Will the Luol Deng Trade push Cleveland into the Playoffs?

luol-deng-cavs-tradeOver the past couple of weeks, Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum has been the league’s hottest trade commodity. And no, it’s certainly not Bynum’s 8.4 PPG and 5.3 RPG that had teams clamoring for his services. Instead, teams merely wanted to sign him and waive him to save salary cap room.

Well, Cleveland finally found a taker for the disappointing center as the Chicago Bulls gave up two-time All-Star Luol Deng in the deal. In exchange, the Bulls save $15 million in salary and taxes this season by trading Deng and cutting Bynum. They also get a bevy of draft picks from the Cavs, including a first-round pick (via Sacramento), and 2015 and 2016 second-round picks (via Portland). It’s clear that Chicago did a good job of at least getting something in return for Deng, who wasn’t expected to re-sign with the Bulls this summer.

But the immediate winner here is no doubt the Cavaliers. This team came into the 2013-14 NBA season with high expectations. Not only did they sign a former All-Star in Bynum, but they also drafted UNLV’s Anthony Bennett number one overall. These two additions, along with Cleveland’s core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, were expected to produce the club’s first postseason bid in years.

Instead, what they’ve gotten so far is a 12-23 record and a top pick who’s averaging 2.2 PPG and shooting 27.8% from the field. But the good news is that it’s not too late to turn things around with Deng on the roster.

luol-deng-cavs-trade-1Despite a .343 winning percentage, Cleveland is just 2 and a half games out of a playoff spot. Their chances of making the postseason look even more optimistic when you consider that only three teams really appear to be locks in the weak Eastern Conference.

It’s also worth mentioning that Deng fills the biggest hole on the Cavs’ roster. Irving (22.8PPG, 6.1APG) is a star at point guard, Waiters (15.2PPG, 3.2RPG) is having his best season at shooting guard, Thompson (11.9PPG, 9.8RPG) is a more-than-solid power forward, and Varejao (8.1PPG, 9.6RPG) is still a serviceable center. But their gaping hole has always been Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee trying to fill the small forward role. Both players are shooting less than 40% from the field, and they’re forced to play out of position too.

Enter Deng, who’s averaging 19.0 PPG and 6.9 RPG from the small forward spot. Getting somebody like this to plug in the missing piece of your lineup is huge. More than that, Deng seems to be the guy who’ll finally make Cleveland into a postseason-worthy team. Of course, there’s just one catch here: Deng could only be in a Cavs uniform for half a season.

He’ll definitely test the free agency waters when his contract is up this summer. And with Deng being a 9-year veteran, he’s likely going to want to play for a title contender. But then again, Cleveland could convince Deng that they’re capable of competing for a championship with him in the lineup. Sure this seems like a stretch now, but sometimes one player can dramatically turn around a team’s chemistry.

Above all, the Cavaliers will have plenty of cap space to sign Deng to a long-term deal. Seeing as how many people think that he’ll fetch somewhere in the neighborhood of the 4-year, $48 million contract that Andre Iguodala signed with Golden State last summer, Cleveland can definitely afford to front this bill.