Hitting the Markkanen
Wine and Gold Say Farewell to Larry, Hello to Lauri in Three-Team Deal
The NBA is a tough business in which tough decisions must be made.
That was never more evident than this weekend, when the Wine & Gold dealt one of its native sons – and one of the best overall guys to wear a Cavaliers uniform – Larry Nance Jr., in a three-team deal that eventually landed young Lauri Markkanen in Cleveland.
In the deal, the Cavs sent Nance Jr. to Portland and a protected 2023 second round pick (via Denver) to the Bulls. Chicago also received forward Derrick Jones Jr. from the Blazers and Portland’s lottery-protected 2022 first rounder.
As a pure, on-paper move, there’s nothing not to like about the deal. But this is one trade that goes beyond basketball, and nobody was and is more keenly aware of that than Cavs GM Koby Altman.
Altman wanted to “thank Larry for his outstanding and impactful contributions to our team, both on and off the court. His selfless acts of kindness and support for small businesses in Northeast Ohio during a global pandemic says a lot about his character. He remained steadfast in his commitment to helping others in their time of need and it was an inspiration to us all. Larry truly embraced the community, its fans and his teammates and he will be missed.
”The Cavaliers have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Larry as a person and a player, and we wish him and his family all the best in Portland.”
Lauri Markkanen was the 7th overall pick back in 2017 by the Timberwolves, traded on Draft night along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine to the Bulls for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. An All-Pac 12 performer in his single season at Arizona, the Finnish-born forward was an All-Rookie First Team selection following his first season in Chicago.
Markkanen’s next season was the fourth-year man’s best – averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 boards as a sophomore. In 2020-21, he posted his lowest scoring average – 13.6ppg – but shot career highs from the floor (48 percent) and from beyond the arc (40 percent), the latter of great interest to the Wine & Gold.
The 24-year-old has never played in fewer than 50 games in a season and started 169 of his first 170 career contests before finding himself in a lineup squeeze last season. In his first 26 appearances, he started 25 of them. But the emergence of Patrick Williams – last year’s No. 4 overall pick by Chicago – and midseason trades for Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis squeezed him into a reserve role.
Even accounting for his uneven minutes, Markkanen posted eight games of at least 20 points and a pair of 30-point outings. The three-time Finnish Player of the Year – who’s posted 14 career games of 30-plus – has also had some nice nights against the Wine & Gold. In 12 head-to-head meetings against his new squad, he’s netted double figures in all 12, with games of 25 and 31 points in the mix.
”(Markkanen) has the proven ability to play multiple positions and stretch the floor from the perimeter and, at 24-years-old, we believe his best basketball is in front of him,” praised Altman. “We are committed to establishing a winning culture in Cleveland that can be sustained over time and Lauri helps elevate that description.”
Overall, in 221 career appearances Markkanen has averaged 15.6 points, shooting 44 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep, to go with 7.1 boards and 1.2 assists per. Through his four years in the league, he’s never made less than 109 triples.
The 7-0, 240-pounder – who doesn’t turn 25 until late May – is also an excellent free throw shooter, connecting on a career .845 from the stripe.
None of those impressive numbers will make losing Larry Nance Jr. any less difficult.
The 27th overall pick of the Lakers in 2015 after an outstanding four-year career at Wyoming, Nance – an Akron native and the son of a Cavaliers legend – slowly improved his numbers through his first two-and-a-half seasons with L.A. But at the 2018 Trade Deadline, the high-flier had his career dramatically altered – with Cleveland sending Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a 2018 first rounder to L.A. in exchange for Nance and Jordan Clarkson.
In his next three full seasons with his hometown squad, he averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 boards in 158 games.
After a strong start last year, leading the league in steals through the first third of the season, injuries and illness limited Larry Nance Jr. to just six games in the final two months of the season.
When Nance was able to suit up, he was very good.
Among players who played in at least 30 contests, Nance was third in the league, averaging 1.7 steals per game. And he proved on several occasions to be the Wine & Gold’s most versatile player. In the opener against Charlotte, Nance went for 13 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks – numbers no Cavalier has posted since LeBron James back in January 2008.
Nance was perfect in a win over Memphis in early January – hitting all seven shots he attempted, including all four three-pointers to become the first Cavalier in team history to go at least 7-for-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from deep in the same game.
But as vital as his contributions were to the squad on the floor, Nance was just as active in the community – from his tireless work with his Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to assisting local families affected by the COVID pandemic to taking on Ohio’s Secretary of State over voting accessibility in the 2020 Election.
Like his father, the younger Nance took pride in his “regular guy” persona. Always excellent with fans – (as well as an engaged local sports fan himself) – and a consistently generous, considerate and honest voice with the media, he will truly be missed.
If there’s one positive about trading the 28-year-old Nance, it’s his Western Conference destination.
He goes to a perennial contender that’s reached the postseason in each of the last eight seasons, joining Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullum under the new direction of first-year head coach Chauncey Billups. Plus, he’ll get to compete against his former squad in Tinseltown four times a year.
And, taking nothing away from Cleveland fans – (some of the world’s most rabid in any sport) – but Rip City loves their Blazers ferociously, and Nance is exactly the kind of guy they’ll gravitate to. Portland is also a progressive city that’ll further cultivate his social activist side.
Back here on the North Coast, the Wine & Gold now have five core players (Markkanen, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland) all under 24 years of age – and three of them are seven-footers.
With just about a month remaining, the Wine & Gold might still not be done tinkering. But for now, it’s farewell to Larry and welcome to Lauri as team gets ready to rumble in 2021-22.