CLEVELAND: The Cavaliers began Tuesday closer to the league’s worst record than they did the playoffs, but that did little to dissuade them from trading for a two-time All-Star and setting their sights on the postseason.
The playoffs are the short-term goal. Keeping Luol Deng in Cleveland might be the long-term quest.
The Cavs acquired Deng from the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning for three draft picks and Andrew Bynum’s unique contract. He is in the final season of a contract that pays him $14 million, and if they intend to keep him beyond this season, it will likely cost at least that much.
Deng rejected a three-year, $30 million extension offer from the Bulls last week in part because it was a pay cut. Josh Smith signed as a free agent with the Detroit Pistons last season for four years and $13.5 million. That’s a good starting point for an extension, particularly since Deng is the better player.
Cavs General Manager Chris Grant is more concerned with getting Deng situated before talking extension.
“Right now our goal is to get Luol here, get him comfortable, help him transition into our team,” Grant said. “He’s only played in Chicago his whole career so this is a big transition for him and helping him settle in is important. Once we get through all that then we can sit down and talk about what the future looks like.”
Deng’s agent is Herb Rudoy, who also represented Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who now works in the Cavs’ front office.
Deng is expected to join the Cavs at practice today. He’ll have two full practices before the Cavs depart on a five-game West Coast trip that begins Friday at the Utah Jazz.
The Cavs began the day four games behind the Bulls in the standings and three games out of the final playoff spot. They’re only 3½ games from tying the Milwaukee Bucks for the league’s worst record.
Deng, 28, is expected to help change that. He’s a 10-year veteran averaging a career high 19 points and 6.9 rebounds.
“We’re bringing in a player who’s an All-Star in his prime who epitomizes all the things that we’re trying to build as a foundation with this young group of players, fits a position of need, has a winning background,” Grant said. “Obviously he comes from a strong defensive system. He has a strong defensive presence himself, leading scorer of his team. So it’s an exciting time for us.”
The Bulls, as expected, waived Bynum prior to Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline to clear $12 million off their salary cap and slide under the luxury tax.
The trade saved the Bulls more than $20 million in salary and taxes while giving them a pair of second-round picks and a heavily protected first-round pick.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau often called Deng the “glue” to the successful Bulls teams and was disappointed Tuesday to see him go.
“What he did for me, you couldn’t ask anything more of a player: practice hard, be a great leader, play for the team, be selfless,” Thibodeau said. “Whatever I asked him to do, he did. And he bought in from Day 1, the minute I got here. I appreciated that. I thought when you look at what he did, the way he worked and the way he performed, those are two things I value greatly.
“When you add to it the type of person he is, all the things that he did in the community, he embodied what we stand for. Lu was never the type of guy that would call attention to himself. He did a lot of good things in this community because he felt it was the right thing to do.”
Kyrie Irving returned from a knee injury Tuesday after missing three games. He said the night he injured the knee he felt a pop, but he joked Tuesday he was overreacting.
“I was just scared to death,” he said with a laugh. “I’m good now.”
Irving wore his Duke sweatshirt to Tuesday morning’s shootaround to celebrate the Deng trade. Both players attended Duke for one year before entering the NBA.
They’re also familiar with each other after spending four days together last summer in South Africa during a Basketball Without Borders camp.
“Great addition to the team,” Irving said. “I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.