NBA trade grades: Cavaliers confuse everyone, trade for Lauri Markkanen

Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the last dominoes of the 2021 offseason has fallen. How did the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers all make out?

Player leverage wins the day. Almost a month after the majority of free agency was settled, restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen was able to find a new home. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania, the Cleveland Cavaliers are signing him to a four-year, $67 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Chicago Bulls.

The Portland Trail Blazers got in on the action by acquiring Larry Nance Jr. To make the money work, they sent Derrick Jones Jr. to Chicago. Overall, the trade looks like this:

Markkanen waited out free agency until getting the deal he wanted, and the Cavaliers obliged. With Nance entering his age-29 season and only under contract for two more seasons, the Cavs essentially extended that contract slot onto a younger big with a little more stretch to his game.

Chicago gets the return it was waiting for. The partnership with Markkanen had clearly run its course, and the recent acquisitions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball (investigation pending) sealed that fate.

Portland’s entrance was tertiary, but it may end up being the most significant. Turning Jones, a change-of-pace bench wing, into Nance, a legitimate two-way big, is a huge win as it tries to build a serious contender and divert Damian Lillard’s wandering eyes. Nance can start at power forward next to Jusuf Nurkic, be his backup in a supercharged sixth man role, and also be the team’s “Death Lineup” option at center in the playoffs.

A lot of winners in this deal. Markkanen gets a big payday with a new team, Chicago gets value for a player it no longer valued highly. and Portland improves significantly with few resources at its disposal. But the pressing question must be asked to Cleveland: what are you doing?

They committed $100 million over five years to Jarrett Allen. The No. 3 pick on Evan Mobley. Then $64 million across the next two seasons to Kevin Love. Even if you argue that they needed to capitalize on Nance before he was gone, did they really need to turn him into another big (and an inferior one, at that)? The staunchest supporters of Markkanen would still call this an overpay. Best case scenario is that he lives up to this deal; the odds of him outplaying the sticker price are slim.

The fit with one of Allen or Mobley is fine. He’s a willing shooter, launching 8.1 threes per-36 minutes last season, and an able one, hitting 40.2 percent of his 3s last year and 84.5 percent of his free throws all time. But that’s all it is…fine. Markkanen has struggled to defend wings and forwards in the NBA, and most of the team’s center minutes will presumably go to either Allen or Mobley. For Markkanen to not only justify his price tag, but also be valuable to Cleveland, he has to be an even better and more well-rounded shooter. His main offensive threat can’t just be as a spot-up guy.

Which team won the Lauri Markkanen trade?

Blazers get an A. With only so many tools at their disposal, Blazers’ brass made the most of it by flipping Jones’ expiring and a mid-to-late first into a big-time contributor. Between CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Nance and Nurkic, they have quite a squad behind Lillard.

Bulls get an A. The Markkanen experience didn’t work out in Chicago, and the new-ish front office made the most of it by moving on from him and getting an asset out of it. With all the picks that have been exported recently, it’s important for them to get one in return every now and then. In addition, DJJ’s contract is very moveable if and when they want to make another move.

Cavaliers get a D. This move was unnecessary. If you were going to move Nance (which you didn’t even have to do, assuming Love gets moved or bought out soon), it didn’t have to be for a markedly worse player who plays the same position. Nor did you have to throw in a pick. Sure he’s 24 and has upside that could warrant an even bigger cash-out in a few years, but you didn’t have to pay him for it now. You weren’t bidding against anyone.

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