They were staring at the possibility of Pau Gasol or Richard Jefferson and came away with Luol Deng, looking at a season screaming off a cliff and ended up with a new chance, trying to salvage something – anything – for a mistake in the past and turning it into a future.
The Cavaliers saved the day, and a lot more. They got 2012 and ’13 All-Star Deng for Andrew Bynum, a much better outcome than Gasol from the Lakers or Jefferson from the Jazz as either short-term rentals just to avoid having to leave Bynum by the side of the road or opportunities to flip into another deal. They got a two-way player and a good professional attitude for a roster sorely lacking both.
Best of all, though, the Cavs got a new start, because the previous new start was not going well.
This blows up in their face only if Deng leaves as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but it’s a reasonable assumption that Cleveland pulled the trigger Monday night knowing it would have to do whatever it took to re-sign him, even if that meant over-paying. Deng and his camp surely know this as well and in July will gladly capitalize on the situation, but he may have signaled a willingness to stay if the numbers are right. Multiple reports after the Bulls and Cavaliers completed the trade stated Deng turned down $30 million over three years as Chicago’s final attempt to keep him, so Cleveland knows it’s looking at demands that will reach the teens of millions of dollars.
At the very least, the Cavaliers presumably did not get a thumbs down from Deng indicating he is against re-signing. That alone is a win considering how their season has gone.
Bynum was a bad signing, even with the safety net that only $6 million of the $24 million over two seasons was guaranteed, once it became obvious through a December suspension for conduct detrimental to the team that he was not entirely focused on trying to re-start a career that once had superstar potential. (And that’s not even getting into 41.9 percent from the field in 24 games.)
Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick last June, isn’t in the rotation and is shooting 27.8 percent. Dion Waiters, the 2012 lottery pick, can’t stick in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers don’t defend or shoot well and are 11-23, although in the East, that’s also known as “three games out of eighth place.”
That’s where Deng comes in. He is a big part of the solution in those aspects, addresses a position need at small forward, can become a positive locker-room presence, and provides new momentum. Kyrie Irving, Deng, Tristan Thompson doing grunt work inside, Anderson Varejao in the middle of a successful comeback, Cleveland’s own first-round pick in 2014 – that’s something to build on. There is the chance for recovery this season plus get somewhere much bigger in the future, again with the speculation that Deng stays.
The only risk Monday was trading the first-rounder that belongs to the Kings, and that almost certainly won’t be conveyed this year because of protections. So Cleveland gave up a player it was going to cut anyway, a Draft choice it wouldn’t have gotten until 2015 at the soonest and probably not even then because of additional protections for Sacramento, the option for the Bulls to swap 2015 first-rounders to take the Cavaliers selection instead but only if the Cavs are between 15 and 30, and the Trail Blazers’ second-round picks in 2015 and ’16.
It’s a win for the Cavaliers. It’s hope for the Cavaliers.