The deal between the Bulls and the Cavaliers that went down Monday night was all about the long-term for Chicago, and more about this season in Cleveland.
Luol Deng will be a free agent this summer, and after reportedly turning down a contract extension worth $30 million over three years, it was clear he was going to seek more than the Bulls would offer. So, rather than lose him without compensation and pay an exorbitant amount in payroll and luxury taxes for what is essentially a lost season, the Bulls traded him for a future draft pick and a player in Andrew Bynum who they will waive to get under the tax line this season.
Cleveland, though, has other ideas. The franchise is hoping to make the playoffs, partly to impress upon Kyrie Irving that it is indeed committed to winning in the immediate future so that Irving doesn’t try to bolt the city when he has the chance at the end of the 2015 season (if the sides don’t agree to an extension he would be a restricted free agent, other teams could make offers but the Cavaliers would have the right to match it). Cleveland wants to keep its star and face of the franchise happy.
That was the reason for taking the chance on Bynum in the offseason, and adding players like Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark in free agency, both of whom were coming off of above average seasons. It is also the reason for acquiring Deng, who may be no more than a half-season rental since it’s unclear if the team will want to pay him his open market value once the summer is upon us.
But does simply adding Deng get Cleveland to the playoffs?
There are too many teams ahead of the Cavaliers in the standings right now to say that it’s likely, but it improves the squad enough to where they have a very legitimate chance.
Cleveland sits just three games out of eighth in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but its looking up at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Brooklyn right now before we even get to Detroit, who currently occupies that eighth spot. The Cavs could certainly acquire enough wins to get there with Deng in the fold, but it will take more consistent efforts from Irving, some maturation in the game of Dion Waiters, and an improvement in team defense that’s essentially been middle-of-the-road this season, which is unacceptable given the low level of competition in the East.
But teams ahead of Cleveland aren’t going to go down without a fight. Despite the starts that have been far below expectations, the Knicks and Nets are both likely to see a spike in wins once they can get some lineup consistency in place. The Sixers are coming together and are proving they can beat good teams, but it’s possible they trade Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner in deadline deals to continue the rebuilding process. The Celtics will add Rajon Rondo to their squad soon, and Boston has been better than expected, as well.
Teams like Detroit, Charlotte, and now Chicago are vulnerable, however, and one or more could easily fall out of playoff contention. If the Cavaliers come together quickly with Deng in place, a playoff spot — the team’s short-term goal for this season — can certainly be realized.