July 30, 2014

A user’s guide to the Luol Deng trade draft picks

luol deng sixers

The Luol Deng trade was over six weeks ago. Yet it seems to still be a major point of confusion for many in the national media. With today’s trade deadline fast approaching, I felt it would be prudent to review the assets exchanged in that Jan. 7 deal.

[Update: Cavs have traded two second-rounders to Philadelphia for center Spencer Hawes. They're reportedly also shopping Tyler Zeller. We'll keep you updated.]

Both teams involved in the deal have been playing better over the past six weeks. Chicago is a very surprising 14-7 since dealing their beloved small forward, moving closer and closer to a safe spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Cavs have now win six straight, their longest stretch in four years, and are 10-10 since Deng’s debut.

For help in reviewing the trade, let’s go back to the official Cavs press release that was sent out around 12:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Here we go:

The Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired All-Star forward Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for center Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks and the right to swap 2015 first round picks with the Cavs (1-14 protected), Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant announced tonight from Cleveland Clinic Courts.

My first reaction: Poor, poor scapegoat Chris Grant. And of course, Bynum was released by the Bulls for cap space within the next 15 hours. His 2013-14 contract kicker of his next $6.25 million came into effect if he wasn’t waived that day.

But then, one looks back at the release: “three future draft picks” … that seems like a lot! For a rental! For a soon-to-be 29-year-old veteran with over 24,000 career NBA minutes1 that might just walk away from the franchise in three months with nothing left to show for it! Egad.

It’s not actually that dramatic. At all. Let’s now go into the details of that already mentioned curious swap and then the specifics of those three picks.

The Swap: These kinds of swaps are becoming more and more common. If you recall, several such swaps were included into the fine print of the LeBron James sign-and-trade in 2010. Specifically here, the swap is only eligible for the 2015 draft and it is protected for 1-14. That means no matter what, Chicago cannot take over a possible Cleveland lottery pick in the 2015 draft.

So how could Chicago earn the right to this swap? If and only if both teams make the playoffs, yet the Cavaliers are worse. That’s not that unrealistic. In fact, such an occurrence might happen for the 2014 draft. But the Bulls – barring some unforeseen major move – aren’t likely going to be jumping much farther down in the draft standings.

More likely than not, in the worst case scenario, the Cavaliers would drop from No. 15 (meaning they’re the East’s No. 8 seed and the worst playoff team) down to perhaps No. 22 (meaning Chicago is the East’s No. 4 seed and actually better than a handful of West teams). This is not the loss of a first-round pick. At most, it’s moving down seven slots. At worst, nothing happens because of the lottery protection or the fact the Cavs might be better than the Bulls.

In exchange for Deng, the Cavs send Chicago Bynum, Cleveland’s right to the Sacramento King’s [sic] first round draft pick conveyed in a June 30, 2011 deal, the right for Chicago to swap its own 2015 first round draft pick with the Cavs own 2015 first round draft pick (only in the case that the Cleveland 2015 first round draft pick is between 15 and 30) and the Portland Trail Blazer’s [sic] 2015 and 2016 second round draft picks acquired from the Trail Blazers via 2013 draft night trade.

The Cavs misspelled both the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers official team names with poor apostrophe usage. C’mon, man. I know that the poor Cavs media relations guy was writing this up past midnight, but that’s poor grammar skills.

The Sacramento pick. It was acquired way back in the infamous J.J. Hickson-for-Omri Casspi trade. Hickson, now 25, remains a much-beleaguered starter2 in Denver, still playing suspect defense and showing the occasional flashes offensive talent. Casspi, also 25, actually is having a career-best efficiency season off the bench in the hyper-efficient offense of the Houston Rockets. Duh.

This isn’t just any ordinary first-round pick, however. It’s a conditional first-rounder. It’s complex and still filled with protections. The technicalities: protected top 10 in 2014, protected top 12 in 2015-17, else second-rounder in 2017 (also protected 56-60).

That means this pick only conveys as a first-round pick from the Kings to the Bulls if Sacramento can somehow become at least a decent near-playoff team in the next four years. They haven’t come close of late. Entering Wednesday, their current record was 18-35. They were tied with the Lakers for the No. 4 draft slot. They’ve had a No. 7 pick or higher in each of the last five seasons.

Odds are likely that over time, Sacramento might actually become an OK basketball squad. Teams aren’t normally this horrendously bad for an entire decade. The pick is not playoff protected, so the Kings simply have to become a top 18 team in the NBA by the 2017 draft. It’s possible. But it’s not going to be known for a long time, it won’t be ever a top 10 pick, it won’t be in the sought-after 2014 draft and it could become a second-rounder. It’s not that valuable in the grand scheme of things.

The Portland picks: These are two second-rounders. From the Portland Trail Blazers. In case you’ve been living under a rock this year, the Blazers are one of the NBA’s best success stories of 2013-14. After a terrible bench led to a 33-49 record last season, they were 36-17 entering play last night. In fact, last night was the first time their Opening Night starters all didn’t start together. That’s crazy. Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry had a great article about them recently.

So yes, these are two second-rounders directly from a team that’s sure to be a top 10 NBA squad through at least the 2015-16 season. You have former California star scorer Allen Crabbe to thank for these two picks falling into the hands of Cleveland.3 Their open-market value? Fairly meaningless. These sub-50 selections are usually used on fliers and below-replacement level NBA talents. They also could be packaged to move up a slot or two in the second round.

The miscreants: The whole reason for this post is that many members of the NBA media continue to deceive the value of the picks Chicago acquired for Luol Deng. Let’s review two of the most obnoxious instances.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski on Feb. 11: “In the end, the Cavaliers used Bynum’s contract and first-round picks to trade for Chicago’s Luol Deng.”

Nope. The Cavs traded away the rights to that conditional Sacramento (!) first-round pick. Chicago also has the right to swap first-rounders with Cleveland in 2015, although that is lottery protected. So technically, the Bulls only netted one first-round pick. WFNY’s Joe wrote more about Wojnarowski’s long Cavs article. This one line was unclear, deceiving and not actually true.

CBS Sports’ Ken Berger on Feb. 18: “Cleveland gave up multiple picks for Deng and now faces the prospect of him leaving them with no return on that investment.”

That is factually correct! You win a cookie, Mr. Berger. Indeed, the Cavaliers did give up “multiple picks” for Deng. Those multiple picks are a limited swap, a conditional Sacramento (!) first-rounder and two Portland seconds. But congratulations, despite the obvious deceiving qualities of your tweet, you were at least accurate.

Wojnarowski and Berger are two great writers. I read them regularly. But here, one was factually incorrect and the other was simply misleading. The value of the picks Cleveland sent over to Chicago is fairly limited. They require Sacramento to be decent in the next few years to really have any value at all, sans a possible few extra slots in next year’s draft.

Most importantly, the Cavaliers really gave up very few of their own assets. The only thing they gave up that was uniquely theirs was the limited swap in 2015. They got the Sacramento pick for J.J. Hickson. The got the Portland second-rounders for Allen Crabbe. They were expendable for at least the opportunity to see how well Luol Deng might fit in Cleveland this year and potentially beyond, if such a deal could ever be worked out. Deng certainly would produce more than Andrew Bynum.

In the end, the Cavs still own several future draft assets in addition to their own picks. They have another Miami first-rounder in 2015. They have a future Memphis first-rounder thanks to Jon Leuer. They still have more valuable second-rounders from Memphis and Orlando here in 2014.

Luol Deng might end up leaving this franchise after this season for no return. I’m OK with that, despite the doomsday comments from some media members, because they really didn’t give up a whole lot of dire value for him in the first place.

Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

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Footnotes:

  1. Andre Iguodala, taken two slots after Deng in the 2004 draft, entered the 2013-14 season over a year older and with over 3,000 more career NBA minutes than Deng. But you hardly ever hear the same type of woebegone language used with his long-term prospects. []
  2. J.J. being J.J. example #316: He attempted a stupid late three in the Nuggets loss on Tuesday night. That likely prompted this pretty harsh tweet from Grantland’s Zach Lowe. []
  3. As Sports Illustrated’s Martin Rickman reminded me, the Cavs also pulled a similar move in trading away former Richmond forward Justin Harper to Orlando during the 2011 draft. Andrew had a great post about Harper when he was initially curiously taken by the Cavs at No. 32. Harper actually later ended up on the Cavs’ 2013 summer league team. One of those two future Orlando second-rounders the Cavs acquired for Harper? The No. 31 pick in 2013, which became Allen Crabbe. []
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m more interested in Zeller being on the block reportedly. I know they just acquired Hawes but for me you can never have enough big men especially if Varejao is starting to experience his annual injury woes.

  • Tom T.

    Probably just a typo, but they got the Sacramento pick for JJ Hickson, a deal which also netted them Casspi. So in essence JJ Hickson helped them land Luol Deng. Still a win in my book.

  • Tom T.

    You had it right the first time, then messed it up the second. Sorry for the gratuitous editing.

  • mgbode

    still a decent chance that we get back some return for Deng in the sign-n-trade market as his agent would much rather talk to 30teams than just the few with enough cap space.

  • mgbode

    still a decent chance that we get back some return for Deng in the sign-n-trade market as his agent would much rather talk to 30teams than just the few with enough cap space.

  • The Other Tim

    Thank you for writing this.
    I saw on Twitter that JJ had a -30 +/- the other night. Outstanding.

  • scripty

    “but that’s poor grammar skills”

    I believe that’d be poor puncuation skills, vs. grammar skills.

  • Pat

    About that Sacramento Pick:
    Correction: It is top 12 protected in 2014, and top 10 protected in 2015-2017. This information was on your link in this story “infamous J.J. Hickson-for-Omri Casspi trade”.
    To me these critical facts, although minor, are more relevant to this trade story than technicalities in the punctuation of the press releases or another sportswriter’s differing opinion of the value of this trade.