Lauri Markkanen finally has a new home. The restricted free agent has been traded from the Chicago Bulls to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade deal that also includes the Portland Trail Blazers.
Cleveland is signing Markkanen to a four-year, $67 million contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Bulls will receive a lottery protected first round pick from the Trail Blazers, swingman Derrick Jones Jr., and a future second round pick. Portland is getting Larry Nance Jr.
The 24-year-old Markkanen was the biggest name left on the free agent market. The former No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft had the most efficient scoring season of his career last year, hitting 40.2 percent of his threes (on 5.8 attempts per game) and ending the year with 62 percent true shooting.
This feels like a trade that helps all three teams accomplish their goals. The Bulls added a future first round pick and rotation player with their Markkanen trade. The Cavs got a young floor spacer to complete their front court next to Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. The Blazers got a solid two-way big in Nance who should help solidify their defense up front.
Let’s grade this deal.
Portland Trail Blazers add Larry Nance Jr.
While Markkanen might be the headlining name in the trade, Nance is the best player in this deal. The 28-year-old has developed into a solid defensive big who can do a little bit of everything on offense.
At 6’7, 245 pounds, Nance is a power forward or small ball center with good mobility who can provide some rim protection. Offensively, Nance has worked to become more of a floor spacer. Last year, he hit 36 percent of his threes on 114 attempts, the best mark of his career. Nance is also a good passer who can be used in dribble-handoffs and high-low actions with Portland’s other bigs. He had success as a roll man last season (grading out in the 62nd percentile, per Synergy Sports) and also runs the floor well in transition.
Damian Lillard put pressure on the Blazers to continue adding to their roster over the offseason, and this is a solid addition. For the price of a lottery protected pick, Portland gets another good defensive big to pair with Robert Covington. Portland’s offense was already awesome with Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Norman Powell late last season.
Does this move elevate Portland to contender status and ease the concerns about the quality of the roster in Lillard’s mind? Maybe not. But adding Nance certainly improves the team as they enter what’s shaping up to be a “prove it” year from Lillard’s perspective. The only way Portland could have done better than this is by packaging multiple first round picks together, but it’s hard to find a player on the market that would have made for a worthwhile deal for both sides.
Chicago Bulls add Derrick Jones Jr. and lottery-protected first rounder
The Bulls were reportedly seeking two things in a trade for Lauri Markkanen: a first round pick, and no “bad” contracts coming back. They accomplished both with this deal.
Markkanen was a relic of Chicago’s former front office led by John Paxson and Gar Forman. He’ll ultimately be remembered as another in a long line of failed draft picks. As Chicago’s new front office led by Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley embarked on a bold remaking of the roster this summer, it was clear Markkanen didn’t have a place on the team. Credit the Bulls for being able to land solid value as they sent him out in a trade.
The pick from the Blazers is lottery protected until 2028, and will be a nice asset for Chicago whether they use it themselves or trade it. Jones is a mega high-flier who provides some defensive versatility on the bench, and is on an expiring $9 million contract. It’s always good to add a future second rounder, too.
Getting back Nance in this deal would have been better for the Bulls, but the pick and a decent bench piece in Jones is a solid return given the fact that Markkanen wasn’t in the team’s new plans.
Cleveland Cavaliers add Lauri Markkanen
Markkanen looked like a cornerstone of Chicago’s post-Jimmy Butler rebuild only a few years ago. His play stagnated in the time since. He never quite lived up to his reputation as an outside shooter until last season, and is poor paint protection on defense limited his versatility.
Markkanen finally did hit 40 percent of his threes last year, and Cleveland will expect him to keep that up. Markkanen had a simple excuse in Chicago: he never played with a high-level facilitator who could set him up for easy baskets. Maybe he’ll find that in Cleveland. Darius Garland made major strides last season as both a pull-up shooter and playmaker. Markkanen can space the floor next to either Jarrett Allen and rookie No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley in the front court.
Ultimately, $67 million for Markkanen feels like a lot of money. He certainly could improve on a new team with a different supporting cast, but his stagnation in Chicago is worrisome. At this point, Markkanen is a player who can’t create his own shot, and isn’t a plus passer, rebounder, or defender on either the interior or perimeter. To live up this contract, he’ll have to be a high volume, highly accurate shooter.