Chris Grant did it again. Say what you want about his drafts (we still say they’re pretty solid), the man knows how to fleece a team in a trade. We gave busted (in more ways than one) Andrew Bynum, two 2nd round picks from Portland, Sacramento’s protected first rounder – which will never be higher than 10 (from 2015-2017) and in 2017 will turn into a 2nd rounder if not used beforehand (read: The Sacramento Kings not being the Sacramento Kings and making the playoffs which right now they are the 4th worst team in the NBA) – and the ability for them to swap 2015 (lottery-protected) first round picks… for one of the most efficient, well-rounded players at the position we need most. So is this a slam dunk win for the Cavs? Well see….that’s tricky.
In a vacuum this was better than the best deal we thought the Cavs could get. We were radiating joyous waves when we heard there was a possibility of unloading do-nothing Bynum for the still solid former All-Star Pau Gasol. BUT to get this! Luol Deng plays the SF position, a huge need. He’s half a decade younger than Gasol (28-33), coming off his 2nd All-Star season while also being named to the 2nd team Defensive team, and fits a DESPERATE need. Face it, since Waiters was moved to our 2nd team, that 2-3 punch has been seriously lacking. Deng fits that role and EVEN more importantly, he plays great defense on what is arguably the most important defensive position in the playoffs (going against James, George and Durant: aka 3 of the top 5-10 players in the NBA). He solidifies that SF position and gives us a comfortable line-up of Irving, CJ Miles (Sergey Karasev could be great at spacing as a solid outside shot long term, just not this year), Deng, Thompson, and Varejao. That is definitely a playoff team in our eyes thanks to the addition of his well-rounded play (roughly 19 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1 spg). What he also adds that this team is DESPERATELY lacking is a stable force of a veteran, who has both been a winner and knows how to handle diversity. Look at the hard fought games in playoffs of past and even without Derrick Rose, their MVP and leader. He’s been thru these types of scenarios and knows how to handle adversity, which is huge in our current toxic (if you believe reports) locker room.
So how can it possibly not be a slam-dunk? It’s when you look to the future that you might start to worry about this trade. Deng, like our other All-Stars (Kyrie Irving and Varejao), has a hard time staying on the court. Basically he could end up being the Samuel L. Jackson character of Unbreakable in NBA form. We know the injury histories of Kyrie and Varejao, so let’s take a look at Deng. In his rookie season, he played 61 games before having a season ending wrist injury that cost his chance of finishing the season and playing in the playoffs. In 2007-2008, he missed 19 games because of Achilles Tendinitis (foreshadowing…). In 08-09, he played only 49 games and missed the entire playoffs thanks to a lower leg stress fracture. Injuries again in 11-12, missing 30 games with another wrist injury, though he came back and played through it for the rest of the season. And so far this season he’s missed 9 of his last 12 games due to (and it comes full circle)… Achilles Tendinitis. So we’re going to have a large amount of money invested in a guy who is constantly injured? Not so fast. We’re not talking about Small Forward Amare Stoudemire here. He’s played meaningful games, coming off his 2nd All-Star season, is improving from last year’s stats and seems to play through a lot of pain (2011-2012 season). But this injury history is worrisome. We can’t have a large amount of money (see next paragraph) for someone who isn’t on the court. Also there’s this tidbit. Do the Bulls know something we don’t? They’re trading an All-Defensive, All-Star on an expiring contract for cap relief? There’s still over a month left til the trade deadline and they can’t find a better deal than cap relief? From what’s being said though, the Bulls were looking to start saving and tanking quickly. Tanking quickly is important because a few games could determine 1st and 7th place. Also, according to ESPN.com, the Bulls are looking to amnesty Boozer, so that helps clear up the Bulls’ intentions. Ok great, so injuries not so much of a problem for our SF savior. Oh, but there’s this….
Deng is a free agent at the end of this year. He can leave with no strings attached. At that point he has only played for the Cavs for 3-4 months, it’s not like he’s leaving the team that drafted him after 10 seasons. That’s a bit worrisome because he’s already turned down a 3 year, $30 million extension (according to Nick Borges at ESPN.com) from that team. We might have to end up paying more than we’d like, or overpaying him. In reality though, who really cares. It’s not likely Lebron, Wade or Melo are walking through that door. But in case you believe we can get Lebron (national media seems to believe this is unlikely), we would be able to release Deng’s rights in the off-season to get him. So it still allows us to play a little in the off-season, especially if that injury bug rears its ugly head. This may not the right course of action though. We need Deng, if this trade never happened and next off-season we came away with Deng you’d be ecstatic. Let’s lock him down ASAP. We’re not LA, we’re not NY, we’re not Boston, no big time free-agents have called for Reagan to take down the apparent Berlin Wall of Free Agents that surrounds Cleveland.
But what if he doesn’t want to stay. Like previously mentioned he has no strong ties, he’s in his prime and this off-season might be the last huge paycheck he’s going to cash-in on. Throw in the fact this season may not convince him we’re a team on the rise (or championship caliber) and he’s out, no matter how much money we offer to give him (or wrapping us into a sign and trade). Well…..that is not good. Chances are with him on the team, and the amount of tankage we haven’t seen since World War 2, we’ve played ourselves out of a solid amount of pong balls. Leaving us without an opportunity to grab a franchise changing player in the draft and bringing us no closer to a championship then when we all found out Bynum went back to the 76ers’ Bynum.
So if we lock him down does that make this a slam dunk trade? It really depends on how you judge the Cavs roster now. Are they championship contender material (either now or next year with the growth of their young padawans)? Or is Deng not enough to put them in championship material and now we flutter around the playoffs like the last 6 years of Atlanta Hawks or the last 8 years of the Cincinnati Bengals? Talking to a Bengals fan, they tell you they’re such a better franchise than the Browns. You ask for proof and they point to their 5 playoff appearances in the last 8 years, their record compared to the Browns in that amount of time, ex, ex. But then ask them who won the last playoff game of either franchise, the Browns had the only in 1994. So with all those playoffs they’ve never won a playoff game and more to the point they have zero more championships than the Browns. This brings me back to the discussion of the trade. So what if it means we can sneak into the playoffs? If we’re not built to compete for a ring as is or in the immediate future than what’s the point of making the playoffs? The prize of every season (no matter which) is to win the Championship. If you’re not building to win that then you’re building to fail. As this trade was made the Cavs we’re the 5th worst team in the NBA. That puts them in the running for a possible shot of one of the franchise changing rookies coming out of the draft. Whether it be Wiggins, Parker, Randle, etc. Parker and Wiggins would have really helped the wholes we have at the 2 or 3 and if you believe the scouts, are as good of prospects as the one who got away.
So it depends on what you think would have played out this season. You could make the case the team is too talented for the 5th worst team in the NBA. That players would have eventually started to learn their new roles and excelled towards the end pushing us out of a top 5 pick. But what if they hadn’t? What if the locker-room clashing continues or if Kyrie or Varejao go down for an extended amount of time? Then we just cost ourselves one of the top prospects in the top draft since 2003. But we can’t continue to hope that because we won a few scratch off tickets we’re going to win the mega millions this time around. We’ve got to install a winning culture otherwise the losses will continue to add up. We’re only 6 1/2 games out of 3rd in a wide open East and that makes it look clear that the team made the right decision. Are we championship material? That’s really up to how these players grow and how Mike Brown uses them (plus anymore Magic Chris Grant might pull). They have the talent in Irving, Waiters, Deng, Thompson and Varejao with a few other solid young players to make the championship jump, they just need to solve their issues at the moment. The addition of Deng should be the spark to get the Cavs into that discussion.