In one of the biggest trades seen this season, the Cavs traded center Andrew Bynum and three future draft picks for Chicago small forward Luol Deng. There were obvious positives of this trade: the Cavs were successfully able to make a deal to ship the headache that was Andrew Bynum away, and got about as sure of a commodity as there was on the market in Luol Deng, a player that contributes across the board in all categories, and addresses a major need by providing stability at the SF position. But was this trade ultimately the right decision?
This trade actually reminds me a lot of the Antawn Jamison swap in early 2010; the Cavs got an established NBA forward in Jamison, and in return shipped a big man away that would have no future with that team (Zydrunas Ilgauskas and an expiring $11.5 million contract to Washington) and sent away two draft picks (a 2010 first-rounder and the draft rights to second-rounder Emir Preldzic). The difference between trades, however, was that the Cavaliers of 2009-10 were the cream of the crop in the East and expected title contenders, and Jamison was supposed to be the missing piece to get the Cavaliers an NBA title, while the 2013-14 Cavaliers are…well, NOT title contenders.
And to me this is the problem with the trade. I have no problem with making a move that shows that they want to win now, however, giving away a first and two second rounders sounds like a move that would be made by a team that wants to make a deep playoff push. However, this team is anything but ready to make a playoff run. In today’s basketball, many of the teams at the top (Indiana, Portland, Oklahoma City) have gotten there through smart drafting and occasionally a strategic acquisition. Perhaps the only exception is the Miami Heat, who bullied their way to the top by acquiring the best player in the NBA and another top-flight player in Chris Bosh. Although the leadership, scoring, and defensive prowess Deng will bring in right away will be invaluable, the immediate impact of having Deng may not outweigh the long-term negatives of losing valuable draft picks.
Another problem to me is the issue of the draft next year. The Cavs have gotten good players through recent drafts, and look to be creating a solid nucleus of young talent. In addition, the Cavs are in the midst of another poor season, which could land them in a stacked lottery next year. Could a chance at being the 5 or 6 seed in the East be worth losing some lottery balls? I could be wrong about my perception of the team, but having just one more piece on this unit, such as a Jabari Parker or an Andrew Wiggins or a Julius Randle or Joel Embiid could be enough to bring them to relevance in the League. Renting Deng for half a season may bring them to the playoffs, but what will happen next year? They could be right back to square one with Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee splitting time at SF, while missing out on a top talent in the draft.
One last issue: What happens at the end of this season? Many people are expecting Deng to be a rental, and if so, the Cavs are again going to be wondering about their SF position. Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee are both under contract next year, but neither has looked like the answer at the position. The Cavs could resign Deng, but he is reportedly asking for a price around $15 million a year, and in an offseason where the Cavs will likely be at least looking at LeBron James, they will likely try to keep as must cap space as possible open. Without resigning him, what will the Cavs do at the SF position?
I don’t necessarily want to bash the Cavs on making this trade; this article was mostly wrote to simply present some of the possible issues with the trade. Bringing in Deng will solidify, for at least half a season, the SF position in Cleveland. It will also bring in a proven, top-notch NBA small forward, which the Cavs have not had in quite some time. But time will tell if the Cavs hit their mark with Deng.