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Could the Trail Blazers Trade for Larry Nance, Jr.?

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Cleveland’s oft-injured forward would be a good fit for Portland. Would a deal be practical?

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite their lack of movement so far in the Summer of 2021, the Portland Trail Blazers are supposedly looking to strengthen their roster in hopes of making a run at contention while superstar point guard Damian Lillard is still part of the fold. The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are lost in no-team’s-land, adrift with too many needs and not enough talent to fill them.

This has led one Blazer’s Edge reader to propose a swap between the franchises, netting Portland Larry Nance, Jr., an enticing and athletic forward all but rotting in the Cavaliers system. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Hey Dave,

Why are the Blazers not going after Larry Nance Jr (2yrs left on his contract making about 10-11m/yr). We can give up Nas, DJj, and a protected 2nd. It hurts to let the potential of Nas go. But let’s be honest, he’s a year or two away from being special, which indeed he could be.

Nance’s size, athleticism, mobility & versatility is what we need on the defensive end of the court from a big (we are low on bigs as it is). And Nance can shoot the three (as of the last 2 seasons). He helps us out so much more than a Markkanen or a Millsap. Who frankly just won’t move the needle that much for us. A Nurk, Nance, Cov (+ any 2 of our 3 gaurds) would be a balanced, versatile, defensively capable lineup with some juice left on the bench. Nance’s timeline lines up more appropriately with Dame/CJ, and he’s currently wasting away over in CLE.

Im an avid reader and an avid fan, and I need you to start spreading the Nance idea if you think it’s a good one! What do you think?

Thanks,

Jake

I like the way you think, Jake.

Let’s start with the negatives, as that’s easier. He’s undersized at either big position. He didn’t have a great season in 2020-21. (Then again, the Cavs didn’t either.) A thumb injury ended his campaign early. He appeared in only 35 games this year and has never topped 70.

Now how about the goodness? Nance is mobile and active on defense. Whether he’s an actual stopper is up to the eye of the beholder, but his hands are busy. He’ll bother dribbles and passes. He’ll also make passes himself. He sees the floor and has a good sense of the game. He’s an athlete. He rebounds. He’s right in his prime, the right combination of “help now” and “can still play later” that Portland needs. As you point out, he’s on a reasonable contract too.

Nance’s offense is a work in progress. Early in his career, he was a 10-feet-and-in player. The last two seasons, he’s been sliding out to the arc. His .360 percentage from distance last season was unremarkable, but it’s a career high. He’s definitely trending in the right direction. That’s necessary, as he lofted 42% of his attempts out there.

The simplest way to put it is that he’s not going to be bashful shooting threes. That doesn’t mean he’s going to succeed there either. But if he got a little of the famous Trail Blazers Boost that most forwards get at the arc when joining Portland, he’d be just fine.

Even so, Nance is not going to be one of your primary scorers. He’s an opportunity/outlet player. I don’t know that he’s in line to be “special”, as you put it. I think the Blazers might consider him a Jusuf Nurkic type acquisition, a player with untapped ceiling who could blossom into a good starter, but not a star.

Nance should play well with Nurkic, by the way. He’d also fit well with the backcourt.

All of this is to say, yes...Larry Nance, Jr. would be a good get for Portland. The sticking point comes, as it often does, with the compensation.

Nance is scheduled to make $10.7 million and $9.7 million over the next two seasons. Cleveland is over the cap, but under the tax threshold, under no pressure to make a deal financially.

Nassir Little and Derrick Jones, Jr. will total approximately $12 million in salary this season. Jones will be a free agent next summer; Little has a team option of $4.2 million.

Making this deal, the Cavaliers would take on $1 million in salary obligation this year...essentially a wash. They’d create $5.5 million in potential cap space the following summer, but they’re already projected to be $35 million or so under the cap that year. Their problem in 2022 will be talent, not purchasing power.

The trade you propose will leave Cleveland with Nassir Little and a protected second-round pick (Note: Portland doesn’t have them, and protected against what?) for Nance, Jr. Maybe Little at 20 years of age fits with their rebuild timeline better than Nance at 28, but if I’m the Cavs, I want more in return. At minimum, I’m asking for a first-rounder in that package. Probably I want a better package altogether. That’s a sticking point for Portland, because they’ll need their first-round picks in case of a rebuild, plus the players north of Jones, Jr. and Little who fit Nance’s price range—Covington, Nurkic, and Norman Powell—make the trade look more lateral.

If the Blazers can pull off the deal you described, I’m all for it. I just don’t think Cleveland bites on that trade as-is. They don’t get nearly enough in return for a player who, frankly, is pretty good for them as well.

What about you, Blazer’s Edge Readers? Would you go for Larry Nance, Jr.? If so, how much would you be willing to offer to make that deal happen? Share in the comments below.