Cavaliers deal Bynum to Bulls for Deng, Lakers blow opportunity

January 7, 2014

In a move signaling the differing directions of three franchises, the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired forward Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for center Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks, and the right to swap 2015 first round picks with Cleveland (1-14 protected), Cavs General Manager Chris Grant announced Monday night.

In exchange for Deng, the Cavs sent Bynum; Cleveland’s right to the Sacramento King’s first round draft pick conveyed in a June 30, 2011 deal; the right for Chicago to swap its own 2015 first round draft pick with the Cavs own 2015 first round draft pick (only if Cleveland's 2015 pick is between 15 and 30); and the Portland Trail Blazer’s 2015 and 2016 second round draft picks acquired from the Trail Blazers via a 2013 draft night trade.

For Cleveland, the deal immediately makes them a playoff contender in a pathetically-weak Eastern Conference that has only four teams playing .500 ball or better.

"We are very excited for Luol to join the Cavaliers organization, " said Grant.  "We have worked to acquire and maintain flexibility in order to capitalize on opportunities such as this. Luol reflects all that we are striving for in building our team. He’s a tremendous defensive player that can impact the game on both ends of the court with a team first mentality and is a high character leader.”

The 6-9, 220-pound Deng is a big upgrade at the 3 for the Cavs, who have seen top draft pick Anthony Bennett struggle, while receiving inconsistent play from free agent signee Earl Clark.

Deng's defense, ability to score, leadership, and overall floor game should mesh nicely with young star point guard Kyrie Irving to form a solid 1-2 punch.

This season, Deng has started in 23 games for Chicago, averaging a career-best 19 points on .452 shooting, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 37.4 minutes per game.  Deng has been an NBA All-Star in each of the past two seasons, and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2012.

Should things not pan out, Cleveland could let him walk this offseason as a free agent, content to have had him as a rental.  If they decide to keep him, they retain his Bird rights and could offer more money than any other team.

In terms of the picks they gave up, one is lottery protected and the other, from Sacramento, probably would not be available this year given the Kings projected finish.

The one downside is that Cleveland will likely lose out on the Wiggins-Parker-Smart draft sweepstakes, but after seeing Bennett's play this season, they might not mind.

For Chicago, the deal signifies a waiving of the white flag to a degree.  Derrick Rose is out again this season with another knee injury, reducing any hope of a title, even for coach Tom Thibodeau's scrappy bunch.

The Bulls currently rank sixth in the East, but the Bynum deal is a money-saving venture and nothing more.  The former All-Star center again experienced knee problems this season and will be cut today by Chicago to get under the salary cap before his contract is guaranteed.

With the Bulls and Deng having failed to agree on an extension this year, management opted to cut their losses and avoid losing Deng in free agency for nothing, ala Dwight Howard this past offseason.

The Bulls will fill Deng's spot in the rotation by committee, with Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler, and rookie Tony Snell all seeing time at the 3.

Which brings us finally to the Lakers.  LA had been in talks with Cleveland reportedly for a Bynum-Pau Gasol trade.

One barrier to completing the deal perhaps could have been the Cavs' preference for a younger Deng who could step in and play at a position of greater need. However, he also will likely be more expensive for Cleveland to re-sign than Gasol.

A second barrier appears to be the Lakers' hardball asking price, as they wanted a high pick in return.

By failing to make the deal, LA lost out on the opportunity to waive Bynum, to get under the salary cap, and to potentially avoid the dreaded repeater penalty down the line.

More importantly, the failure to complete the deal also reveals yet another instance of the directionless management and bad decisions of the current Jim Buss regime.

One could claim that with the team's mounting injuries, the Lakers currently are fielding a near CBA-level lineup, but that would be an insult to the Albany Patroons.

Steve Nash's back appears done, Gasol has regressed either due to age or coach Mike D'Antoni's misuse of his talents, and Kobe Bryant has been a step slow while working his way through multiple injuries this year.  Given those issues, and a loaded Western Conference, the Lakers have zero chance of a title this year, and would need a huge rally just to snag the eighth seed.

Logic would dictate that with a draft lottery filled with quality prospects, the Lakers should quit the charade, deal Gasol while there are still takers, and get more ping pong balls by tanking the season.

Instead, expect the worst case scenario -- keeping things status quo while stumbling its way to a mid-round pick.

At a certain point, the truth will be revealed just how competent the team's current management is in the post-Jerry Buss era.

Jim Buss has chosen to sign Kobe Bryant above market value and does not appear eager to shed salary this year, and that is fine.

But by taking that course of "big-spender" action, he cannot then later claim to the championship-hungry fanbase that the team lacks the funds to sign elite free agents due to Kobe's inflated deal and salary cap constraints.  After all, Buss was the one who jumped the gun and hurriedly signed Kobe in fear that he could walk this offseason.

His shrewd, poker-playing father, Jim Buss is not.

In other words, if Buss is planning to use fiscal issues as a shield to protect himself from criticism, then he should operate in a more honest and frugal manner by getting under the cap from the outset and not paying his aging star above-market value.  Be genuine about the situation and focus on increasing the team's cap room.

On the other hand, if his plan is to do whatever it takes to win, then he should genuinely pursue that mode of operation earnestly and without reservation.  That means if Buss wants to pay Kobe top dollar and plans to keep Pau on the squad, then he should likewise spend top dollar on free agents and not cower from the repeater penalties.

Most likely, however, he will pursue the worst course of action -- the non-committal compromise.

Having paid Kobe more than his market value (when viewing the deal within the context of a salary cap world), Buss will probably not sign two max free agents due to financial reasons.

Under this scenario, the team will be under the salary cap, with much of the space occupied by an aging and less effective Kobe, and with marginal overall talent on the roster. The result will be pure Smush Parker-Rudy T-level mediocrity, perhaps producing a playoff team, but not a championship-caliber squad.

However, there is one other hope even with this compromise approach.  LA could always sign just one max free agent, and get lucky in the lottery this year, landing a top-3 pick without having to pay that rookie max dollars.

Unfortunately, that would require more ping pong balls than the team is willing to acquire.

By Mike Elliott
Editor for The Daily Sports Herald

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