What does the Luol Deng trade mean for the Nets this season and beyond?

Bruce Bennett

Early this morning, news broke that Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a package that sent Andrew Bynum to Chicago, among other pieces. This was the second big trade of the season -- along with the Rudy Gay trade to Sacramento -- that will likely shake up the Eastern Conference pecking order come the postseason.

First, the Chicago Bulls show that they are looking at their long-term success rather than their short-term success. Not only did they lose their superstar point guard Derrick Rose once again to a knee injury, they had to deal with Deng's pending free agency and what to do with him. The team plans to lock up Jimmy Butler to a "lucrative contract extension this summer" and Deng would command too much for Chicago to keep both.

The Bulls traded for Andrew Bynum, who will seemingly be waived, which will save the Bulls from paying him $12 million this season, and they received three future draft picks. The picks could turn out to be Sacramento's pick in this year's draft that is protected through picks one and 12, and two future Portland second rounders. The Bulls can also swap first round picks with the Cavs in 2015 if the Cavs' pick is outside the top 15.

Luol Deng Traded For Andrew Bynum

Looking at this season, Chicago becomes much weaker. Deng is their top offensive threat, averaging a career-high 19 points per game. Chicago holds the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and the Nets are beginning to make their push back out of the Eastern Conference basement. It seems that the Bulls are going to be giving away their playoff spot, if Tom Thibodeau lets them, and that makes the Nets' life that much easier. Brooklyn is two games behind Chicago's sixth seed and could possibly take that spot in the coming weeks.

On the other side of the trade, the Cavaliers make out fine—for now. If Deng signs a long-term deal with the Cavs, then yes, they become dangerous. However, if this was a rental for Deng, than it sets them back to some degree. As for this season, Cleveland is in Brooklyn's rearview mirror. The Nets stand two games in front of the Cavs, but the Cavs are now expecting to have a much more stable small forward situation to go along with a healthy Kyrie Irving. If everything clicks in Cleveland, than they may push the Nets up the standings. Both very well could find them in the playoffs when the dust settles.

Looking past this season, the Bulls will remain a threat to the Nets. The Bulls always give the Nets trouble due to their hard play and rugged defense, and this is not a complete rebuild for Chicago. They are thought to possibly amnesty Carlos Boozer at the end of the season and have enough money to not only lock up Butler, but also make a run at other top-tier players that are set to be free agents (Carmelo Anthony?). Chicago has their own draft pick this season, and Charlotte's pick that is protected on picks one through 10, which may be an attractive pick if the Bobcats keep-up their fine play.

As for Cleveland, it is up in the air how they will fair against the Nets in the future. Deng plays historically well against the Nets, averaging just under 16 points and seven rebounds against them, per Basketball-reference.com. If Deng stays in Cleveland, they become a team that can compete with the Nets. As well, the Cavs took down the Nets on opening night this season. However, the Nets have seemed to improve and that was shown in their January 4 victory in Brooklyn. Both teams match up well with each other due to their strengths and could be two intriguing teams in the playoff push.

What happens to Bynum? According to reports, he's interested in the Heat or Clippers, two contending teams. The Knicks might be interested in him, and one report, from Sean Deveny in The Sporting News, suggested the Nets might have interest too. That's doubtful.

Of course, if the Heat signed Bynum -- and he has anything left -- that could affect the Eastern Conference race. Same if true with the Knicks and the East. But Bynum isn't interested in the Knicks or the Nets, reports Deveney.

Could the addition of Bynum help the Knicks? Maybe but it's unlikely he wants New York with all that pressure. As for Miami, Bynum would join Greg Oden in a sort of hospital waiting room for once promising centers.

Assuming Bynum doesn't change the calculus in the East, things are starting to play out "nicely" for the Nets. One team, Chicago, is essentially bowing out of the playoffs, making way for them to come in and take a spot just as they are starting to build some momentum. However, another team, in Cleveland, may be creeping up behind them.

You can see more on the effects of the Luol Deng trade at: Fear the Sword, and Blog a Bull

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