COMMENTARY | To say the 2013-14 season has been a disappointment for the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a giant understatement.
However, news broke early Tuesday morning that the team dealt its big offseason free-agent acquisition Andrew Bynum -- who had been suspended by the team indefinitely for detrimental conduct -- along with three draft picks to the Chicago Bulls for All-Star forward Luol Deng. And, suddenly, what had been a lost season has gotten the fans talking about the possibility of the postseason.
Not bad considering this team is 11-23 heading into Tuesday night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, having won just two of its last 12 games -- both of which were in overtime -- and sit 13th out of the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference.
But getting a viable standout in Deng at a position that the Cavs have neglected to properly fill since LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, especially for a player who would have never stepped on the floor as a Cavalier again and for three heavily protected draft picks, is a plus for embattled general manager Chris Grant.
But with the Eastern Conference being wide open this season -- other than the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, every other team in the conference is just over the .500 mark or lower -- a team like the Cavs with a sudden shot in the arm can make a run at a playoff spot.
Grant's feet have been certainly held to the fire this season. The fanbase and ownership put up with three losing seasons from 2010-13 because the Cavs were accruing numerous high lottery draft picks. The offseason moves, such as firing Byron Scott and bringing back Mike Brown to be the head coach and signing Bynum to a two-year, $24 million contract (and structuring it that only $6 million would be guaranteed if Bynum flaked out, which he did), sent a loud message that this team was ready to become a contender again. When the Cavs struggled out of the gate, the media and fans turned up the heat on the one guy who has overseen what has transpired over the last 3 1/2 seasons and is held accountable -- Grant.
The jury is still out on Grant. He'll have to answer for drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick this past summer when Bennett is clearly not ready for the NBA. He'll have to answer for only having one bona-fide All-Star -- point guard Kyrie Irving -- to show for four lottery picks in the last three drafts and six first-round picks during that same span. And, until he was able to turn Bynum into Deng, he would have had to answer for bringing him to Cleveland in the first place.
Deng, a 28-year-old 10-year NBA veteran who is averaging a career-best 19.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, recently turned down a three-year, $30 million contract extension from the Bulls. With Derrick Rose being out for the season, the Bulls appear to be in rebuild-mode. They promptly waived Bynum upon acquiring him and are hopeful that the three draft picks -- a protected first-rounder that the Cavs acquired from the Sacramento Kings for J.J. Hickson and two second-rounders from the Portland Trail Blazers for the 2015 and 2016 drafts -- turn into assets to get this team back to the forefront.
The first-rounder becomes a second-rounder if it's not used by 2017 and is top-10 protected from 2014-16, and the Bulls have the right to swap first-rounders with the Cavs by 2015, but only if the Cavs make the playoffs during that span.
The Cavs, at Tuesday's press conference, stated they intend to try to keep Deng on the team beyond this season. Josh Smith's $13.5 million-a-year deal with the Pistons would probably be a good starting point for Grant and owner Dan Gilbert if they are serious about keeping Deng in Cleveland.
The trade seemed to come out of nowhere. Most reports had Grant talking to the Los Angeles Lakers for a package involving forward Pau Gasol. But those talks broke off when the Lakers asked for more, including center/forward Anderson Varejao or sixth-man Dion Waiters and draft picks. That, and the Cavs were concerned about Gasol's re-signability after this season.
Deng is a better fit for the Cavs than Gasol. Deng is younger and fills a position of extreme need, whereas Gasol would only seem to clutter the Cavs at their "bigs" positions. While losing Bynum after 24 games is tough because of the mismatches he exploits underneath, it was pretty clear that Bynum didn't have his heart into it this year. The rumors that he had an affair with an assistant coach's wife didn't necessarily help, either.
Deng's presence should translate into at least eight more wins for the Cavs down the stretch, which should be enough to make a run at one of the bottom three seeds in the conference. In order to show the fans, who have been patient through the rebuilding process after James bolted town, that they are serious, a playoff run is necessary.
Getting Irving healthy again to go with an emerging Waiters (who continues to be on the trading block), Deng, Varejao (who has the center position all to himself now), Jarrett Jack and undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova should give the Cavs a boost to make a stretch run.
Regardless of what happens down the stretch, Deng becomes an asset for the Cavs, whether they re-sign him for the next five years or use him in a sign-and-trade deal. Deng is a high-character player on and off the court that Cleveland fans will fall in love with, while Bynum had a reputation for being a bit of a malcontent that didn't go away in light of his suspension. And, if Deng could mesh with a point guard like Rose, imagine what he can do with Irving?
I, for one, am excited about what the Cavs can do. And it's been a while since I've been genuinely excited about the Cavs.
Dan Gilles lives in Northeast Ohio and has been a sportswriter for 19 years. He has been published in multiple newspapers and web sites, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. He is a life-long fan and observer of the Cleveland sports scene.
- Sports & Recreation
- Andrew Bynum
- Luol Deng
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Chicago Bulls