Jan 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Winner: Luol Deng
Deng is going to a team that desperately needs him. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ small forwards have a PER of 9.2 and yield a PER of 15.5 to opposing small forwards, according to 82Games. That’s a horrific net PER of –6.3. Of the 150 positions in the NBA (five per team), only three have have a worse net PER than Cleveland small forwards: Utah Jazz point guards, Sacramento Kings shooting guards and Milwaukee Bucks centers.
Plus, Deng fills what could be a suddenly strong lineup with Kyrie Irving at point guard, one of C.J. Miles/Dion Waiters/Jarrett Jack at shooting guard, Tristan Thompson at power forward and Anderson Varejao at center. With Deng bringing everything together, the 11-23 Cavaliers should improve from here out, likely challenging for a playoff spot. That would bring positive attention to Deng for his leadership and winning pedigree, two traits many teams covet.
Not a bad opportunity heading into free agency.
Loser: Andrew Bynum
It was a longshot even before the Cavaliers suspended Bynum, but it remained possible Cleveland kept Bynum past this week’s deadline for 2013-14 salaries to become fully guaranteed. He still would have held trade value as a cap/tax reducer, given his completely unguaranteed 2014-15 salary (no way he was ever getting paid that). In exchange for keeping and paying him, the Cavaliers would have gotten a longer window to find maximum return in a deal.
Instead, Bynum is going to the Chicago Bulls, who announced they’d acquired “multiple draft picks, along with the contract of Andrew Bynum.” He’s not even an afterthought. His contract is.
The Bulls are definitely waiving Bynum and in doing so, the center will lose $6.25 million in unguaranteed 2013-14 salary.
Winners: Chris Grant and Mike Brown
Before the season, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made clear three straight trips to the lottery were enough for him. “I think there is an expectation that this team is a playoff contender,” Gilbert said.
For a moment, let’s put aside whether or not Cleveland – which certainly had enough lottery picks lately to build a strong young core but nailed only one (Kyrie Irving) before underwhelming on one (Tristan Thompson), blowing one (Dion Waiters) and potentially striking disaster on another (Anthony Bennett) – should suddenly give up tanking just in time for the best draft since 2003. Gilbert is the boss, and his underlings must try to appease the direction he sets for the team.
That’s why this trade helps the Cavaliers’ general manager, Grant, and head coach, Brown. Deng makes Cleveland more likely to reach the playoffs, which makes Grant and Brown more likely to remain employed.
Loser: Tom Thibodeau
Thibodeau is all about winning. Winning right now. Not later, not once Derrick Rose gets healthy, not for the long term. Winning this very second.
That philosophy has fostered the Bulls’ incredible competitive spirit, but it has also led Thibodeau to play his top players big minutes and right into the ground over long seasons. When the Bulls were among the Eastern Conference’s top teams, that tradeoff made sense.
Now that Thibodeau has lost two of his top players – Derrick Rose and Deng, whom Thibodeau didn’t want to lose after the season, let alone during it – it’s quite possible the coach’s fiery attitude just drives him and his players mad. The Bulls are clearly tanking, and even if that stops with dumping Deng and never approaches the level of instructing players and coaches to give less than their best, it’s unlikely Thibodeau is on board.
Winner: Jerry Reinsdorf
The Bulls owner will trim his payroll this season by shedding Deng, though Chicago must still pay Bynum a little more than $1 million. More significantly, the Bulls will avoid the luxury tax, offering bigger savings.
However, the biggest impact could – should – come in future years. Avoiding the luxury tax this season, one lost when Derrick Rose went down, makes a lot of sense. That will allow Chicago to exceed the luxury tax – which could happen if Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News is right and the Bulls also amnesty Carlos Boozer, leaving them room to sign a big-time free agent – without triggering the steep repeater penalties.
But that plan would require Reinsdorf spending the big bucks when it makes more sense, which is not a given. He could always collect this year’s savings and then try to save more in the future.
Losers: Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks
These four teams definitely want to make the 2014 playoffs. They’ve sacrificed future flexibility in order to increase success this season.
All four have traded a first-round pick they could surrender in 2014 without even making the playoffs. In other words, to varying degrees, tanking might not even let these teams reap the rewards of a high draft pick. They’re fully or nearly fully on the playoff-contention track.
But it hasn’t gone so well. None of the four has a winning record, and just two would make the postseason if it began today. Here’s how they, and the two teams in this trade, stand in the Eastern Conference:
5. Wizards (14-17)
6. Bulls (14-18)
8. Pistons (14-20)
9. Nets (12-21)
12. Knicks (11-22)
13. Cavaliers (11-12)
This trade obviously shakes up the postseason picture. The Cavaliers are more likely to make the playoffs. The Bulls are less likely to make the playoffs. But the magnitude by which Cleveland’s odds increase is less than the magnitude by which Chicago’s odds decrease.
Simply, that’s because the Bulls are starting in playoff position and the Cavaliers aren’t. Deng will obviously make the Cavaliers better, especially because he fills such a glaring hole for them. But Thibodeau will keep the Bulls playing hard and defending to the best of their capabilities, and that might keep them in the postseason race.
In other words, the Wizards, Pistons, Nets and Knicks must now fend off Cleveland while still combating a dangerous Chicago.
Winner: Derrick Rose
Rose didn’t want the Bulls to rebuild, and they’re at least positioning themselves to appease their injured star. If the Bulls were set on rebuilding, they likely could have gotten a better draft pick for Deng.
Instead, they settled for two second-round picks, the right to swap picks with Cleveland in 2015 as long as Cleveland is drafting after No. 15 and another pick that is being called a first-rounder. Here are the protections on that “first-round” pick, which originally belonged to the Sacramento Kings, according to RealGM:
- 2014: top 12
- 2015: top 10
- 2016: top 10
- 2017: top 10
If the Kings don’t improve to the point they’re drafting above that line, they’ll give send 2017 second-round pick instead of a first rounder.*
*As long as the 2017 second rounder doesn’t fall 56-60. If that happens, Sacramento doesn’t have to give up any pick.
The Bulls might be betting they’re timing the Kings rebuild just right, but that’s a dangerous wager. More likely, Chicago is making amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent – someone who can complement Rose immediately, rather than a draft pick who will need time to develop – more palatable.
But there’s still another step: The Bulls actually amnestying Boozer and spending money this summer on a big free agent. There’s a difference between it being workable and it being done.
That’s where Rose comes in. If Rose comes back strong, he can pressure the Bulls to spend the money they now have available to build an immediate contender around him. So, Rose has a chance at his preferred direction for the team – especially he still has the star power to demand it.
Timberwolves 126, 76ers 95: Minnesota does this — 10 of their 17 wins are by double digits. When their outside shots are falling (they were 16-of-26 from three) they become very difficult to stop. This game was actually close for a quarter and a half, but Minnesota’s bench started the rout with an 8-0 run midway through the second and Minny put up 70 first half points. This wasn’t a defensive struggle. Then Minnesota owned the third quarter, with Kevin Love scoring 16 of his 26 in the period and it was a 31-point game and garbage time entering the fourth. Philly looked like a team in its first game home after a 17-day road trip who just relaxed. They got 20 out of Thaddeus Young, which might help his trade value.
Nets 91, Hawks 86: In a battle of “which team can better survive the loss of their star” (Deron Williams, ankle, and Al Horford, torn pectoral both out) Brooklyn had Joe Johnson dropping 23 — including a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter — and he was key to creating decent shots and it got the Nets another win. Brooklyn has now won three in a row, while the Hawks have dropped three straight and are 2-4 since Horford got injured. Jeff Teague had 16 points but needed 15 shots to get there.
Clippers 101, Magic 81: That final score makes the game seem closer than it actually was. Seriously. The Cippers had an early 18-0 and were up 20-3 before you could blink, then led by 26 at the half and by 35 at one point in the third. This became a Clipper showcase dunkfest, which the fans at Staples loved. Give Darren Collison some props for leading the onslaught, he had 13 in the first quarter and 21 for the game, plus seven dimes. Also credit Orlando, which played poor defense and shot just 35.7 percent on the night.
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