The Cavaliers traded for Luol Deng on Monday, sending Andrew Bynum, a first-round pick, a pick swap option and two future second-round picks to the Bulls in the process. Small forward has been Cleveland's most gaping hole since a certain someone split in 2010; Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi and Earl Clark haven't been the answer there. (You're stunned? Me too.) Deng is a fairly recent All-Star, a plus defender and pretty good creator in the mid-range. He worked beautifully with the excellent Derrick Rose; he'll probably do well playing with the excellent Kyrie Irving. And you can guarantee that Mike Brown is ecstatic.
But the cost is not small. Bynum? That's nothing -- the Cavaliers would have waived him if no trade materialized by Tuesday. And in a weird way that doesn't quite make sense, the disaster that signing Bynum now looks like will be blurred by the fact that his contract was necessary to land Deng. Even though Bynum's presence didn't work at all, his contract helped land a fine player. So it's tougher to hold Bynum against the GM who brought him in.
The real cost comes in the next few years. The Cavaliers gave Chicago a pick they own due to a previous trade with the Kings. Days before the 2011 lockout, Cleveland sent J.J. Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi and a protected first-round pick. That pick's protection has been slowly decreasing. It's protected up to No. 12 in 2014, and No. 10 from 2015 to 2017. If it hasn't been conveyed at that point, it turns into a second-round pick. It will be conveyed, likely in 2015 or 2016. Based on the normal progression of lottery teams, it's quite possible the pick is in the No. 11-14 range in 2015 as the Kings rise from awful to a fringe Western playoff contender. The 2015 draft doesn't look great right now, but that's still a pretty desirable asset.
In addition to that plus the two future seconds, the Bulls have the option to swap first-round picks in 2015. We've seen pick swap options rear their ugly heads in New York and Brooklyn of late. (They will likely be rearing their heads in the future in those cities, too.) But Cleveland put some smart protection on this option: it can only happen if the Cavaliers' pick is from No. 15 to 30. So basically, if both the Cavs and Bulls make the playoffs in 2015, Chicago has the option of swapping picks. There's no way Cleveland lands in the high lottery and forks over its pick.
Deng makes Cleveland better, and Cavs GM Chris Grant continues to handle his future assets pretty well. At the very least, he knows how to cover his ass, guarding against things going terribly wrong on the court. The problem is that it had to come to this because Grant has been otherwise terrible at building a good team. Witness Grant's four top-4 picks in the past three drafts.
That Emoji Efficiency Percentage (EEP) is awful, man.
Free agency hasn't been much better. Mostly, it's been totally absent until Grant signed Bynum to that largely unguaranteed deal and handed Jarrett Jack a stunning four-year, $25 million deal to back up Irving. Neither deal worked out, so it's probably best that Grant has been gun-shy in July over the past three years. In the trade game, Grant is strong: he landed the pick he surrendered for Deng by taking the Kings' now-retired GM Geoff Petrie to the woodshed.
He also basically traded for Kyrie in a move that remains stunning: at the 2011 trade deadline, he swapped Mo Williams for Baron Davis and the Clippers' unprotected first, which looked like it would end up in the No. 5-8 range. Davis had an extra fat season of salary on his deal and was not as productive, reliable or friendly as Williams. So L.A. gave up the pick to open up space for 2011 free agency. With that very pick from L.A., Cleveland won the lottery and took Irving. Then, after the ensuing lockout, Grant used the amnesty clause on Davis, which is something the Clippers could have done if they assumed owners would push for and receive another amnesty shot, which was totally obvious.
Those trades and a couple of others are excellent! But Grant has been so awful in the draft and free agency to date that his team has remained irrelevant. The Deng move is a last gasp to reverse that, to boost Cleveland into the playoffs this season and build enough goodwill to build on it going forward. It could totally work: Deng is a fine player and good fit, and again, Mike Brown has to be head over heels about the move. It's a deal that could rejuvenate a flagging team.
And if that happens and the Cavaliers make the playoffs, Grant has likely saved his job for now. He isn't delivering the championship Dan Gilbert promised one hot night in July 2010, but crawling out of the lottery would be progress, and you reward progress with patience.
If this doesn't turn the Cavs around, and if Dion Waiters doesn't start to mesh or Anthony Bennett doesn't begin to resemble an NBA player, Grant may very be done in Cleveland. Being good at one part of the job isn't enough at this level, and Grant's draft failures and free agency woes will be big reasons the Cavaliers have underwhelmed.