Just when you thought the 2021 NBA offseason was over, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled the trigger to send Larry Nance Jr. to the Portland Trail Blazers while also acquiring Lauri Markkanen from the Chicago Bulls in a three-team trade.
It’s a bittersweet feeling to see Nance, a local talent and fan favorite, being shipped out of town. He really stepped into his role in Cleveland as a versatile forward who can create plays for others and defend multiple positions. Still, his days were numbered by the time Evan Mobley was drafted.
After years of being too small due to playing two undersized guards together – the Cavaliers were now suddenly too big with people like Nance, Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Kevin Love all looking to share First Zone minutes. While depth is always appreciated, it’s no wonder that Nance has become the number one business asset. Aside from having an easily negotiable contract, Nance was also an outsider when it came to the young core. At 28, the Cavs understandably sought to turn Nance over for immediate help in other areas of weakness.
One glaring problem was the lack of shooting. The Cavs have been one of the worst 3-point shooter teams in the league since 2018 and little has been done to address this issue. This is why, despite playing in the same position as Nance (which made the crowding of too many front row players worse), Markkanen became the target of the Cavaliers as his 3-point prowess made him valuable for a team suffering from a lack of spacing.
This decision naturally confused and angered many fans. Why have we traded arguably our best defender for a player who is clearly a downgrade in every aspect other than shooting? If we were to trade Nance, why not go after a player on the wing – which is an area in desperate need of help compared to Cleveland’s loaded frontcourt.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have made the bold decision to roll the dice and are hoping Lauri Markkanen turns out to be a smart bet.
The reality is, Cleveland necessary do something this summer. In particular, Koby Altman had to shake things up as he enters the fourth year of glacier-pace rebuilding. While the process of restructuring an NBA team takes time, the pressure is mounting and Altman had to do something to potentially get out of the hot seat.
As talented as the Cavaliers roster is heading into the season, their lack of attack was always going to limit their potential. It is not something to be debated. With Collin Sexton and Darius Garland being two of the team’s only consistent scorers – it was clear that the Cavs would need an offensive production boost in order to actually compete for a playing spot.
That’s what Markkanen brings to the table. The 23-year-old is a career scorer of 15.6 points per game who recently clocked a personal best 40.2% on the 3-point line last year. He’s limited in just about every other aspect of the game, but his ability to space the floor is undisputed. If there’s one thing Markkanen can be counted on, it’s putting pressure on the defense to check him out behind the ark.
To reiterate, spacing is precisely what Cleveland was lacking. Very few (if any) teams had worse spacing than the Cavaliers last season. This issue was not going to be solved by adding another seven footer to Mobley who is still an extremely raw prospect. No, something had to change and Markkanen, with all its flaws, fulfills their greatest need.
Now, many were quick to criticize the move because of Markkanen’s stance. This agreement may have improved their score, but it did not resolve their weakness on the wing. Seeing that Nance was their best trading chip, it looks like the Cavaliers just missed their best chance to add another perimeter threat.
To that I agree. It would have been better for Cleveland to acquire a name like Joe Ingles to provide their wing rotation with more depth and shot.
However, let’s leave Koby Altman for the benefit of the doubt for once. He’s done essentially well on the majority of his moves as a GM. He drafted the best available players almost flawlessly and acquired Jarrett Allen and Ricky Rubio in fantastic trades. It’s somewhat safe to assume that if a deal for a talented wing had been made, Koby would have taken it as opposed to that.
The only glaring problem that still plagues this business is Kevin Love’s predicament. It would have been assumed that the decision to trade for Markkanen (a player with skills similar to Love’s) meant that the franchise was finally moving forward with a trade or buyout of Love. This is not the case, with Love would have not interested in losing the final $ 60 million of his contract.
Thus, the Cavaliers will start the season with four front row players who are all expected to play a minute chunk each night. It’s really not too much of a problem as the group can be shifted quite easily. Plus, it allows them to take a cautious approach to ease Mobley into the fray.
Considering that the Cavaliers are committed to four years from Markkanen, it’s safe to say they’re rolling the dice on a bit of ongoing development. No one is going to say that Markkanen is currently a better player than Nance, but we can agree that he has more potential strictly because of his age. In this case, even if Lauri becomes a slightly improved defender, rebounder, or playmaker, then the decision to trade Nance and attempt to raise that team’s ceiling was necessary – for Altman and the future of the franchise. .