The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Luol Deng Monday night. It was the move that had been inevitable since the season didn't start off to a blistering, impressive start. The Cavaliers have floundered this season, looking lost, inconsistent, and mediocre at times. This was the season the Cavs had banked everything on making the playoffs. After mixed results in two drafts since acquiring Kyrie Irving, general manager Chris Grant went all in on progress at all costs this year.
But the Andrew Bynum situation blew up on them and forced them into a trade. The Cavs' foundering consistency and inability to find team chemistry forced them into a trade. The reality of a losing culture that isn't conducive to helping Kyrie Irving become the franchise player they need him to be forced them into a trade.
That the Cavaliers managed as well as they did in the trade is a credit to their manipulation of the situation. The Cavs gave up Bynum, who they would have been forced to waive Tuesday anyway in order to avoid paying him another $6 million, a pick from the Kings so protected you need a safe cracker to get at it, the right to swap in 2015 which if the plan goes correctly won't have any value, and multiple second round picks, all for an All-Star and locker room leader. So yeah, they did pretty well.
But how does Deng actually fit with the Cavs?
To put it simply, the answer is "like a glove."
Cleveland's been after a long-term solution at small forward for years. Deng provides them with a player who can create his own shot without dominating the ball. So he gives Cleveland what they want in Dion Waiters without the complications to the offensive flow. Deng has the ability to post as well as cut off-ball and shoot from the perimeter.
He's an upgrade over both Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark in those areas, which of course has the added benefit of improving the Cavs' depth with those players shifting to the bench. But the adjustments do go further than simply "put a talented player in he starting lineup and rotations."
Deng can work in the pick and roll with Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson, opening up perimeter opportunities for Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack off-ball. Deng spends 12 percent of his time in the post according to Synergy Sports, where he finds points 54 percent of the time. Putting Deng in a high elbow set with Varejao or Thompson low gvies the Cavs a high-low game without sacrificing spacing.
Defensively of course is where his impact will most be felt. The Cavs are 16th in points alllowed per possession. Losing the rim protection Andrew Bynum provided in limited minutes hurts, but the perimeter defensive hierarchy is so dramatically changed by having Deng it's an overall plus for Cleveland. Now the Cavs can put Deng on the best perimeter weapon, use Dion Waiters' excellent length as the secondary weapon, and hide Kyrie Irving even further. That's an important element given how terrible Irving is defensively.
The biggest impact, though, will be in the locker room. The Cavs need to get past the losing culture which has defined them for so many seasons. Deng helps with that, having consistently been a part of winning cultures in Chicago. He plays through injuries, having weathered a torn wrist and knee problems. He provides a perfect role model for Dion Waiters to emulate. Waiters has the capacity to be an elite defender, and Deng gives him an idea of what that entails.
With Deng in a contract season, he'll be motivated and want to make a run with this team. They need someone to help teach the young players how to win and now with Varejao, Jack, and Deng, the Cavs have a veteran core. It'll be up to the younger players to fall in line and commit themselves, but you're not going to find a better guy to lead by example than Deng.
The move for Deng is a win-now move by an organization that wants to make the playoffs at any cost. But if you're going to go that route, getting a player as versatile as Deng isn't a bad way to go. Cleveland's chances at the playoffs, if they can get and stay healthy, should improve dramatically with the addition of Deng.