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How will Lauri Markkanen fit on the Cleveland Cavaliers?

How will Lauri Markkanen fit on the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed a sign-and-trade deal for Lauri Markkanen in a three-team deal with the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trailblazers. Cleveland gave up Larry Nance Jr. and a 2023 second-rounder, and then signed Markkanen to a four-year, $67 million contract.

This came as a surprise deal. There were rumors the Cavs were shopping Nance this offseason, but getting another frontcourt player was odd. The Cavaliers already resigned Jarrett Allen and drafted Evan Mobley this offseason, so a long-term starting role for Markkanen seems unlikely.

Cleveland desperately needed to add three-point shooters this offseason. During free agency, wings and shooters went very quick and Cavs were unsuccessful in adding a wing shooter to the roster. Markkanen quite frankly was the best option left for a young shooter who could improve in the coming years. He is coming off a career-high season in nearly every shooting stat. Markkanen shot 48% from the field, 40.2% from three, 82.6% from the free throw line, had a 59.4% effective field goal percentage and had a true shooting percentage of 61.9%.

These were really good shooting splits for Markkanen, and he did so while averaging 13.6 points so some volume was there. What makes this trade so head-scratching is where will he fit?

A crowded frontcourt in Cleveland

Cleveland has a very crowded frontcourt right now with Allen, Mobley, Kevin Love and now Markkanen. Allen and Mobley is probably the ideal starting frontcourt for the long-term. Markkanen might start to begin the upcoming season as Mobley develops, but Mobley is now one of the centerpieces of the franchise. Markkanen simply is not going to become more important than Mobley at power forward. Mobley is so versatile while Markkanen is pretty limited as a defender and has a limited scoring skillset.

Most assumed the addition of Markkanen would mean a potential buyout for the longtime forward Love. But not so fast, it seems Love is unwilling to agree to a buyout right now.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a Love buyout will never happen. It just guarantees this will take some time and if it happens it will be during the upcoming season. The Cavs will have a crowded frontcourt to start the year with Love sticking around.

The way things have gone recently for Love, he might deal with injuries again next season. This would of course clear playing time for Markkanen. However, everyone wants Love to be healthy and succeed when he’s getting paid over $30 million per year. The head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will have a challenge on his hands.

If Love is healthy, should he start over Mobley and Markkanen? Should Mobley start alongside Allen since that appears to be the frontcourt of the future? Where will Markkanen fit in? The only frontcourt player that is guaranteed to start is Allen at center.

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Markkanen’s potential role

As mentioned, Markkanen could potentially start to begin the season. Love might be working on getting back to normal while Mobley needs to develop. On the other hand, Markkanen is here to stay for four years as of now. Bickerstaff needs to find a role where Markkanen can help the Cavs win some games.

By the end of the upcoming season, the most ideal role for Markkanen is to come off the bench. Cleveland’s offense last year, and especially the bench, was just horrid. Markkanen is going to help a lot here, he excels as a spot up shooter and has some versatility in the sense of playing multiple positions. Heck, Chicago even played Markkanen at small forward some last year.

More than likely, Cleveland wants Markkanen to help Mobley’s offensive game while providing shooting and scoring off the bench. If the Cavs have two knockdown-shooting stretch fours within a season or two, their offense will get a lot better. The Cavs also have some playmaking guards in Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio, which should compliment Markkanen’s game. Markkanen cannot really create his own shot on a consistent basis, so having point guards to set him up is vital.

Why make this move?

Why would the Cavaliers pay Markkanen $67 million to come off the bench? The market for free agents in the NBA just continues to rise. Any talented scorer in the NBA is going to get paid a substantial value for the most part. On top of this, Cleveland struggles to lure free agents to their unattractive destination. The Cavs probably have to compensate for their destination being the unattractive location that it is.

With Markkanen’s contract, the possible future extensions for players like Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro seems hard to do. Clearly, Cleveland is going all in for a win now approach. No one should be mad at that, Koby Altman becoming aggressive to complete the rebuild is needed to win again.

The only real issue with signing Markkanen is Cleveland is too focused on their frontcourt. The NBA is mostly driven by guard and wing play. The Cavaliers are not good at wing right now and that’s a problem. They did try to get a wing in free agency, it just didn’t work out. Through trade, acquiring a wing seemed too costly as well. They simply settled for Markkanen since he can help their three point shooting and has the potential to improve.

The Cavs can still address wing through future trades and drafts. Overall, the Markkanen deal is just confusing right now. Figuring out where he fits in the rotation and what it means for Cleveland’s future are all guesses. One thing’s for sure, the Cavaliers’ upcoming season just became even more anticipated with the signing of Markkanen.


Featured image courtesy of Dylan Buell/Getty Images

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