Cleveland Cavaliers Trade for Luol Deng: Chris Grant works his magic again

When Chris Grant’s time is done as the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers he will be known for two things: 1) making shocking draft selections that catch everyone off guard that may or may not have been reaches while passing over players who turn out to be slightly better than the one he got;[1] and 2) working out some pretty incredible deals to get players.

The same guy who turned Mo Williams and Jamario Moon into Kyrie Irving, got Omri Casspi and a super-crazy protected first-round pick for JJ Hickson, got a first-rounder and a swap-picks rights from the Lakers for Ramon Sessions, flipped Jon Leuer for a half-season of Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington and a first-round pick, and signed a potentially great big man to a low-risk contract that’s never been seen before, was back to being a wizard with the trades again last night.

In case you missed it, Grant and the Cavs traded Andrew Bynum along with the Kings pick they got in the Hickson/Casspi deal and two additional second rounders, and the right to swap draft spots in 2015 (top-14 protected) to the Bulls for Luol Deng.

Before we get into what this trade means for the Cavs this season it’s important to note that the Cavs probably didn’t give up much of anything. First of all, Bynum was never playing for the Cavs again. Either they were going to cut him later today (which the Bulls will be doing anyways now that he’s their property) or let him hang around as a potential trade chip. It’s too bad that things didn’t work out with Bynum in Cleveland but it was a shot in the dark anyways whether he’d actually see the floor. The deal that they worked out with this mid-season team opt-out (something that’s never been done before) was pure genius. It allowed the Cavs to take a chance on a potentially valuable player while maintaining the flexibility of being able to cut bait (or trade him in a salary dump for another team) if it didn’t work out…which it obviously didn’t. I didn’t love how the Cavs played when Bynum was on the court anyways. They seemed to force the issue with him in the post and he really wasn’t playing well enough for it to be worth it. The Cavs best lineups had Varejao at center and it’s not really even debatable. So losing Bynum, besides being addition by subtraction, is nothing to the Cavs.

Second, the three picks that were given up could all end up being basically worthless. For starters, second round picks are thrown around in trades like crazy. The past couple years the Cavs have passed on taking guys in the second round in favor of flipping that pick to another team for a future second rounder instead. The success rate of players taken that late in the draft is very low. Most of them are out of the league in only a few years or hanging on at the end of a bench. In any move where you can get a real player, let alone a fringe All-Star, you’re willing to give up those second rounders without batting an eye.

Third, while on the surface it says that the Cavs traded a first round pick that doesn’t tell the whole story. This is the Kings pick that they got in that Hickson/Casspi deal which has some pretty crazy protections. It is top-12 protected this season, then top-10 protected for 2015-17, after which it becomes a second round pick (i.e. worthless). Sacramento currently has the fourth worst record in the league so there’s no reason to think that they’ll be conveying that pick this year. And considering the make-up of that team it’s tough to see how they’ll get out of the bottom ten of the league anytime soon unless they’re able to nab one of these stars coming out in this coming draft which transforms their team quickly. However, even if that pick does end up going to the Bulls as a first-rounder, it’s still a pretty worthy risk for the Cavs. Given the nature of drafts in the NBA, not many great players go after the top-ten picks. Plus, the Cavs don’t need any more middle-of-the-draft rookies anyways. They need veteran players.

And fourth, the right for the Bulls to swap picks with the Cavs in 2015 doesn’t mean a whole lot since it’s top-14 protected. Even if the Cavs have a worse record than the Bulls that season it’s unlikely that the two teams will be that far off record-wise to where the pick would move that much. The Bulls are on a downward trajectory and no one knows if Derrick Rose will ever return to his former MVP level. And if something terrible happens like a Kyrie Irving injury which craters the season and they end up back in the lottery, the Cavs get to hold onto the pick spot. So it’s not really worth worrying about.

So, to recap, the Cavs basically gave up nothing of tangible value and in the long-term may have literally given up nothing in a trade that brought them a two-time All-Star player in Luol Deng.

I’m not the biggest Deng fan in the world, but it’s undeniable that he’s been a very good player through the first nine years of his NBA career. He’s a career 16/6/3 guy who plays great wing defense and this season has a PER of 17.4 which would put him second on the Cavs behind only Kyrie. Most importantly for the Cavs, he plays small forward…the position that has been a gaping hole of ineptitude for the past three and a half years. Bringing in Deng means that we will no more have to listen to the starting lineups and see either Earl Clark or Alonzo Gee go jogging through the player tunnel getting dap. Gone are the days of Gee’s blown fast breaks, missed corner threes, and dribbling baseline into double-teams. Gone are the days of Clark being out of position at small forward, not being able to dribble the ball on the perimeter, and stepping out of bounds with the game on the line.

Deng will be able to step in from day one and start at small forward for the Cavs and should fit seamlessly in the rotation. He’s not a player that you really need to run plays for necessarily so working him in shouldn’t be difficult. That’s not to say that you can’t run plays for him, just that you don’t have to for him to have an impact. He will have basically the same role as Gee and Clark have had with the notable exception that he’ll actually be able to perform it competently.[2] Deng is also one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA. While Gee is a pretty good defender himself, Deng is better, and you can play him without having to worry about him on the other end of the court. The fact is that with Clark and Gee getting minutes at the 3 this season other teams only had to guard four guys on defense.

I will be interested to see exactly what Mike Brown does with his rotation after this move. Of course, “interesting” is a word that one could often use to describe Brown’s rotations. What I would like to see Brown do is cut Gee completely out of the rotation altogether, then use basically a five-man perimeter rotation of Irving, Miles, Deng, Waiters, and Jack. If you wanted you could even go with a six-man rotation and throw Delevedova in there and go with three guards off the bench which has been fairly effective. From there, I would move Clark back to the reserve PF role that he actually played quite well in. I mentioned in a footnote that he has a .424 eFG% as a SF this season, but as a PF that number jumps all the way to .605. Furthermore, according to 82games.com, his win percentage jumps from 27% at SF to 50% at PF. THIS JUST IN…EARL CLARK ISN’T WORTHLESS WHEN HE’S PLAYING HIS NATURAL POSITION.

This would basically take Anthony Bennett out of the rotation, which I hate to do, but it’s probably necessary at this point. In fact, he really needs to go to the D-League. I don’t even know how this is debatable anymore. He has the lowest PER on the team at 2.2, is shooting .278 from the field and .143 from three. He basically contributes nothing to the team on a nightly basis and is only getting about 10 minutes per game anyways. If the Cavs wanted to work him into the lineup so that he’d be able to contribute by season’s end then they should have started doing that a couple months ago. Now is the time to start pushing for the playoffs which is exactly what this Deng deal is all about. The Cavs are only three games back of the 8th seed and six and half back of the 3rd seed. Think about that… ONLY SIX AND A HALF GAMES BACK OF THE THIRD SEED IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS!!!

I don’t want to get ahead myself and start talking about having home court advantage in a playoff series or anything just yet, but I really believe that this deal helps out the Cavs hugely. I can’t undersell what a detriment not having a viable NBA-caliber small forward has been for this team. We’ll see how things play out down the stretch and what other moves teams are able to make, but this really shakes things up in my opinion in favor of the Cavs making the playoffs.

What this also potentially does is it could change the narrative on the season.[3] We’ve been looking at this team to this point as being a hapless group of misfits who don’t know how to win. If the move of adding Deng works out and the team starts winning that narrative could change to one where a young team has been fighting hard but is having a difficult time breaking through and just needed to add a player to get over the hump.

Additionally, don’t forget how bad (for him) Kyrie played during the first month of the season. In December Kyrie put up the following stat line: 24.1 PPG, 6.2 AST, .461 FG%, .408 3P%, .897 FT%. His true shooting percentage jumped from .493 in November to .569 in December. If he can come back fully healthy from this little injury he has and continue that solid play then this season will really start to turn around. I’ve said from the beginning of the season that this season really hinges on the play of Kyrie. He wasn’t good at the beginning of the season and it showed in the team’s poor play. Now that he’s playing better so is the team.

The Cavs have been losing a lot of close games lately and I could make the case that just adding a little piece could be the difference in turning several of those losses into wins. And I believe that upgrading the futile duo of Gee and Clark to Luol Deng could be just that difference. Things are looking up in Cleveland for the basketball team.


[1] I wrote about this yesterday here, but this is often overstated. The reality is that Grant hasn’t missed quite as bad as people would like to think and switching out some of the guys he did take for ones that the masses wanted wouldn’t make a profound difference in the current state of the team.

[2] I already noted that Deng has a PER of 17.4. Clark is at 9.7 and Gee is 6.3, meaning their COMBINED PER’s aren’t as high as Deng’s. Furthermore, Deng has a .467 eFG% this season compared to .424 for Clark (when playing SF) and .429 for Gee. And speaking of competency, Gee has an astounding 19.2 turnover percentage this season. Deng is only at 12.6.

[3] Not that it really matters to anyone but us.

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