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Luol Deng-Andrew Bynum trade could backfire on both Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers in short term

Jan 7, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

Luol Deng, Alonzo Gee

The Luol DengAndrew Bynum trade signaled two teams hoping to go opposite directions in the short term.

The Cavaliers clearly want to make the playoffs. Dan Gilbert has said so, and the franchise’s moves reflect that goal.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Bulls clearly want to miss the playoffs, but when you have a 14-18 record, you don’t trade one of your top players for only draft picks unless you’re at least comfortable in the lottery.

But it’s very possible, perhaps bordering on likely, the Cavaliers miss the postseason and the Bulls make it – a twisted reality that adds a little more intrigue to this deal if you, like me, enjoy a little chaos.

Every trade poses long-term risk. The Bulls don’t yet know how they’ll be able to use their new financial flexibility, and the Cavaliers don’t yet know how valuable the picks they surrendered will become. Those far-reaching ramifications are difficult to predict, and although they’re essential to every trade, it can be excusable when teams incorrectly project the distant future.

But the rest of this season? That should be in sharper focus.

At face value, this trade seems to have relatively simple short-term ramifications. The Cavaliers add a good player, so they’ll get better. The Bulls lose a good player, so they’ll get worse.

However, the current standings complicate just what that those two effects will mean on the playoff race.

Chicago is sixth in the Eastern Conference and holds a two-game buffer for its playoff spot. Cleveland, in 13th place, is three games out of the last postseason spot.

That doesn’t seem like much for either team to overcome in each direction, but it is. We’re 70 days into the season, and at this point historically, a large majority of playoff spots are already settled.

Of course, some teams are so far ahead, there’s practically no chance they’ll slip out of the postseason picture. Other teams are so far behind, they definitely won’t make a run.

But even focusing on teams like the Cavaliers and Bulls, teams closer to the line, doesn’t suggest a flip in the standings is likely. In the last five 82-game seasons, two-thirds of teams within three games either side of the playoff cutoff 70 days into the season have remained on the same side of the cutoff when the season ended.

Simply, the Bulls have their work cut out for them to get better lottery odds, and the Cavaliers face an even tough task in making the playoffs. Swapping Deng will help, but these aren’t the only teams to make a mid-season trade in the last five full seasons. Playoff shakeups this far into the season just aren’t common.

  1. nflcrimerankingscom - Jan 7, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Of course current records have predictive value for who makes the playoffs, but most teams in that sample maintain the same roster strength.

    Deng brings a solid +5.0 simple rating, which would easily be the highest of any Cavs player (Varejao and Waiters are the top 2, Irving 3rd!) and definitely a huge upgrade over Gee and Clark at the 3. All starters would then in theory be above 0, not bad… and could definitely be a significant enough change to get them in the playoffs of the lame East…

  2. smoothaswilkes - Jan 7, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    “In the last five 82-game seasons, two-thirds of teams within three games either side of the playoff cutoff 70 days into the season have remained on the same side of the cutoff when the season ended.”
    The link associated with this sentence is broken. Looks like a SQL error.

  3. whoisrdymlz - Jan 7, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    Deng isn’t going to stay in Cleveland. Irving isn’t either. Not being mean, just realistic.

    Flip your good assets for 2014 Draft picks and start taking this tanking thing seriously.

    • tontoepstein - Jan 10, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      Deng, you’re right. Irving, you’re wrong. Guys never leave after their first contract, they leave after their second.

  4. aboogy123456 - Jan 7, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    Yes obviously the records make it a possibility that the bulls will make the playoffs and the cavs won’t, but how does that mean the trade backfires?

    • ewyorksockexchange - Jan 7, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      Yeah, I’m not sure how it could backfire at all. I mean, it might not work out exactly as planned. But the bulls have tax relief, money under the cap to spend next summer, and some extra picks, and the cavs gave up a player they were going to waive and a pick that might not even be a first in 3 years (that isn’t theirs) to pick up what is at worst a rental player. It gets even better if they can resign Deng.

      Maybe if Bynum magically becomes a monster basketball player and wins a championship, or if Deng goes somewhere and knocks the bulls out of the playoffs with a game 7 buzzer beater. Those would be backfires. But neither thing is happening in the short term.

    • jkmcgruder - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      No one will come to the Bulls or Cav’s as a free agent.

  5. apkyletexas - Jan 7, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    Deng must be thrilled to get out of Chicago, where the entire team is constantly dragged down by Rose’s injury situation.

    At least he is on a team now that controls its own destiny this year. They may not be good enough to win anything big, but they have all their pieces on the floor, and their money isn’t tied up in a multi-year physical rehab project.

  6. jkaflagg - Jan 7, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    This may the first year in NBA history where several teams fight desperately to NOT make the playoffs, in particular the final two spots in the East….Two home playoff games getting dismantled by Miami or Indiana will not be nearly as valuable as a lottery pick…..

    • smoothaswilkes - Jan 7, 2014 at 8:17 PM

      Is this the first year you’ve followed the NBA?

  7. chicagofan - Jan 7, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Another dumb move by Chicago’s management team and it will backfire. Who will sign with Chicago who will be better than Deng? I can’t think of anyone and amnestying Boozer will free up cash to pay whom? Cleveland will be better this yr, but will Deng stay? Maybe, and this could work out for the Cavs if he does but definitely not Chicago. They should fire both Forman and Paxson after this fails.

  8. eatitfanboy - Jan 8, 2014 at 2:44 AM

    The stat that drives this post is misleading. The fact that in most years 66% of teams three games into playoff contention make the playoffs is moot.

    The situation this year in general and with these two teams in particular renders it so. In most seasons, a team three games into the playoffs would not be trading off their best active player for nothing and a team 3 games out of the playoffs would not be trading for a 2 time All-Star.

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