Nearly a month after NBA free agency began, Lauri Markkanen has finally found a landing spot.
The Cavaliers acquired Markannen from the Bulls on a four-year, $67 million contract as part of a sign-and-trade deal that also involves the Trail Blazers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Cleveland will send Larry Nance Jr. to Portland and a 2023 second-round pick to Chicago, and the Bulls will receive Derrick Jones Jr. and a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick from the Trail Blazers, per Wojnarowski.
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The official completion of this deal will mark the end of a disappointing run for Markkanen, who was selected by Chicago with the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, though his lack of improvement can’t be pinned entirely on him. Markkanen played under three coaches in four seasons, including a disastrous stretch with Jim Boylen. He struggled to find a consistent role with the Bulls, and after they added Nikola Vucevic at the 2021 trade deadline and moved Markkanen to the bench, it seemed a change of scenery was best for everyone involved.
Now the Cavaliers are hoping Markkanen can reach his potential as Cleveland focuses on developing its young core. He certainly has flashed an intriguing skill set at times, but Markkanen’s presence also presents the Cavs with some big questions about how their frontcourt pieces fit together.
Cleveland took Evan Mobley with the third overall pick in this year’s draft, which didn’t come as a surprise because he was considered among the top prospects in the class along with Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green. The Cavs then brought back Jarrett Allen on a five-year, $100 million deal, showing their confidence in Allen and Mobley as their big men of the future.
How does Markkanen fit into the equation? The rest of the roster should benefit from his ability to space the floor (40.2 percent on 5.8 3-point attempts per game in 2020-21), but he doesn’t help much in other areas. He hasn’t been able to consistently create shots for himself or others, and he isn’t an elite defender. (Nance, on the other hand, was a plus defensively and had no problem doing the necessary dirty work.)
And then there’s the Kevin Love problem. If the veteran forward, who still has two years and more than $60 million remaining on his current contract, isn’t traded or bought out, will he just sit and watch the younger guys? That situation could turn ugly unless Love and Cavaliers reach some sort of agreement about his status with the team.
Evaluate the Markkanen deal in a vaccum, and it’s easy to understand why Cleveland would take a chance on a 24-year-old with some upside. Put it in the context of the franchise’s offseason, and it’s much more difficult to explain.