INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — With their season quickly sliding toward yet another trip to the NBA lottery, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to do something to slow their freefall toward irrelevance.
They needed a scorer, a defender, a leader, and perhaps most importantly, someone to show their young players how to win.
Luol Deng fills every hole.
The Cavs acquired Deng, a two-time All-Star small forward with Chicago, early Tuesday in a trade from the Bulls for Andrew Bynum, the enigmatic center whom Cleveland signed to a unique contract during the summer but recently dismissed for detrimental conduct.
In Deng, the Cavs believe they’re getting a multi-faceted player.
“He’s a guy who has won and won deep in the playoffs,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “He has the ability to score, defend, moves well without the basketball, knows how to play offense very well, can post up, score off the screens, versatile. He brings a lot of everything.”
Cleveland also gave Chicago a first-round pick from Sacramento, two second-round selections and gave the Bulls the right to swap first-round choices in 2015 if the Cavs are not in the lottery.
As expected, the Bulls waived Bynum, who has chronically bad knees and has played just 24 games the past two seasons. Bynum was due another $6 million on $24 million, two-year contract he signed with Cleveland in July, and the Bulls would have had to pay him if he was kept past Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert vowed the team would never be in the lottery again after it picked first last year. But at just 11-23, the Cavs are on their way to missing the postseason again after losing eight of nine heading into Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia.
Deng, a 10-year veteran, brings an abundance of talent to a young Cavs team that never adjusted to Bynum and has been beset by other personality issues in its locker room.
Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was reportedly close to sending Bynum to the Los Angeles Lakers, who need to cut cap space to avoid paying the luxury tax. Unable to strike a deal with the Lakers, Grant turned to the Bulls, whose season has been uprooted by star guard Derrick Rose’s injury, and landed Deng, who is averaging 19 points and 6.9 rebounds.
It was tough for Chicago to part ways with the likable Deng.
“Whatever I asked him to do, he did,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And he bought in from Day 1, the minute I got here. I appreciated that. I thought when you look at what he did, the way he worked and the way he performed, those are two things I value greatly. When you add to it the type of person he is, all the things that he did in the community, he embodied what we stand for.
“Lu was never the type of guy that would call attention to himself. He did a lot of good things in this community because he felt it was the right thing to do.”
The Cavs aren’t sure when Deng will arrive in Cleveland. He got little sleep after the early morning trade and weather delays in the iced-over Midwest have complicated travel plans. He’s not expected to play against the 76ers, but Deng should be in uniform when the Cavs open a five-game trip on Friday in Utah.
Deng did not receive a contract extension during the offseason and is an unrestricted free agent after this season. But the Cavs hold his Bird Rights and can offer him more money than anyone else. The Cavs can offer him a three-year extension before July, but it’s unlikely Deng would accept one.
Bynum’s exit ends a strange sage in Cleveland for the former All-Star, who played seven seasons with the Lakers before he was traded to Philadelphia in 2020. He never played one second for the Sixers and the Cavs were the only team willing to take him on as a free agent. Bynum worked himself back into shape and was on the floor opening night, months earlier than most expected.
He showed flashes of being a dominant post player again, but Bynum, who earlier this season said he had lost the joy to play, became increasingly difficult and the Cavs banned him from all team activities on Dec. 28.
Although he was not around the team, Bynum’s peculiar situation hovered over the Cavs, who didn’t need any more distractions as they try to re-establish themselves as a relevant team under Brown.
The deal for Deng can help them get back on track.
“He knows what it takes to win,” Cavs forward Tristan Thompson said. “It gives us another veteran in the locker room. With our young guys, having another player who has been successful individually and as a team is going to help us a lot. He’ll help especially on the road. It’s a luxury.”