Lauri Markkanen is Coming to Cleveland

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Updated: August 28, 2021
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One of the final remaining pieces left in the free-agent pool has finally been claimed. A 3-way trade has relocated restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen from the windy city of Chicago out to Cleveland on a 4-year 67 million dollar deal. In a sign and trade, the Bulls sent Markkanen out to Cleveland and received Derrick Jones Jr., a lottery protected first via the Portland Trailblazers, along with a future 2nd from Cleveland. Portland received Larry Nance Jr. via the Cavs in hopes of having more dynamic frontcourt options heading into the upcoming season.

Chicago

For the Bulls, this was a huge win from their perspective, and the gamble on allowing Markkanen to test the waters of his restricted free agency certainly paid off. It was clear that Chicago had little desire to retain Markkanen, especially on the sizable contract he had expected yet has yet to deserve. Instead of actively searching for a sign and trade early in the offseason, they let Lauri’s value manifest itself into a number that was closer to his actual production. The Bulls knew it was unlikely anyone would be willing to give him over 18 million and would match anything below that threshold. Their patience allowed them to be compensated a protected 1st, a second, and a decent athletic rotation wing in Derrick Jones Jr. One could argue that if they would’ve just traded him at the deadline last season they could’ve gotten a 1st in return then as well, however, it was questionable to most franchises interested in acquiring him what type of contract he would be offered in restricted free agency.

The question though is, at 4-years 67 million, 16 per, and only 24 years old, is advisable for a team who has yet to prove their stature in the East to simply give up on a 40% shooting 7-footer? Markkanen on paper two years ago looked mildly untradable scoring 18.7 a game with 9 boards in his sophomore season. However, he has never shown the ability to be consistently healthy and was only on the floor for 51 games last season. If getting to the playoffs and winning a first-round series is the absolute goal, the depth that Derrick Jones Jr. will provide at the wing should have a more positive impact than what Markkanen will provide next season as Markkanen had a significant drop off in his numbers last season with 13 points and 5 rebounds. However, long term there is without question a significant difference in the ceiling for the two players, but it seems that Chicago is no longer a believer in what they once saw in the stretch big they just sent to Cleveland.

The Cavs

The Cavaliers may end up the big winners in this exchange once we look back on it some years down the road. It is an interesting gamble that didn’t cost them very much to roll dice on. They aren’t very good anyway and Larry Nance Jr. is a nice piece, but last year averaged single-digit scoring despite his extreme athleticism. For Nance and a future second, they get to see if Markkanen will pop the way many have hoped he would in a Bulls uniform. At 16 per, even if he ends up being the same player that he currently is, as long as he is healthy, it would only be a mild overpay and still a movable contract. With the addition of Markkanen, the buyout talks between the front office and Kevin Love have now been accelerated. With the new young and impressionable big being added to the roster, getting the rotten apple known as Kevin Love out of fruit bowl would be advisable, even it even means paying the majority of his contract simply not to show up to training camp.

 The Blazers

Moving off of Derrick Jones Jr. for Larry Nance Jr. appears to be a slight upgrade and gives more options and schemes with a dynamic 4 to be added into Portland’s frontcourt. However, having to give a first-round pick for Nance is possibly not the best use of their draft capital. Though, if they have thoughts of moving bruiser Jusuf Nurkic, and going small with Nance Jr. at the 5, this could create a fireball-like attack with Dame, CJ, Powell, Covington, and Nance. Considering Covington was playing small ball 5 in Houston, the pairing of a Nance Jr. Covington frontcourt is intriguing. There also should be a substantial return on the trade market if Nurkic was moved before the deadline for a wing.

Conclusion

All in all, the trade appears to be considerably balanced with no clear-cut identifiable “winner” of the exchange. If Markkanen ends up averaging south of 60 games for his tenure in Cleveland, then the Cavs will inevitably take the L on the trade. However, there is a decent percentage of chance that they end up with the clear-cut best player in the 3-way deal. The Bulls’ portion of the exchange is a bit more modest. They got value for an asset that could’ve walked for nothing and got a rotation player in the process. The only way they take the L is if Markkanen just pops and starts averaging north of 17 a game on 40% shooting from behind the arc while remaining healthy. If I had to pick a loser in the moment, I guess I would hand out the current L to Portland due to their delusions that they are somehow a true contender for coming out the West. Although I would assume that Larry Nance in exchange for Jones Jr. will make them a better ball club, giving up draft capital when you are not a true contender is illogical, especially for a piece that may turn out to be a lateral move.

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