Lauri Markkanen is finally on the move, but not to a team really anyone expected.
The 7-foot Finnish big man is the latest NBA off-season domino to drop, somewhat concluding what’s been an enormous month of league-wide player movement — save for any other sizable transactions before September. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided details on the Markkanen move, which became a three-way trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, as well as his now former Chicago Bulls and his new Cleveland Cavalier home.
For the Bulls, it’s Markkanen for a 2022 lottery-protected first-round draft pick, which will remain protected through 2028. If the pick fails to convey by then, it will then become a second-rounder. Given the to-be-determined situation with Damian Lillard, it’s a huge detail, and a variable in relation to how that pick could swing this season and beyond. Woj also noted that Markkanen is heading to Cleveland officially via sign-and-trade for $67 million over the next four years.
ESPN Front Office Insider and cap expert Bobby Marks also provided a note regarding the salary cap ramifications.
Now … about that fit.
The soon-to-be fifth-year big has posted a career-best 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 44/37/85 shooting splits. Last season, his splits were a personal-best 48/40 from the field and from deep. But he’s had an up-and-down first four seasons. After coming into the league looking like a steal with 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a full-time starter in 2017-18, Markkanen improved to 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and still shot 36 percent from three and 87 percent on free throws. In year three, his numbers dropped as he battled injury, and this past season, half of his appearances came off the bench. He’s played 221 of a possible 301 games (2019-20 was condensed to 65 games for the Chicago Bulls and 2020-21 was 72 for everybody), meaning he’s missed 20 games per season, on average.
The Cavaliers currently have what looks to be a starting five of point guard Darius Garland, returning leading scorer Collin Sexton at the two, Isaac Okoro, who started all 67 appearances as a rookie last year, at the three, 2021 No. 3 pick Evan Mobley sliding in at the four, and $100 million man Jarrett Allen at center. Presumably, Markkanen may even battle it out with Mobley over the starting four spot, unless the Cavs get crazy and want to play Mobley at the three a bit. Otherwise it’s basically a shoo-in that Markkanen is your sixth man, and for this roster, a skilled one at that, as it’s a role he fulfilled with the Bulls late last season.
Markkanen would join a bench unit that includes Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, and Damyean Dotson, most notably. Markkanen’s ability to stretch the floor makes him easy to play with either starting big when the Cavs are staggering their starters. Does it make the Cavs a contender? Obviously not. But we should look at them as a contender to make the Play-In, if things bode mostly well.
In whatever order, the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers are probably your five playoff no-doubters out East. You’re expecting, save for unforeseen circumstances, the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls to claim two of the other spots. You still have the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Charlotte Hornets likely to be in the conversation all season.
That’s 12 teams, which is relevant, because the playoffs — with the Play-In — are now a 10-team race. The Cavaliers should absolutely believe they’re worthy of being in that mix. It’ll depend on a lot: Player development, Mobley’s rookie year, chemistry, health. But it’s worth the gamble for Cleveland, who parts with Larry Nance Jr. as the only main active piece. Apologies to the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, but hey, you have young pieces to legitimately be ecstatic about.