After almost a month of uncertainty, forward Lauri Markkanen has found a new home after getting traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, attached to a new contract of $67 million over four years.
Breaking down the trade
The deal, which is technically a three-team sign-and-trade, has the Chicago Bulls sending out Markkanen to Cleveland while receiving Derrick Jones Jr and a 2022 Top 14 protected first-round pick from the Portland Trail Blazers, as well as a 2023 second-round pick from Cleveland, originally from Denver. The Blazers receive Larry Nance Jr from Cleveland.
Trade analysis for Cleveland
It’s well-known that the Cavaliers are rebuilding around youth, and adding the 24-year-old Markkanen, a proven shooter and scorer, does fit within their scheme at large. The Cavs clearly need an offensive boost in their front-court, which Markkanen – conceptually – solves. Evan Mobley is still young, and could use time to further develop.
That said, it’s tough to like this for Cleveland. Nance Jr is a more well-rounded player than Markkanen, a significantly better defender, passer and ball-handler, and comes at a price of just $20.3 million over the next two years per Spotrac, where Markkanen alone will cost the Cavs roughly $15.8 million this coming season.
Furthermore, the Cavs also relinquished a second-round pick for the opportunity to pay more for Markkanen than anyone else seemed interested in doing.
One could point – ironically – to what the Bulls did earlier this month in the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade as an indicator of the logic behind acquiring Markkanen.
Chicago relinquished assets only to pay DeRozan a contract that was above market value. This was simply the price of doing business and to get in bigger names, as to better lay the foundation for the future.
Can that logic be applied to Cleveland given that Markkanen is no DeRozan? It’s a tough sell, but if Markkanen turns the corner, perception could change.
Trade analysis for Chicago
The Bulls got what they wanted, ultimately. Markkanen’s days in Chicago were over, and the Bulls were looking to get back a first-round pick, after spending three of them since the March 25th NBA Trade Deadline.
The pick from Portland is Top 14 protected starting in 2022 and through 2028. If the pick has not conveyed at that point, it converts into a second-round pick. This makes Chicago’s front office new fans of the Blazers, as they’ll now be rooting for Portland to make the postseason.
Additionally, the Bulls acquired a 2023 second-round selection and Jones Jr, the latter of which comes with an expiring contract worth $9.7 million.
While it seems unlikely that Jones Jr will turn into a major contributor after more than 4,600 career minutes without a breakthrough, he is supremely athletic, just 24 and could be used as salary fodder in a larger deal, if he doesn’t pan out. There is virtually no downside to Jones Jr as a one-year gamble.
Would the Bulls have been better off this year with a Maxi Kleber from Dallas, or even Nance Jr who was in this trade? Likely yes. But Chicago put a priority on getting back a first-round pick to re-stock the cupboard, which could be used down the line in a possible trade, if need-be.
Trade analysis for Portland
The Blazers come out of this looking like initial winners. Nance Jr might be the most agile big man they’ve had over the past five years. The 28-year-old has no major weakness, is a capable shooter, ball-handler, defender, rebounder and playmaker.
Nance Jr provides Portland with a big who can function in short rolls and is a major upgrade over Jones Jr, at least in the short-term. Seen through the perspective of on-court value, Nance Jr was clearly the best player being moved in this trade, which was a very necessary addition given that superstar Damian Lillard has pressured the front office to make upgrades.
The trade should place Portland squarely in the playoff picture, assuming Lillard is to remain on the team. As it stands, the Blazers are expected to make the postseason, with FanDuel Sportsbook placing them at eight in the Western Conference. That said, Nance Jr’s intangibles and high-floor game could help them finish higher, as he’s exactly the type of mobile big the team has been looking for.
While the Blazers did sacrifice a first-round pick, they did so with proper protections. If the pick is ever to convey as a first-rounder to Chicago, it will never be higher than the 15th overall selection, which seems like fair compensation for the quality of Nance Jr.
The larger overview
It’s never accurate to fully judge a trade hours upon completion. While it’s fair to present certain angles and thoughts, fact remains that team chemistry, coaching and organizational buy-in all matters in how a trade ultimately turns out.
While the Cavaliers appear to have drastically overpaid for Markkanen, who comes with several question marks, it’s certainly possible J.B. Bickerstaff will find ways to implement him in a way where his strengths are supercharged.
Perhaps through correct chemistry and coaching, Jones Jr finally figures out how to leverage his athleticism in Chicago and turns into a reliable two-way role player who becomes worth his contract.
Nance Jr could become the key that unlocks Portland’s entire offense, leading them to a major turnaround and great fortunes in the playoffs, solely based on multi-layered playing style.
Point being, these things take time and nothing can be viewed in isolation. Six months from now, we’ll be a lot smarter of the value given and acquired by these three teams.