Make no mistake; the Bynum/Deng trade was an unadulterated win for the Cavaliers. We can talk all we want about tanking or positioning for the draft, but even in a good draft it is unlikely that there will be more than, say, eight players as good as Deng. More importantly, Deng is good now, not a bundle of potential that may bear fruit in a couple of years. He instantly becomes the second best player on the Cavs and turns the weakest position on the team into a strength. In the words of the owner’s son, “What’s not to like?”
Well, there are a couple of little things. For one, Deng is not a great shooter. The biggest need on this team is for someone to spread the floor so Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters have more space to penetrate. Deng does not fill that need. However, he plays good defense, will help the offensive flow with his passing and ball handling, and generally plays hard and smart. His shooting, while not elite, is at least good enough that his man will not leave him to double Kyrie, which is what we have faced with Alonzo Gee. Deng is not an elite player, but he is the kind of guy you need to contend for a championship.
Which brings us to the other problem. Deng is an unrestricted free agent after this season, which leads to the potential scenario where he stays long enough to cost the Cavs a lottery pick and then bolts, leaving the Cavs with the same gaping hole that was on the roster before this trade and no high draft pick with which to fill it. Well, the Cavs have, to some extent, covered themselves against that by making this trade in January. What I mean by that is that by making the trade now, they have six weeks between now and the trade deadline to see how things work with Deng. I would expect Chris Grant to make a three-year contract offer sometime before the trade deadline, just to see how interested Deng is in finishing his career here. If Deng rejects all contract offers, is demonstrably unhappy about being in Cleveland, or the Cavs decide that they are still not a playoff team after adding Deng, they can flip him to the highest bidder at the deadline. As an expiring contract who can actually help a team, Deng will be in great demand if the Cavs make him available, and the Cavs should be able to net a package far better than the bucket of picks they gave up for him.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s hope that in the 20 or so games between now and the deadline Deng forms a chemistry with Kyrie and decides he loves it here, and the Cavs make a serious run toward the playoffs. But it is good to know that the downside of this trade is still pretty good.
The secondary benefit of this trade is that it strengthens the bench. At this point I would expect Waiters, Clark, and Zeller to be the first three off the bench. With Matthew Dellavedova showing that he can handle 10 minutes a night and the Deng acquisition hopefully spelling the end of the three-guard lineups, I have to wonder if the Cavs won’t consider moving Jarrett Jack. To this point he hasn’t shot the ball or defended well enough to justify depriving the young guys of minutes, and as Dion solidifies himself as a sparkplug off the bench, it looks like Irving, Miles, and Waiters will combine for at least 90 minutes per game, which doesn’t leave much backcourt time for anyone else. Because of this, Jack may be more valuable to the Cavs as a trade chip than as a player.