The DEFEND Cleveland Show

Along Comes a Man Called Deng

Grant - Loul Deng Trade

After three seasons, an NBA lockout, the hiring and firing of Byron Scott, the firing and re-hiring of Mike Brown, two #1 overall picks, two top 5 picks as well as two top 20, not to forget the failed attempts to start Omri Casspi, Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark, and an 11-23 start to 2013-2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally have a starting small forward on their roster again. Luol Deng, even if you turn out to be a rental, welcome to Cleveland!

Last night as everyone was wondering if their heat would hold up to subzero temperatures and whether or not the Cavs would end up with either Gasol or Jefferson in a Bynum trade, Chris Grant pulled off another coup of a deal that sent assets and cap relief to Chicago and in return brings to the Cavs a two time All-Star and 2012 All-Defensive Second Team guy to fill a roster shattering crater sized hole that has handicapped this team ever since “The Decision”. Considering on yesterday’s show I was praising the benefits of adding a 65 year old Richard Jefferson averaging 10 and 3 over that of the Pau Gasol deal (which might have mostly just complicated things again in the Cavs frontcourt and could have required the added departure of Waiters or the Cavs 2014 1st round pick), this deal for Deng in many ways feels too good to be true.

The upside is obvious. The Cavaliers not only fill a desperate position of need, they do so with a high caliber All-Star who excels on both sides of the ball and also fits perfectly within Coach Brown’s defense first approach. Not to mention, Deng for his career brings over 16 points and 6 rebounds a night. Which are numbers that are all up this year to near 20 and 7 as the Bulls have had to increase his usage rate significantly due to the injuries to Rose and all the others on their depleted roster. An injury riddled roster that helped force this deal of trading away Deng for Chicago in the first place.

Another boon in adding Luol is that the Cavs have just increased their odds of making the playoffs in the woeful Eastern Conference to a degree where only having their own set of big name injuries could derail them (you know, like losing Kyrie and Varejao for a lengthy spell again). A postseason appearance is incredibly important this season as has been said many times and not for the reason of Chris Grant’s job security, but rather for the purposes of finally producing a winning environment for the young Cavaliers talent around here who so far have had zero taste of it in the NBA. Do you know who doesn’t enjoy working for the Cavs all that much right now? Pretty much everyone. Do you know what could drastically change all of that? Wins.

This should not be downplayed, having players struggling on a losing team within this culture of losing in Cleveland is hard on everyone from Grant to Kyrie to the sales department to the concessions workers. It hurts everyone across the board literally from the fans on up. In this atmosphere no one is truly happy and everything you do for the team can be made arduous. Just looking at the 5,000 or so fans showing up some nights for home games this year, and apparently filling the arena to a third of its capacity at times is even asking too much. Beyond all the inherent and obvious frustrations that comes with losing, classic examples of a losing culture also manifest in ways such as all the murmurings that “Grant needs to be fired!”, and rumors that “Kyrie might leave in free agency” when his rookie contract is up.

Winning is so very important. There is definitely a reason why it’s associated with being a cure-all.

Now the downside to this deal. Most will be quick to point out that Deng is a free agent after this season, however, this should not be seen as a considerable issue. One, the Cavaliers now hold Deng’s Bird rights and if they so choose to offer more than any other, they can. I also believe, as it is being suggested, that if Cleveland felt there was no chance they could retain him after this year then they likely wouldn’t have done the trade. Two, with Deng’s contract expiring they’ll still have plenty of the cap flexibility that Chris Grant has seemingly designed all along to use in this upcoming offseason. In other words, if  “you know who” decides to come home, the welcome mat can still be in place. If that’s the play, you most likely say goodbye to Deng but who would even care at that point. If he the king does not return, which shouldn’t be at all counted on anyhow, then you have a much greater opportunity to re-sign Deng than you would have had in luring him to Cleveland without controlling his Bird rights.

Another perceived risk to this trade is the idea that the Cavs might not get anything back in return for Deng if he indeed does bolt after the season. This can be countered by the fact that they didn’t give up much but second round picks to get him, picks that might have turned into players you would have likely never seen or heard of anyway (hello the last three years of Allen Crabbe, Bernard James, Jay Crowder, Justin Harper, Milan Macvan and Carrick Felix…though the jury is still out on Macvan and Felix). And in case you’ve forgotten already, the main aspect of this deal was created by a Bynum gamble that was a known long shot from the beginning for the Cavs and had quickly ended in a poor fit, mostly lackluster play, who knows if we’ll ever truly hear about what else might have happened, and ultimately an indefinite suspension. Basically, in the end the Cavs gave up 6 million of Gilbert’s money and some low prospect assets that were most likely to disappear or be used in a trade some day anyway, and that’s it.

i.e., you just received a really good something for not much of anything.

In searching for the bad in this deal for the Cavs, the first real risk is Luol’s health. Since being drafted 7th overall out of Duke in the 2004 Draft, Deng who turns 29 in April has missed some playing time due to torn ligaments in both wrists, a calf strain, and an Achilles injury which first bothered him back in 2007 that has flared up again; seeing him miss a handful of games this year and currently has him listed as day-to-day. When thinking about re-signing him long term, a decision the Cavaliers will certainly be faced with one way or the other (a deal that is being projected as being in the neighborhood of 13-14 million for 4 years), as much as injuries have been an issue of note for Luol, he still has averaged playing over 85% of the games each season for Chicago since coming into the league. He’s also been carrying a heavy load for the Bulls of late leading the NBA in minutes per game 2 out of the last 3 years (a rate that should come down somewhat on this Cavs roster), and considering his injuries aren’t to the back or knees, aka the death zones of basketball careers, it’s not a risk to be too overly concerned about.

About the only real problem after all the dust settles from this deal is that one of the Cavs main issues this year offensively, among the many problems, is their lack of spacing due to a dearth of consistent outside shooting. Deng does not fix this, he doesn’t even really help it. A streaky shooter and a career 33% from distance, Deng has never been a true threat from 3-ville and this year he’s putting up some of his lowest numbers yet from beyond the arc. It’s also a shot he never really attempted much until Tom Thibodeau encouraged it back at the beginning of 2010 when his rate then increased from roughly 1 attempt per game to 4. This year he’s shooting the shot less than 20% of the time and is connecting on but 27%. Which means you can expect the paint of the Cavaliers offense to remain a congested mess a lot of the time.

You can’t take away from what Deng brings defensively though as the Cavs finally have a shutdown wing defender they can target one-on-one with their opponents best scorer each night. This alone probably saw Mike Brown after this deal was finalized out shouting fits of joy into the Polar vortex Cleveland night air like Austin Carr after the Cavs “dot the i!”, “get that weak stuff out of here!”, or “throw the hammer down!”, or any other team successes which prompt our old man commentary mascot to break out his bloated surplus of catch phrases. Once you sprinkle Deng’s leadership and playoff tested experience into the mix, and fully realize you’re no longer starting Clark or Gee (praise the basketball gods!), and this is a deal that every Cleveland Cavaliers fan should be up out of their seats for and applauding.

If anything, it should sway all the Chris Grant haters to back off some. At least for a while.

Go Cavs.
-Mike James

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Posted by on Jan 7 2014. Filed under Featured, Show Reports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

3 Comments for “Along Comes a Man Called Deng”

  1. david cardarelli

    “You know who” is not coming home. The mere posing of such a possibility is delusional. That said, if he does the time is now; after next season that window’s closed.

    • Mike James

      When Brian Windhorst reported in the offseason that multiple team GMs around the league saw LeBron returning to Cleveland as a”foregone” conclusion, though I would still consider complete faith in this notion as absolutely delusional, I do still feel it is worth mentioning. I’m with you though, mostly.

  2. Do you feel like Milwaukee gained a winning culture by making the 8 seed last year?
    How has that winning culture impacted the Hawks who have made the playoffs for years now?
    This isn’t the OKC Thunder of 5 years ago who benefited from making the playoffs early on. Most of these core guys who will benefit from this supposed winning culture of winning 38 games and an 8 seed (we hope!) won’t be around in 2 years.

    I’d prefer them have a plan to actually compete for a title and not settle. When you end up paying Deng 13m dollars and expect him to be the second best player on the team, you don’t have a plan to be really successful. You don’t have a player with a high ceiling. You have a plan to be average.

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