Our long Cleveland nightmare is over. Earlier this week the Cavaliers finalized a deal that sent Andrew Bynum to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls also received a first round pick, originally from the Kings that is top-ten protected, and two second round picks, originally belonging to the Trail Blazers. The Bulls then proceeded to cut Bynum, avoiding paying the rest of his contract, and taking them under the luxury tax.
The trade seems like a success for the Bulls: after poor medical treatment, there was belief Deng would not resign with the team he had played ten seasons with; they drop below the luxury tax; and add draft picks to help retool a roster at the crossroads due to the injuries to Derrick Rose. As for Bynum, he can now go about and play wherever he pleases. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that eight teams have already contacted the center. The Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat are believed to be his top choices, and if he joins Miami, he may very well win his third ring. So while both the Bulls and Bynum seem to have benefited from the trade, where does this leave the Cavaliers?
Deng will complement the Cavaliers’ starters nicely. He’ll immediately jump into the starting lineup, providing both offensive and defensive upgrades for the Cavs. This season Deng has averaged 19.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game with a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.4. He has battled an Achilles injury for some part of the season. Still, when healthy, Deng is among the league’s elite and has made the All-Star Game in each of the past two seasons. He replaces Earl Clark in the starting lineup, shoring up the biggest hole amongst the starters.
As for losing Bynum, it is hardly debilitating for the Cavs. Bynum had the occasional great game, but he was generally ineffective most of the time, and, from what we’ve learned, a terrible locker room presence. After the team suspended Bynum, Anderson Varejao returned to the starting lineup, and he has played great since. He’s averaged 10.7 points and 13.6 rebounds in the seven games since Bynum’s suspension. The team has to hope that with Bynum out of the locker room, the Cavs can eliminate off-court distractions and just focus on basketball. They snapped a six-game losing streak last week and just obliterated the Philadelphia 76ers. Adding Deng could potentially give the team the spark needed to embark on a winning streak that would put them in the thick of the playoff hunt.
The Deng deal shows the Cavs are still committed to making the playoffs, a strategy I agree with. The additional revenue from at least two home playoff games is worth sacrificing a few spots in the draft. This team is still far from being a contender, but Deng gives them a solid piece to build from. At least, temporarily. Deng will be a free agent after this season and will likely have many teams inquiring about his services. He has voiced his excitement with the Cavaliers and willingness to discuss a contract extension. Will Deng really resign in Cleveland? The Cavaliers have until the summer to figure that out. Until then, hopefully, they can finally just focus on what happens on the court.