CLEVELAND: Twenty thoughts following a big day for the Cavs that was capped with a 111-93 victory against the Sixers...
1. There is an incredibly important point that I think is getting overlooked in the trade that landed the Cavs Luol Deng. By signing Andrew Bynum to the contract that they did, the Cavs manufactured their own trade deadline Tuesday and then monopolized the market.
2. The Bynum experiment wasn’t working on the court. Once he became disgruntled off it, the Cavs moved quickly to remove him from the team, knowing full well the market they had created with this contract. Teams had to move by Jan. 7 to enjoy the tax savings, so the Cavs became a buyer in their own market.
3. It was a small market of six teams over the luxury tax, and they had no idea that Deng would be available when they devised this contract. The only reason he’s available now was Derrick Rose’s second serious knee injury in as many seasons. The Bulls knew they weren’t positioned to win this year, so they traded out of the playoffs despite presently holding the sixth seed, figured they could add a high lottery pick, bag the future picks from the Cavs, clear a ton of cap space and do a quick rebuild on the run.
4. The Cavs weren’t sure last summer where the opportunity would come, but they knew by structuring the contract this way they could take another run at Pau Gasol if Bynum flopped. Then Deng, who fills a huge need and was likely their No. 1 target all along, became available.
5. “You never can predict what your next best opportunity is going to be,” Grant said. “They don't necessarily come in the order that you'd like to plan them out.”
6. Grant has done a masterful job of leveraging available cap space against teams trying to dump salary. The Cavs have Kyrie Irving because Grant absorbed Baron Davis’ monster contract in exchange for an unprotected lottery pick. He got Deng Tuesday in exchange for getting the Bulls out of the luxury tax and he squeezed what should be a lottery pick out of the Memphis Grizzlies last season for getting them out of the tax.
7. The hot question I’ve heard constantly today is how does this deal affect the Cavs’ chances of signing LeBron James this summer. The simple answer is we’ll have to wait and see.
8. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the Cavs make the playoffs and James decides to return. I have no idea the likelihood of that scenario, but we’ll make those fairly large assumptions for this debate. Deng and James play the same position, but James is so talented he can play anywhere on the court. They’re similar players, but if James and Dwyane Wade could figure out how to play together, I have to believe James and Deng could figure it out, too.
9. It would take some creative maneuvering, but the Cavs could fit both James and Deng on their cap next season – likely at the expense of Anderson Varejao, whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season. The key would be to sign James first, since teams can exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents (in this case Deng). That’s why I wouldn’t expect the Cavs to sign Deng to an extension now, even though they have that opportunity under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Plus, if James elects to stay in Miami, the Cavs have a pretty good fallback option at small forward in Deng. But they’ll have some competition.
10. Deng could be a hot commodity in free agency depending on how it plays out. James and Carmelo Anthony are small forwards who can also become free agents. They will go first and command more money than Deng. But teams shut out by those two will quickly look at Deng.
11. I’ve written this a couple times since the trade, but Deng will likely be seeking a contract similar to the four-year, $54 million deal Josh Smith got from the Pistons last summer. Smith just turned 29, has averaged 15.3 points in 10 seasons and is a career 46 percent shooter. Deng turns 29 at the end of the season, has averaged 16.1 points (shot 46 percent for his career) and is a much better defender. And he’s made two All-Star teams, while Smith has never been chosen. Deng is the better player, period, and is worthy of at least the same contract.
12. There should be some concern, though, about giving Deng four years. He’s had a lot of injuries and he’ll have played more than 25,000 NBA minutes (regular season and postseason combined) after this season ends. The Cavs gave 30-year-old Jarrett Jack a four-year deal last summer, but it was for a fraction of the price Deng will command. Stay tuned.
13. There is no guarantee this move gets the Cavs into the postseason. It’s certainly a huge bump in that direction, but they’ve got some work to do. They’re only 2 games out of the eighth seed after Tuesday’s win, but they have New York, Boston and Brooklyn still in front of them. The Celtics are in a freefall, plus the Bulls should fall out of contention now that Deng is gone. Both New York teams are playing better, however, which will create some competition for those final couple of spots.
14. As I wrote on Sunday, the Cavs were at a crossroads this week. They could’ve simply released Bynum and tried to leverage their available cap space for future draft picks from a team over the luxury tax (hello Clippers!), traded Varejao and focused the rest of the season on developing Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller the rest of the season. Given their place in the standings, and the fact they’re just as close to the league’s worst record as they are to the playoffs, this option was considered.
15. But in Deng, the Cavs found a player who fills their biggest need while in the prime of his career. That’s hard to do. Initially I was in favor of going the other way and playing for the draft pick, particularly given the depth of this draft.
16. Gasol didn’t do much for me. While he’s a tremendous player and certainly could’ve helped the Cavs, another big wasn’t the position of need. Plus he’s 33 and would’ve been viewed as more of a rental. But in Deng, the Cavs have a piece who is significantly younger, a tremendous fit in the locker room and a guy who plays through injuries. I’ve never heard anyone mutter a bad word about the guy.
17. I think Gasol is a fine human being as well, but Deng has served as an ambassador of the game both during the Olympics and during charity trips to South Africa. Deng is a gem. He might be the one player available in trade who could get me to change my stance on the direction the Cavs should head. I think it was a terrific move for the organization, particularly considering what it cost them.
18. This move likely marks the end to the Cavs’ three-guard lineups, and at the very least eliminates the need for Brown to rely on them so heavily. It’s also going to shrink the minutes for some guys.
19. Earl Clark is obviously out as the starting small forward and could be out of the rotation entirely. Deng ranks ninth in the league in minutes played this season (37.2 per game) and led the league in minutes per game each of the last two seasons. Brown probably won’t play him quite as many minutes here, but he’ll still be averaging somewhere around Irving’s 35 minutes.
20. Brown will have a difficult decision to make at backup power forward. He can return Clark there and push rookie Anthony Bennett out of the rotation entirely, or he can stick with Bennett and sit Clark. It’s hard to predict right now which way he’ll go.