With the terrible news that Derrick Rose is out for the season again, the Chicago Bulls are in a tough spot. They clearly aren't title contenders without Derrick Rose and the current core is getting older. The owner of the Bulls is adamant about avoiding the harsh luxury tax in the new CBA. I don't really know what the Bulls should do, but one line of thinking is that they should blows thing up to a certain degree.
Oh my god, we're having a fire....sale!
It's over for this Bulls' core. They knew it when Rose went down but now the reality is sinking in. Front office has tough decisions ahead.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) November 25, 2013
The Cleveland Cavaliers came into this season thinking that they were done with the NBA Draft Lottery for a while. After a disappointing 4-10 start, the Cavs are far from doomed --but this isn't exactly encouraging. After Byron Scott was replaced by Mike Brown during the offseason, it's logical that the next guy to take the blame for Cleveland's failures would be Chris Grant. If he's going to save his job, the team needs to turn it around soon. That turnaround could come from within. There's still a very reasonable chance that the Cavs start to figure things out. After all, it's a new coach, several new key players, and a very young core. They could work it out and start winning a lot of games during the second half of the season.
Or the Cavs could look to make a trade.
Leading up to the NBA Draft, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the Cavs were potentially involved in trade talks with the Bulls about acquiring the services of Luol Deng. Of course, those talks never came to fruition. But in the wake of Derrick Rose's latest injury, is it possible that the Bulls are more motivated to deal? Is Chris Grant more willing to give up some future assets if it means improving the team this year and saving his job? Maybe.
Luol Deng is a very nice player. He's going to be 29 by the end of season and has played a *ton* of minutes in recent years. He's an excellent defender, knows how to play within a system, and is a relatively good shooter from behind the arc. He also plays a position that the Cavs would love to upgrade and seems like the kind of hard-nosed veteran player that Mike Brown would be thrilled to coach. If the Cavs are looking to upgrade the current roster and the Bulls are looking to build more for the future, it seems like a perfect situation to work out a trade.
But there are a few problems.
Luol Deng is in the final year of his contract.
Deng is making $14.275 million this year and then will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. That means he's a rental for the rest of the season unless you want to pay him the big extension that the Bulls don't want to pay. Since the Cavs are looking to sign a different wing player this offseason, I don't think they are too big on locking up a lot of future money in Luol Deng either. That's the same reason why they won't trade for Rudy Gay.
But it's probably okay that Deng is just a rental player. The Cavs want to get better in the short term while keeping their long term flexibility. Deng on an expiring contract would do just that. You'd have to renounce Deng's bird rights to go after LeBron James in the summer. But if you whiff on LeBron, it's possible that you could work something out with Deng even after renouncing his bird rights.
The tricky part is figuring out what a player like Deng is worth. He's obviously a good player and would help the Cavs. But for one year of him, how much do you give up? During the summer, the Cavs probably could have acquired Deng for a couple of future first round picks (Cleveland owns future picks from the Kings, Grizzlies, and Heat). But that was then and the Cavs opted not to do that sort of deal. Consider that when thinking about these trade possibilities. Deng's value is not particularly high because of his age and the fact that he's either a rental or you'd have to pay him a lot of money. The Cavs aren't giving up Anthony Bennett for Luol Deng. They probably aren't giving up Sergey Karasev either. And they definitely aren't giving up a potential lottery pick in the 2014 Draft. But what would it take now to get Deng from the Bulls?
That ties in to the other problem...
The Cavs don't have salary cap space anymore.
For the past three seasons, the Cavs have had ample cap space. That was part of the rebuilding process and it was the key to letting Cleveland take on more money in order to acquire future assets. They used this to their advantage in the trades with the Grizzlies and the Ramon Sessions deal with the Lakers. But now that the Cavs are trying to win games instead of tank for lottery positioning, they don't have that cap space just lying around. They signed Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Andrew Bynum this offseason and are now right up at the salary cap.
If the Cavs had pulled the trigger on a trade for Luol Deng during the offseason, it would have been simple. The Cavs would have had the salary cap space to take back Deng's $14.25m without giving up any players in return. It could be a simple picks-for-Deng swap. But they didn't do that and now it's a lot more complicated.
The Cavs would have to match salaries with Deng in order to get him on the team. And looking at the Cavs' players, it's not really easy to find a deal that works. It's really these two problems that make a deal between the Cavs and Bulls so difficult to figure out. How do the Cavs match salaries with the Bulls but at the same time give up a reasonable amount of assets in exchange for a rental player?
There are a few possibilities, although none of them are particularly exciting.
The first option involves Anderson Varejao and somebody else + a draft pick for Deng. It works financially if the Cavs give Varejao and Gee for Deng.
If the Cavs threw in a future first round pick (probably one of the Miami picks since those are the least valuable), this might work. But would the Bulls be open to taking on more salary for next season? Gee's contract is non guaranteed for next year, but Varejao's is only partially guaranteed. Would the Cavs be willing to trade Anderson Varejao and leave the center position up to Andrew Bynum and Tyler Zeller? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, which is why it's so hard to figure out a deal that works.
The other problem is that none of the guys that Cleveland signed during the offseason are available to trade until December 15th. That's not too far away, but if the Cavs are serious about making the playoffs this year and turning things around, I'm not sure they can afford to wait three more weeks to do so. You'd have to account for some sort of adjustment period after the Cavs added new players (again). Would a trade for Deng after December 15th, especially if it meant giving up Varejao, be enough for the Cavs to get where they want to be? Jack, Clark, and Bynum are making a substantial amount of money this year and because they aren't available to trade right now, it's messing with my ability to make up these hypothetical trades to get Luol Deng onto the Cavs' roster.
Bynum makes $12 million and since his contract is non-guaranteed for next season, it's essentially like an expiring contract. But I really don't think the Cavs are going to be looking to move Bynum in a trade. The Bynum signing has worked out just about as well as the Cavs could have hoped. Why would you trade Bynum when he's been making solid progress all year?
You could do a three-team trade, I guess.
Good luck finding one of these that makes sense for all three teams. It's easy to mess around with the trade machine and find three-team deals that work financially, but it's another thing to find three-team deals that work logically. If the Bulls don't want Varejao, then you have to find a third team that would want him. Feel free to post some other trade ideas from the Bulls in the comments. I think the only guy that the Cavs would truly be interested in acquiring is Luol Deng, but I could be wrong. We have two teams that aren't having the seasons that they imagined and that's usually a pretty good recipe for some trade talks to start up, if they haven't already.