Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a move that many thought wasn’t going to happen before 5 p.m. on Jan. 7. With center Andrew Bynum suspended indefinitely by the Wine & Gold, the Cleveland front office was frantically looking to move the seven footer before then to avoid paying him $6 million that he would have been owed. That is, of course, if the Cavs wouldn’t have waived before the deadline, which was likely if the team didn’t strike a deal with another squad. But general manager Chris Grant was able to find some value in Bynum by shipping the center to the Chicago Bulls–along with their protected first-round pick obtained from the Sacramento Kings (picks 1-12 in 2014 and picks 1-10 from 2015 to 2017),two future second-round picks from the Portland Trail Blazers that the Cavs obtained from allowing Portland to move up in the 2013 draft and the opportunity for the Bulls to swap first-round picks with the Cavs in 2015 (top 14 protected)–for All-Star small forward Luol Deng. With that said, RDE Co-Editor Zak Kolesar and staff writers Marlowe Alter, Kevin Stankiewicz and Mike Schriener took the time to grade each side of the trade. Check out what they each had to say below.
Marlowe Alter, RDE Staff Writer
Cleveland Cavaliers: B
The Cavaliers have been searching for a competent small forward ever since the best player in the world departed for greener pastures four seasons ago. Cleveland’s starting SFs were averaging a league worst 4.9 points per game on 36 percent shooting, but with the acquisition of Deng, they have bolstered the gaping hole at SF into a strength. An All-Star the past two seasons, Deng will bring an all-around game, veteran presence and a winning pedigree to a team who’s desperately in need of a player with the talent and intangibles of Deng. For Cleveland, it really was a no-brainer. Owner Dan Gilbert has said all year that he wants a playoff team, and this move could certainly catapult his sputtering team into the playoffs.
Deng is one of just four players (along with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant) averaging at least 19 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists this season. He will help take the scoring pressure off of Kyrie Irving and can facilitate the offense with his passing skills. Deng also brings excellent defensive skills to the table at a key position in the East (James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Josh Smith all play SF at times). He’s selfless, putting winning above individual statistics and allows the rest of the Cavs lineup to fall into place. The Alonzo Gee/Earl Clark tandem that had been taking turns starting at the three spot will now go back to coming off the bench and should be more comfortable in that familiar role. The downside is that Deng is a free agent at the end of the season, carries a long list of injury history and has racked up a ton of minutes in recent seasons.
Chicago Bulls: B
For Chicago, it’s a clear salary shedding deal. Once Deng rejected the team’s reportedly three-year, $30 million extension offer last week, it was time to move on. Rather than risk allowing Deng to leave in free agency for nothing in return, it made perfect sense to trade the veteran. Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls realized their chances at a title were shot, so they decided to unload their most valuable asset in return for huge cap savings and future picks. The deal allows the team to slide under the tax line, as they’re saving roughly $20 million this season by shipping out Deng. And as Zach Lowe smartly pointed out, Chicago can still amnesty Carlos Boozer after the season, which would open up as much as $12 million in cap space for the summer. They’ve smartly decided to look beyond this season and focus on the long haul by acquiring future assets. Surely Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is beside himself, and you have to feel for the guy. But Chicago is still good enough to earn a playoff berth this season. Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and rookie Tony Snell will take on bigger roles to fill Deng’s production. Losing Deng certainly weakens Chicago this year, but sometimes it’s best to take a step back before moving forward, and to me it’s clearly the right move given the situation.
Kevin Stankiewicz, RDE Staff Writer
Cleveland Cavaliers: A-
The Cavs are all in for the rest of the season, evidenced by this trade. They are on a quest for a playoff spot in the East. As many people have proclaimed all year long, the team had a major weakness at small forward. By dealing the troubled Bynum and acquiring an All-Star small forward in Deng, the Cavs addressed their biggest weakness. As reports surfaced about the team going after Gasol, I was puzzled because I knew that we did not need another post player. We needed someone to come in and steal minutes from Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee. Fortunately, Deng will do that. So far this season, he has been playing a tad better than his career averages, indicating to me that even though he has been in the league for nine seasons, he is still playing great basketball. Deng is a great locker room guy and a team player. Make no mistake, Deng is a clear upgrade over what the Wine & Gold have at the three. He can score, rebound and, better yet, defend. The addition definitely gives the roster more talent. If everything clicks, they could ascend up the standings into a bottom playoff spot. I am excited to see the 28-year-old from South Sudan take his talents from the Windy City to Northeast Ohio. Now the downside of the deal for the Cavs is that Deng’s $14.3 million contract will expire at the end of this season. In reality, he could just be a rental for the organization. Or, depending on the team’s success over the remainder of the year, he could re-sign over the summer. I am not sure which one is more probable, but I do know that I am excited to have him for at least 48 games.
Chicago Bulls: A
As I was starting to write this, news broke that the Bulls did indeed waive the newly acquired big man, which was expected. So in terms of what they ended up keeping from the Cavs, who knows what the Bulls will end up with in terms of draft picks. What these draft picks might amount to in the future is unclear, but the real value in the deal comes from the money the Bulls will save. By waiving Bynum and Deng’s $14.3 million contract, the team saves more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes, according to Brian Windhorst. It is clear from this move that the Bulls are trying to improve in the future and not during this season. With their superstar Derrick Rose out for the year with injury, the organization must not have liked their chances to contend in the East, even though they currently hold the sixth seed. This move saves them a lot of money, which is the main reason they pulled the trigger, and they might now gain a lottery pick in a strong 2014 draft class. But now, Bulls fans will spend the rest of their season rooting for the Kings to not be one of the 12 worst teams in the league, probably tripling their fan base.
Mike Schreiner, RDE Staff Writer
Cleveland Cavaliers: B+
The Cavaliers acquired an excellent two-way player who is coming off of two consecutive All-Star appearances and is one of the league’s most respected players, and did it at a very reasonable price. Deng also fills the Cavaliers’ greatest need, as the small forward position has been a mess since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. With Deng’s arrival, that position goes from the Cavaliers’ weakest link to one of their strongest. Deng also lessens Mike Brown’s reliance on a three-guard lineup to get the offense going. At 28-years-old, Deng should also have several good years left ahead of him. While he will hit free agency this summer, the Cavaliers should be able to sign him if the rest of the season goes well. However, the fact that Deng could walk away this summer keeps this trade from earning an A.
Chicago Bulls: B-
The Bulls took a realistic view of the situation. With Derrick Rose out for the season, the Bulls went from title contenders to a lower end playoff team with serious cap issues. By trading Deng and waiving Andrew Bynum, the Bulls move out of the luxury tax and position themselves to have some cap space in the offseason. These savings may also help them stomach the thought of amnestying Carlos Boozer. With a core of Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, and a likely lottery pick (possibly two if the Charlotte Bobcats finish outside of the top 10 in the draft) to go along with some cap space, the Bulls should be able to retool their roster quickly. While they were able to trade Deng for a first-round pick–a commodity that is hard to come by these days–the protections on it, combined with the continued ineptness of the Sacramento Kings, makes actually getting the pick a bit of a crapshoot. If the Bulls don’t get it by 2017, it becomes a protected second rounder. It’s also unlikely that the Bulls’ ability to swap first-round picks with the Cavaliers in 2013 makes much of a difference in their draft standing. There’s a solid chance that the Chicago Bulls traded one of their best players and a big part of their team’s heart for second-round picks.
Zak Kolesar, RDE Co-Editor
Cleveland Cavaliers: A-
The most important part of this deal is to highlight the black magic wizardry of general manager Chris Grant. Yeah, he hasn’t been that good at brining in high-profile free agents or even complimentary role players (looking at you, Jarrett Jack) or drafting players who have proven themselves as solid building blocks for the future. But, he has been a pro at structuring trades in a way that the Cavaliers could end up losing close to nothing, even if Deng flees after his 40-plus games in Wine & Gold. I think it will take a playoff appearance and a deal around the four-year, $48 million range to entice him to stay a Cavalier past this season, so that’s what we should be shooting for in solidifying this grade as an A- down the road. Getting back to Grant; he’s the reason why we have Kyrie Irving as our star point guard right now, somehow fooling the Clippers front office in making the pick traded with Mo Williams unprotected for the 2011 draft.
But getting to the basketball side of things, as we should; I love the addition of a competent 3 on this team for the remainder of the season. With how Anderson Varejao has been playing–both off the bench and now as a starter–I’m confident that he can finish off the year, injuries aside, as our starting big with the recent emergence of Tyler Zeller. I’ve liked what Zeller has had to offer in his 10 or so minutes per game with the Cavaliers. But with Deng on the court at the same time as Andy, this team becomes a whole lot better on D and also will work much better in transition with Deng’s rebounding/passing abilities. This is definitely something you can’t say about Clark or Gee. Deng has been the highest-usage player in the NBA the past two seasons. Cavs fans should be rejoicing if Mike Brown can learn how to use Deng, limit the use of Clark and axe Gee in general from any rotation. That would make me one happy Wine & Gold fan.
Chicago Bulls: B+
Last season the Bulls had to pay the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history, and for the 2013-14 season, the luxury tax limit has been raised to $71.7 million. Going over this limit requires teams to pay one dollar to the League for every dollar they go over the LTL (which will continue to trend upward with the revenue of the League). Now, the injured Derrick Rose is taking up a chunk of the Bulls’ cap space (obviously) under something dubbed the “Derrick Rose” Rule. This stipulation allows players to earn 30 percent of the team’s salary cap if they are either voted into two All-Star Games, named to an All-NBA Team twice or voted the League MVP. So the move was made for financial purposes first and possibly rebuilding reasons second.
Even without Deng, I really can’t see the Bulls dipping out of the weak Eastern Conference playoff race unless a major tanking job is done. With that said, if they do fall out of the race, Chicago could earn a Top-10 pick in a very talented and stocked draft. There are no guarantees, but this would help the Bulls tremendously, and with the possibility of earning two first rounders from this trade, the Chicago front office made out pretty well in this trade taking into account that they lost quite possibly the most reliable players for the Bulls for over the past six-plus seasons. Those first rounders, however, could also turn into just a measly second-rounder if the Kings don’t improve by the 2017 offseason and if the Cavs miss the playoffs in 2015. But for now, I would say it was a great much for the future after losing Rose once again.