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The Cavaliers acquire Luol Deng, and what it means

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Deng vs. Waiters (Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE)

Deng vs. Waiters (Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE)

The Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum’s contract, a first rounder, and two second rounders. The Cleveland Cavaliers are clearly trying to go after the playoffs with this move, as Deng is a massive upgrade to the roster. The Bulls are clearly focusing their attention on the future, as the loss of Deng hurts their already depleted roster with Derrick Rose out for the year. The draft picks allow them to acquire talent in the coming years, while Bynum’s expiring contract allows them to drop below the luxury-tax threshold, which will save them in the ballpark of $15 million.

Let’s take a look at the “assets” that the Cavaliers are losing, before we take a closer look at Luol Deng.

  • Sacramento’s first round pick (1-12 protected in 2014, 1-10 protected in both 2015 & 2016, or becomes a second round pick in 2017 in 56-60 range. It is extinguished thereafter): This is the pick that the Cavaliers acquired way back in June of 2011 when they sent the disgruntled J.J. Hickson to Sacramento. The pick obviously is somewhat promising in that it’s a first round pick, but somewhat concerning in that it’s from Sacramento. The pick almost certainly won’t become vested in 2014, as the Kings are currently 10-22, and have the fourth worst record in the league. They do have new ownership and are rebuilding, so it’s likely that the pick will eventually get away from that 1-10 range, but this is the Kings we’re talking about. Shaquille O’Neill may be a new owner, but it takes more than a former star and future hall-of-famer to get a team over the hump of being really bad, to any good. Ask the Cavs. The other bonus here is that the Cavs didn’t have to send the Bulls the other two first round picks that the Cavaliers have acquired, from Memphis (1-5 protected from 2015-2018, then unprotected in 2019) thanks to the Jon Leuer trade in January of last year, and from Miami (1-10 protected in 2015 and 2016, or unprotected in 2017) in the LeBron James trade. There’s actually an outside shot that this pick just goes away.
  • Portland’s 2015 and 2016 second round picks: These were picks that the Cavaliers acquired during last year’s draft, in exchange for University of California shooting guard Allen Crabbe. I don’t have much to say about second round picks, other than you can essentially buy them from teams. These are picks two and three years away, but Portland is currently 26-8, and have a roster that is built to win over the next two seasons. I’m not concerned about second round picks anyways, but these second round picks are destined to be way at the end of the draft board. Like I said, if the Cavs want a pick back there, they can buy it.
  • The Bulls have the right to swap their own 2014 first rounder with the Cavs, if the Cleveland pick is between 15 and 30: I’m not concerned about this one at all. I think the Cavs have clearly sent the message with this trade that it’s time to make the playoffs. While I believe the Cavs will be a team that will have a pick between 15 and 30, I actually see a scenario in which the Cavs and Bulls have similar picks. This one could get annoying, in that it could cost the Cavs a few spots in the first round, but it could also just disappear. With the Cavs and the Bulls futures somewhat cloudy, especially after this trade, it’s hard to see what this will look like at the end of next season. It’s top-half protected though, so worst case-scenario is that the Cavs are terrible in the 2014-2015 season, and this just goes away.

What does Luol Deng bring to the table? The numbers are unquestioned. Deng is averaging 19 points, 7 boards and nearly 4 assists a game for the Chicago Bulls, and he has spent his entire ten year NBA career. Over his career, he has averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 boards and 2.5 assists a game, but has seen bumps in all three areas thanks to the injury to Rose. He’s a career 46% shooter (45% this year), and is 33% from beyond the arc. He’s also shot above 80% from the foul line over the past two seasons, the first two in which he’s done that in his career.

Deng is also one of the best defensive players in the league. He has twice finished among the top 10 in NBA defensive win shares, and ranks 150th all time, with 32 ½ defensive win-shares all-time. It’s not a perfect statistic, but it does give you a look at the overall player.

His Player Efficiency Rating is currently 17.5 according to Hollinger stats, which is second on the Cavs current team, behind Kyrie Irving.

What will the Cavaliers look like with Deng on the court? He immediately fills the major hole in the Cavaliers offense, will be a leader and a teacher on the defensive end of the floor, and likely will fill a leadership void that this team has felt for the past three-and-a-half seasons since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

Mike Brown preaches defense, and that really can’t be understated. There are some circles in the NBA that consider Brown the best defensive coach in the entire league, and I don’t say that using hyperbole. This season has been an exception to that for the most part, although there have been glimpses of solid defense at different points. While the defense is a clear improvement over past seasons, there are games in which it just disappears, and personnel has a lot to do with that.

Now Brown has a centerpiece that he can deal with. Deng has a motor that doesn’t quit, and they now have that all important stopper. Deng isn’t LeBron James defensively, but he can absolutely destroy good offensive players and has done so several times in the past. Deng is an often overlooked player, but his two-way ability is fairly unmatched in the league.

Deng also is an on-the-court leader. He’s not a guy that’s going to berate, but he’s a guy that just goes out and plays. He’s an old 28, but if you look at his numbers, you see a player that is getting better. He’s playing a ton of minutes, 37 ½ a game, but somehow has excelled this year regardless.

Of course, there’s always a worry that today will be the day that he starts to break down. He’s currently listed as day-to-day with an Achilles issue, and recently missed nine-of-twelve games, but has played in the past three games for the Bulls.

What will really be interesting is how Deng fits on the court offensively. Ideally, the Cavs would acquire a player that can shoot from the wing, but that’s never been Deng’s game. The truth of the matter is that he’s a taller and much more refined version of Dion Waiters.

Deng’s game has always been with the ball in his hands. He has a lot of assists, but has them in a similar fashion as Dion Waiters, and to some extent, Kyrie Irving. If you’ve ever watched the Bulls play, Deng offensively is an isolation-specialist. He gets the ball, and can just tear up a defender going to the hole and finishing. What makes him above-average, and something that Waiters can learn from, is that he is an absolute finisher. If it’s not there, he always finds the open player, which is something we see from Waiters early on in his career.

The key now will be how all these players fit together. Is it something to look forward to, or will it become a chemistry nightmare? All three have been knocked in the past of holding onto the ball too long. Deng less so, because there have been more established veterans on the team for much of his career, but in talking to a Chicago fan/friend this morning, Deng has driven him crazy in past years “holding onto the ball to damn much.”

Sound familiar?

Granted, this was years ago, and what he said was that Deng has a way of melding into the culture of a team. My question here is, what happens if the team’s culture is, well, Cleveland’s?

I just don’t know how Deng, Waiters and Irving fit together on the court. Immediately, people will holler that Waiters is part of the second team, and I rebut that if Waiters is part of the second team as a #4 pick in the first round, then the GM needs to be canned. Waiters should be starting, but even if he isn’t, the fourth quarter is the focal point of what I’m talking about.

The team has struggled getting to the ball to the right people, and Deng either helps that a lot, or hinders that a lot. I’m not sure which.

What does this mean for the future? This is so cloudy to me. There are a lot of sites that say the Cavs will immediately get better, but I’m not so sure. Okay, let me rephrase here. The Cavs will get better because of the sheer garbage they’ve put out on the court this season.

The Cavs will likely score a bit more, and defensive teams will likely score a bit less. That’s always a good thing.

Here’s what I’m concerned with. How will the chemistry play out? How will Dion Waiters handle having a slightly taller, slightly better version of himself in the starting lineup, while he’s coming off the bench? How will Kyrie Irving handle having a player that commands way more respect than he does? How will the three of them handle each other on the court at the same time?

How will Mike Brown deal having these new chemistry issues?

If you don’t think those are serious concerns, then you haven’t been watching this band of misfits on the court. Thinking one veteran player, star or not, is going to fix that, is simple crazy.

Will it get the Cavs in the right direction? Perhaps.

But, what is that right direction? The Cavs are now clearly shooting for the playoffs, and in the East, that’s a distinct possibility. In fact, with Deng, it may be likely.

Let me be clear here. I don’t want the Cavs to make the playoffs. I want the Cavs to acquire a top four pick next year, and I want the Cavs to make the playoffs next year, with a stud rookie added to the roster, and cap space to sign a wing. Deng actually makes more sense to a nice little deal next year, with another major piece added to the equation.

I hate being a fan of a team and then saying “I don’t want the Cavs to make the playoffs,” but I also understand the talent that the Cavs have put together, and can see that there are four or five players in this next draft…or more…that are better than ANY asset that is currently on the Cavs roster, Kyrie included.

Is it possible that the Cavaliers still get a lottery pick? It absolutely is. Remember, Deng has missed 9-of-12 games, and he’s still struggling with the injury. The Cavs don’t have time for a physical, so they could be getting damaged goods to some extent.

It’s also possible that Deng just adds more fuel to the chemistry issues that the Cavs have, rather than make things better. No, Deng isn’t a troublemaker by any stretch, but I could see some scraping and pouting from some other players on this roster.

The other thing to consider here is what this COULD mean to the current roster as we close in on the trade deadline. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. There have been Dion Waiters rumors for weeks now, and as this Deng deal proves, rumors often prove to be fact. With Deng’s game matching Waiters’ game, might the Cavs be perching themselves to deal Waiters for another player with perimeter skills?

I don’t want ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT.

Overall, I’m not a big fan of the deal simply in the sense that the Cavs will likely hurt themselves draft-wise next year. They’ve essentially given three potential assets to move up in next year’s draft, to pick up a rental player, or worse, a player they re-sign next year. It also sets them up for another move of a player that may ultimately be the most talented on the current roster.

On top of that, I’ll be watching Bynum with morbid curiosity. I wonder where he’ll end up?

Tune in later today right here at IBI for a couple of pods, one on the Indians/Cavs, and one specifically on Andrew Bynum. Also, our brand new writer, John Grimm, debuts today with a phenomenal piece out of the gate. Look for more from John by the end of the week, with a couple of pieces that he’s already shown us.

One Word: OUTSTANDING.

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