusion of being good instead of actually trying to be good?
I do agree about a couple of your points: Getting LeBron is a pipedream and the Kings may never get out of the top 10. However, you never know. The Kings have the fourth-worst record right now and perhaps could be turned around by one of these 2014 studs. Picks after 10 can get hazy, I agree, but guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been in that range recently.
Let's say that the Kings indeed continue to be bad and the multiple second-round picks never turn into anything special. Why take that chance on a guy that might not even re-sign with you this summer? That's what is being missed here. In your apocalyptic scenario where they waive Bynum and don't get a top-five pick this summer, is that worse than Deng not resigning? You suddenly have no viable SFs on your roster and you lost three picks in the process? To me the latter is much worse.
And in regards to tanking, they have the ultimate tanking weapon! Anthony Bennett! All you have to do is give that dude 30-plus minutes a night and you're guaranteed a top-five pick!
Russell: Hey! Take it easy on my fellow Canadian. He needs time to adjust to American portion sizes and imperial measurement. That stuff's hard and can distract from the game of basketball.
The illusion of being good does mean something. The NBA is a business and catching lightning in a bottle is hard to do. The fans need something to root for and teams need their money. I'm with you, the Deng trade won't suddenly save the fortunes of the Cavs, but it's the best they could do with what they've got. What are the chances of drafting a Leonard or George past the 10th pick when you have a history of striking out in the draft? For that matter, what good is a pick in the top five? Just this past year, the Cavs left Oladipo, MCW, Burke, McLemore, Noel on the board for Bennett. Obviously this draft is deeper in talent, but who are we to say one of these 2014 guys won't be a bust? A bird in the hand beats two in the bush, right?
Put simply, I don't believe in chasing lottery balls. I understand how rebuilding works, but trying to specifically fall in to a certain range of a draft doesn't work. Everyone was trying to do it for Anthony Davis in 2012 and it didn't work out for all but one of them. It's trickier and less successful than people realize. Cut salary, build assets, fine, but you can't build a team on hopes and dreams (t-shirt patent pending).
There are two ways of doing it really. The Thunder, Spurs, Pacers, build through the draft. On the other side of the spectrum, look at Houston. They collected assets, cashed them in for a star (Harden), then lured another free agent (Howard). They were supposedly in the tank a little over a year ago and now they're a contender. They sped up the process and they now own two players that teams dream of getting in the draft.
Maybe Deng likes Cleveland, likes playing with Kyrie, and maybe he can take a paycut and lure a third free agent. On top of that, they still have a chance at a lottery pick this year. Wouldn't Kyrie, Deng, and a great rookie be enticing for a free agent? If I were a Cavs fan, I'd take that scenario over another year of "maybe we'll draft another LeBron someday!"
Bryan: Well, apparently Deng is wanting a new contract above the Josh Smith four-year $56-million range. So if they focused their attention on signing him and extending Kyrie after his rookie contract, there wouldn't be much room for a free-agent stud. Deng is definitely an underrated two-way wing player, but he's 28 and has a huge number of miles on his body. The Cavs are effectively putting all their eggs in that basket, while hampering the potential of getting Kyrie a young guy in the draft that can play with him for more than just a couple years.
The new CBA dictates that the best value in the NBA is young studs on rookie contracts. The Cavs just gave away the potential to get that. You're right, they may whiff like Anthony Bennett again. But maybe they get their next LeBron. Are you willing to give that potential up for a 5th seed in the awful East this year? I'm not.
Which leads me to my last point. Why have the Cavs (and other teams) been OK with rebuilding for several years, but now, in the most loaded draft in the last decade, they decide they have to win now? You either should have made a move last year or wait until next year. But don't just be blah in 2014. The teams above you will stay above you and the teams below you will get guys in the draft and be better.
This makes the Cavs worse in the long run. Dan Gilbert can keep his illusions, I'd rather have Andrew Wiggins.
Russell: You're so right. I still haven't figured out what teams like the Wizards or Pistons have to gain from going "playoffs or bust" right now. Still, I like the Deng rental if for nothing else than the professionalism and defensive wisdom he can impart on the young Cavs. I know that's a worn out narrative in all of this, but I believe there's value in that. They have plenty of young talent, they just have yet to receive proper veteran guidance. Even if all they get is that for half a season, it can't be all bad, right?
At the end of the day, this will be an interesting wait-and-see scenario. We're both just blowing smoke until we see how this turns out. If it turns out well from the Cavs a few years from now, you owe me a beer. Simple as that. If the Cavs still stink, I'll get you one. Wait, that's a bad bet on my part, isn't it?
Anyways, the point is, if the Cavs were better managed over the last few years and Rose didn't blow out his knee again, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Isn't that the depressing reality of all this? Maybe we should both just get a beer anyway...