Is Luol Deng Trade Another Shortsighted Disaster for Cleveland Cavs?

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Is Luol Deng Trade Another Shortsighted Disaster for Cleveland Cavs?
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

No team could offer the Chicago Bulls what the Cleveland Cavaliers did. That should have mattered, but it may not have.

In a move to save their season, the Cavs sent the non-guaranteed contract of center Andrew Bynum and three future draft picks to the Bulls for small forward Luol Deng.

Deng, 28, is a solid small forward who will do an awful lot to help the Cavs win games. From a pure talent perspective, he's a huge upgrade for Cleveland on the wing and he's the type of player that can both complement and coexist with franchise star Kyrie Irving. That's something the Cavs have been waiting to find for a while now, as general manager Chris Grant explained to ESPN.com:

We have worked to acquire and maintain flexibility in order to capitalize on opportunities such as this. Luol reflects all that we are striving for in building our team. He's a tremendous defensive player that can impact the game on both ends of the court with a team-first mentality and is a high character leader.

The addition of a plus defender and the subtraction of a malcontent should pay immediate dividends on the floor and in the locker room for the Cavs as they attempt to claw their way back into the playoff picture. Cleveland is currently 12 games under .500 but just three games out of the No. 8 seed with plenty of games left to play.

That chase for a playoff spot is at the heart of this trade. Grant was likely beginning to feel the heat after such a poor start and the shaky performances of his recent draft picks, and addressing the team's biggest area of need with one of the best available talents on the trade market could be a season- and job-saving acquisition. 

Unfortunately, while this trade makes sense for Grant, it may not make sense for the franchise.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

 

Forfeiting Leverage 

Strictly in terms of the organization and not the individuals who run it, Chicago should have been significantly more desperate than Cleveland was in these negotiations.

After all, it was Chicago that had failed to negotiate an extension with Deng, who is currently on an expiring contract worth $14.2 million. It was Chicago that was in the luxury tax with a non-contending team. It was Chicago that faced the very real possibility of Deng leaving in free agency next year.

Considering the circumstances, the Bulls shouldn't have had much leverage in this deal. After the Orlando Magic waived Hedo Turkoglu, Cleveland was the only team in the league that could offer the Bulls enough non-guaranteed salary to get under the luxury tax completely.

Other deals could have saved the Bulls money, sure, but no team could provide the opportunity to wipe over $20 million in salary and tax payments clean off the books. That's a big deal, especially for a major market team like Chicago that should be in the tax in the future. Avoiding that repeater tax is critical.

Perhaps the Cavs felt pressed to deal Bynum now before the second half of his salary became guaranteed. That's understandable if they felt under the gun, but they essentially traded an expiring asset for another expiring asset.

We don't know if Deng gave Cleveland reassurances that he would sign an extension (he can sign anytime before June 30 for up to three years and $50 million), but until that happens, there's the possibility that the small forward enters unrestricted free agency after this season.

Of course, there's also the chance that he'd rather play somewhere else other than Cleveland. This could end up being nothing more than a rental, and an expensive one at that.

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

 

Draft Picks Sacrificed

Push everything else to the side, because this is what matters most. The Cavs didn't just give up one future first-round pick, which combined with $20 million in savings for the Bulls should have been plenty incentive.

No, the Cavs gave up one of their best future first-round picks. The first-round pick via the Sacramento Kings is top-12 protected this year, and then top-10 protected through 2017. If the pick isn't conveyed by 2017, it turns into a second-round choice.

While this first-round pick technically may not come to fruition, there's a strong chance that it will be a mid first-rounder.

By itself, that may not be the worst thing, but the Cavs had less valuable first-round picks to part with.

One of those was a 2015 first-round pick owed to Cleveland by the Miami Heat. That pick is top-10 protected through 2016, then unprotected in 2017. So long as James is in Miami, it's pretty much a guarantee that it will be conveyed in 2015.

If that's the case, that pick will almost certainly be a late first-rounder.

Unfortunately, there's more. Cleveland also gave Chicago the right to swap first-round picks in 2015 (so long as Cleveland's pick doesn't land in the lottery), which could improve Chicago's 2015 choice a few slots.

In addition to the 2014 first-rounder from Sacramento and the right to swap in 2015, the Bulls also gave up 2015 and 2016 second-round picks (via Portland Trail Blazers), which have plenty of value under the new CBA.

That price just seems a little steep for a player who could have conceivably signed a deal with Cleveland in free agency this offseason.

 

No Guarantees

The crux of this deal is that there are no guarantees Deng signs an extension with Cleveland. The Cavs are taking the gamble that Deng won't pass up more money than he was being offered to stay in Chicago, which was reportedly a three-year deal worth $30 million, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

But even if Deng does sign a three-year extension worth, say, $36 million, is that good value?

Cleveland may concede that it has to overpay any free agent because of its location, but forfeiting draft picks for the right to do that seems like a questionable strategy.

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And what happens if Cleveland doesn't have playoff success? A first-round exit may mean a lot for a struggling franchise, but it's hard to gauge just how encouraging that would be for Deng, a player who has already been on the cusp multiple times with the Bulls.

Deng's health isn't guaranteed, either. He's struggled with Achilles soreness this year in addition to multiple injuries in the past, and he has a lot of wear and tear after leading the league in minutes per game in each of the last two seasons.

This is a big risk for Cleveland, and one has to wonder if it's best for the long-term health of the franchise. Aside from the forfeiture of multiple draft picks, Cleveland may have lessened its chance at a controllable superstar from this year's loaded draft class while simultaneously slamming the door on LeBron James' return, however improbable that may have been.

Deng is a great player, and he'll certainly help the Cavs right away. Whether or not he'll help them in the future, though, remains to be seen. 

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