Winners and Losers from Bulls, Cavs and Blazers' Lauri Markkanen Sign-and-Trade

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2021

Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen plays during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

One of the last dominoes in the 2021 NBA offseason fell Friday. Chicago Bulls restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen is headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the earliest details on the deal:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Cleveland is acquiring Chicago restricted free agent F Lauri Markkanen on a four-year, $67M deal in a sign-and-trade, sources tell ESPN.

But that wasn't all. To get the cap space necessary to absorb that four-year, $67 million deal, the Cavs had to unload veteran forward Larry Nance Jr., who is set to make $10.7 million in 2021-22.

Chicago is rerouting Nance to the Portland Trail Blazers for Derrick Jones Jr. The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania has the full breakdown of the trade:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Bulls: Derrick Jones Jr., Portland protected first-rounder, Denver protected 2023 second-rounder Cavaliers: Lauri Markkanen Trail Blazers: Larry Nance Jr. https://t.co/slpHsB08cm

With three players, three teams and some picks involved, we have plenty of winners. And it's not hard to see the logic behind the move from the perspective of any of the organizations. Still, a couple of losers may emerge.


Winner: Lauri Markkanen

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Compared to offseasons of the past, teams around the NBA had little spending power this summer. Cap space was scarce, and minimums, cap exceptions and sign-and-trades became the norm.

That meant some players were squeezed early. The biggest example was Dennis Schroder, who missed out on around $80 million after declining an in-season extension and then signing a one-year, $5.9 million deal with the Boston Celtics.

Following that move may have brought trepidation to Markkanen's camp, but the optimistic perspective held out hope for a sign-and-trade that would land him on a decent contract. That's exactly what happened.

Would Markkanen have made more in a different, more cap-rich summer? Perhaps, but it's tough to imagine he'd get much more than an annual salary near $17 million.

He's young (24), has plenty of size (7'0", 240 pounds) and can shoot (40.2 percent from three last season), but his averages for points and minutes have declined in each of the last two seasons. Little evidence exists to suggest he can move the needle in the right direction on defense.

He may well prove to be worth more over the next four years, but getting this kind of a long-term deal that takes Markkanen to his prime is a win.


Loser: Cavs' Roster Construction

Phil Long/Associated Press

Despite the departure of Nance, the frontcourt rotation in Cleveland remains crowded. And after feeling the money squeeze of the 2021 offseason, Markkanen may experience something similar with his playing time (though he may have gotten used to that in Chicago).

The power forward and center positions have 96 available minutes in an NBA game. Divide that by four players and then shift a few minutes to whoever lands the starting jobs, and you can see how awkwardness over playing time may be brewing.

Evan Mobley was the No. 3 pick in the draft. That alone often commands some preference. Jarrett Allen and Markkanen are both on long-term deals with significant salaries. That can factor into rotational debates too.

Of course, Kevin Love appeared in just 25 games last season and could be a candidate for a buyout. Remove him from the equation and things look a lot simpler. But he and his agent may be hoping for some time to rehab his trade value (he'd likely prefer to keep that massive, $30 million-plus salary than to be waived).

Cleveland has plenty to sort out, and too much talent is generally a good problem to have. But it could be a problem nonetheless.


Winners: Larry Nance Jr., Blazers' Versatility

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

As is the case with Cleveland, Portland could be in for a struggle to establish a rotation that makes everyone happy.

Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington figure to remain the starting 5 and 4, respectively, but they have two starter-quality bigs behind them in Cody Zeller and Nance.

On the bright side, both Nance and Covington have experience at small forward. Covington has spent more time there than he has at the 4. A starting lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Covington, Nance and Nurkic might make as much or more sense than the assumed group that has Norman Powell at the 3.

At the very least, this gives the Blazers additional lineup versatility. Portland can shape-shift a little depending on opponent. And regardless of where he plays, Nance helps in the versatility department.

He's never been a big-time scorer, but Nance does everything else the game calls for. He can defend multiple positions, including centers. He's a solid rebounder, high-flying finisher and underrated passer.

Over the last three seasons, Nance is top-70 in box plus/minus ("a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player's contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference) with averages of 10.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per 75 possessions.

No one in the league matched or exceeded all three marks over the same span.

Being able to deploy that multifaceted game for the Blazers is a win for Nance individually too. Cleveland could be due for an improvement because of internal development, but it won't be more competitive than Portland. And though the Blazers probably aren't in the West's top tier of contenders, this is much closer than Nance has been since LeBron James left the Cavs in 2018.


Potential Loser: Blazers' Chances of Keeping Damian Lillard

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Yes, Portland is a winner for now. Nance is an upgrade over Derrick Jones Jr., and he allows for more creativity in the frontcourt.

But this isn't an earth-shattering improvement for the Blazers, and if they appear well shy of contention in the early part of the season, those Lillard rumors may creep up again.

Things appear to have calmed down since the June report from Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes that suggested Lillard might push his way "out the door," but we've seen situations like this turn in a hurry.

If Lillard eventually asks for a trade, Friday's deal may look worse in hindsight. Nance is four years older than Jones. Having the latter and that protected first-round pick would be nice for a rebuild (which is where Portland would be after a Lillard move).

Still, the word "potential" is in this subheading for a reason. It assumes a lot. And whatever the Blazers would get in return for Lillard would likely make us forget about the price for Nance.


Winners: Derrick Jones Jr. and the Chicago Bulls

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Jones isn't as good as Markkanen right now. Last season, he averaged 6.8 points in 22.7 minutes and shot 31.6 percent from three.

But Markkanen wasn't a part of Chicago's long-term plans. Picking up Jones feels more like a free-agency addition than a trade for Markkanen, who hasn't figured into analysis of the Bulls for weeks.

Even if viewed through the lens of a swap, Jones might fit the overhauled Chicago roster better than Markkanen does.

With Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic all in the starting lineup, this team should have plenty of offense. What it really needed was defenders. And that's where Jones can shine.

At 6'5", he may be undersized on the wing, but top-tier athleticism and a 7'0" wingspan overcome that. He can provide above-average to good defense against three positions, which could go a long way toward sparing stars like LaVine and DeRozan on that end.

If Chicago can get him to even average three-point shooting, he has a chance to be an effective reserve or fifth starter.