Proponents of building a championship-caliber NBA team through the draft can point to the Oklahoma City Thunder as their ideal example. OKC is a title contender this year and should be for years to come, assuming Russell Westbrook makes a complete recovery from knee trouble.
But here's the problem: OKC's ascent to elite status will be near-impossible for anyone else to replicate.
Consider: in the 2007, 2008, and 2009 drafts, the Thunder landed Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden. That's a truly remarkable haul of talent in just three years. And while we take nothing away from general manager Sam Presti's draft acumen - you don't land a player of Ibaka's caliber with the 24th pick unless you know what you're doing - there was a fair amount of luck involved. Stocking up on high-level draft picks, after all, is only really helpful if they come up in a year when there's top talent available in the draft.
The dangers of copying the OKC model for team building is on display in Cleveland. The Thunder turned four first-round picks in three drafts into Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden. The Cavs had four even better first-rounder - including two No. 1 picks - in the 2011-13 drafts and ended up with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett.
Irving is a star in this league, though perhaps not as durable as one might like. Thompson has shown flashes of potential, but his development has been stunted to some degree by the constant influx of other players at his spot. Waiters, depending on the rumor of the day, may already be on the trading block, and Bennett - though very young - is a league-wide joke at this point. That's not a developing core, that's a cautionary tale.
And that's why the Cavs' acquisition of Luol Deng makes so much sense. Yes, they gave up some (heavily-protected) draft picks in the exchange. And yes, they run the risk of losing Deng as a free agent. But they're also getting a highly-respected veteran presence and quality defender who also shores up a position that has been a problem since LeBron James left town. And the departure of Andrew Bynum can only be considered addition by subtraction at this point.
Thompson (72% owned) probably stands to gain the most fantasy value after the trade, as Bynum's departure means he'll get more run at the center position, where he usually thrives offensively.
On the Chicago side, Tony Snell (4%) should get a very long look in almost any format.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo!
J.J. Redick (61%) - He’s expected back in the lineup this weekend. Redick has been sidelined since late November with a wrist injury.
Danny Granger (57%) - Granger re-joined the starting lineup - at least temporarily - due to Lance Stephenson's knee injury.
Gerald Green (48%) - Green is taking over the starting spot at off guard as Eric Bledsoe (meniscus surgery) is sidelined.
Marcus Thornton (42%) - Thornton has won back the starting job from rookie Ben McLemore (40% owned), but thus far, the switch hasn't had a major impact on either player's production in fantasy categories.
D.J. Augustin (15%) - Kirk Hinrich could be the next Bull traded, as Chicago shifts into "retool" mode. That would open up more minutes for Augustin, who has pretty clearly leap-frogged Marquis Teague on the depth chart.
Brian Roberts (8%) - Roberts will take over the starting point guard spot in New Orleans, as Jrue Holiday will be sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (4%) - The rookie guard has been one of the Knicks' most effective bench scorers all season. If J.R. Smith's benching has legs - or if he's actually traded - Hardaway Jr. could see a nice bump in minutes.
Evan Fournier (1%) - Fournier has been playing about 20 minutes per game since coach Brian Shaw took Andre Miller out of the rotation and has more than doubled his scoring average. He could lose his newfound playing time if Miller and Shaw make nice, but his expanded role could also become permanent if Miller is traded as many expect.