The Bulls made the trade even though they were sixth in the Eastern Conference and in the running for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
But in the big picture, what would that accomplish for Chicago? On the other hand, for teams such as Washington and Charlotte, a postseason appearance could be a huge boost. And for Cleveland, which is trying to avoid the lottery after picking first last year, the Deng trade could be fuel for a turnaround after an 11-23 start.
“If we keep getting better as we are, being in the East, you never feel like you’re out of it,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.
A team such as New York that was 11-22 despite a roster that looked impressive on paper with Carmelo Anthony leading the way could try to hang on in hopes of getting hot in the playoffs rather than dismantle the roster.
Maybe Atlanta becomes a buyer rather than a seller. The possibilities seem endless in part because the conference is struggling.
“It’s a phenomenon this year in the Eastern Conference,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t think it’s a negative. I think it’s just you have a different group of teams having different missions, trying to find their way, trying to find a rhythm — trying to find whatever it is — in the same season. It’s unusual.”
Paxson insisted the deal with Cleveland wasn’t a white-flag trade, even if the Bulls made it with an eye toward the future.
The Bulls acquired draft pick picks along with scuffling center Andrew Bynum, who was waived before Tuesday’s deadline. That meant they would not be on the hook for the remaining $6 million on the two-year, $24 million contract Bynum signed with the Cavaliers in July.