- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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There are so many angles, interested parties and circumstances that are involved with big NBA trades that the details often cloud the bottom line.
That is what both Cavs general manager Chris Grant and Bulls front-office leaders John Paxson and Gar Forman did. All trades have a certain degree of mystery and this one particularly won't have a winner and loser determined for some time. But those executives are all getting a gold star from their owners for this deal.
Both teams faced a crossroads. The Bulls without Derrick Rose knew they were not a contender, unlike last season when there was a belief within the entire organization that if they held down the fort Rose would return.
This time they know Rose isn't coming back and they were faced with paying about $12 million in luxury taxes -- the Bulls had never been a taxpayer until last season, it must be pointed out -- and having a team with a losing record.
They were intrigued by this upcoming draft. The last lottery pick the Bulls had was Rose in 2008 and they knew that if you have to be in the lottery, this is the year to be there. Since Paxson took over the team, the Bulls have a very good draft record including Rose, Deng, Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler in the first round.
Other than the Tyrus Thomas-LaMarcus Aldridge mistake (the Bulls took Aldridge with the second pick in 2006 and traded his rights to Portland), Chicago has one of the best draft records of the past decade. The idea of getting a lottery pick this year -- and the draft of Chicago native Jabari Parker -- plus the Charlotte Bobcats' first-round pick if it is outside the top 10 had the Bulls thinking about making a midstream rebuild.
For years the Bulls have been not-so-secretly excited about Spanish forward Nikola Mirotic. They're hopeful next year will be the year when the 2011 first-round pick makes the move to the NBA. Forman was recently in Spain meeting with Mirotic and his representatives to lay the groundwork for getting him out of his deal with Real Madrid to come over.
There is also no secret that the Bulls are going to seriously consider amnestying Carlos Boozer next summer. There are only 10 players left in the league who are eligible to be amnestied and Boozer, who has one year left on his contract, is at the top of that list.
So this is what the Bulls were looking at. It's bad news that Rose is out again and it has ruined this season. It's good news that the Bobcats look to be on the path to giving the Bulls their draft pick in a great draft. If the Bulls can get Mirotic over in the summer, they may have three good-looking rookies to infuse the team with talent next year.
If they amnesty Boozer, they will have more than $15 million in salary-cap space to chase free agents. Maybe that will include Deng. The Bulls have re-signed players they have traded in the past, namely Hinrich. Deng and the Bulls didn't see eye-to-eye on a contract extension now but that doesn't mean it won't happen in July. Especially if the Bulls don't use one of their draft picks on a small forward.
Did these moves make Rose or Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau happy? Of course not, they're probably furious. We know Thibodeau is because he has said so. "We discussed it, and I'll leave it at that," is how he put it.
Well, both Rose and Thibodeau are under long-term contract with the Bulls. They aren't going anywhere if the team doesn't bless it so, frankly, they can pout but they don't have leverage. Both could try to force their way out, these things happen, but the Bulls probably believe they may change their tune in a year after their restructuring plan is in place and there's new talent on the roster.
Meanwhile, guess who is happy? Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his son Michael, who runs the Bulls, saved about $21 million in salary and taxes by trading Deng. In addition, it will allow the Bulls to get a check from the other luxury-tax payers, which could be for several million more. In the meantime, it's a move that should enhance the Bulls' lottery position. What did you do for your boss this week?
Meanwhile in Cleveland, a path has been chosen as well. Team owner Dan Gilbert let his enthusiasm at the decision be known publicly. He was so pleased at Grant's trade that he was welcoming Deng on Twitter almost as fast as his team announced the trade on its own Twitter feed. Gilbert has been very transparent that after three years of sinking to the bottom to allow a draft rebuild, he wants to be back in the postseason immediately.
The Cavs have traded for some high-profile players in recent years including Ben Wallace, Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Baron Davis. The difference with Deng, though, is that he's still in his prime. Playing in a contract year, he's also expected to be highly motivated.
There was discussion within the Cavs front office that perhaps the team should go the other way. With an 11-23 record at the time of the trade, perhaps the Cavs should have looked to deal some of their valued veterans like Anderson Varejao and play their young players like Anthony Bennett and try for another run at the draft. The Cavs have made six first-round picks over the past three drafts, though, and have failed to improve much.
It's remarkable, in fact, that the always antsy Gilbert had waited this long. There is no doubt that the Cavs are perhaps wading into dangerous waters here as they've just traded away three picks to perhaps rent a player for a few months to assure themselves that they aren't in the most interesting draft lottery since 2003.
But they have chosen a path and that path is to invest in the team and attempt to get the franchise turned in a positive direction. With a young and impressionable team that seems to have temper tantrums from time to time, the Cavs were concerned about their kids getting too used to losing. Deng may not be a vocal leader but he's one heck of an example, not just of a player who competes to win at the highest level but also of a player who is dedicated to playing both sides of the ball.
The Cavs own all of their draft picks plus had seven other picks before making this trade, three future first-round picks and four future seconds. When they examined the realities and possibilities, they realized that they might wait another two years and not be able to use any of those picks to draft or trade for a quality player like Deng.
There is no doubt the Cavs have taken on risk because Deng could walk at season's end. But Gilbert demanded some risk because he's demanding some reward for the rebuilding phase the Cavs have gone through. It's hard to project, but Deng could be the biggest name traded this season and the Cavs got him without giving up anyone on their current roster who was actually playing.
The fan responses to this trade are varied, even in Cleveland, where fans have been tempted to stop thinking about this season and start thinking about the draft. But when it comes to the bosses, those men are happy.
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