Winners/losers from three-team Lauri Markkanen trade to Cavaliers

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Lauri Markkanen was the biggest free agent on the board (well, him or Paul Millsap), and he wanted out of Chicago, but there seemed to be little momentum toward a deal as the summer dragged on.

Then out of nowhere came Cleveland and what is ultimately a three-team trade with Chicago and Portland that makes Markkanen a Cavalier. As part of this, Markkanen gets a new four-year, $67 million contract (only about $57 million is guaranteed, but still…).

Who won in this deal and who lost? Let’s break it down. But first, here is who each team added in the trade:

Cavaliers: Lauri Markkanen
Bulls: Derrick Jones Jr., 2022 first-round pick (lottery protected), 2023 second-round pick
Trail Blazers: Larry Nance Jr.

WINNER: Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen went into the offseason wanting out of Chicago, to find a larger role with another team, and to get paid north of $14 million a season. Even a week ago, that all seemed like a longshot, with rosters filled and the best offers seemingly around the mid-level exception ($9.5 million).

Then in come the Cavaliers — Markkanen has gotten at least two out of the three things he wanted. He is out of Chicago and has a four-year, $67 million contract paying him an average of $16.7 million a season (only $6 million is guaranteed in the final season). Does he have a bigger role on a Cavaliers team with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen up front, plus Kevin Love in the mix? Maybe not, but he gets the chance to impress J.B. Bickerstaff and earn more run. This was as good as it would get for the Finnish big man.

LOSER: Cleveland Cavaliers

What exactly is the plan here? They draft Evan Mobley No. 3, and he has to be the long-term plan at center with his game that fits beautifully as a modern five (think more Anthony Davis in style than Dwight Howard). However, it’s likely a couple of years until Mobley is physically ready to be an NBA center, so for now he slides over to be a stretch four and the Cavaliers re-sign Jarrett Allen as their center (although five years, $100 million was an overpay).

Where exactly does Markkanen fit in all this? More than long-term fit, the Cavaliers traded away a more reliable and, I would argue, better player in Larry Nance Jr. for the right to pay Markkanen way more money. Yes, Markkanen is a better shooter than Nance (40.2% from 3 last season), but he’s a much worse defender and not as good a playmaker/passer. Maybe the Cavaliers play Markkanen at the three next to Mobley and Allen, but that is a defensive disaster waiting to happen (Markkanen can’t guard threes).

Again, what is the plan here?

WINNER: Portland Trail Blazers

The four has been the black hole in Portland. The other four starting spots are set — Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Jusuf Nurkic — but the Trail Blazers needed defense and shooting at the four. Now, between Nance and Robert Covington, the Trail Blazers are improved and deeper at that position.

Is this moving them into contention in the West? No. Not even close. The “will he/won’t he” Lillard cloud still hangs over this team. But this is a good pickup, a solid single (maybe a double in the gap if everything goes right) that makes the Trail Blazers better.

WINNER: Chicago Bulls

They wanted a first-round pick to facilitate a Markkanen sign-and-trade, and they got it — a lottery-protected first, but that was as good as they were going to get. Chicago needed picks after sending so many out to make sure they got Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan, now they added back a first rounder. Derrick Jones Jr. struggled to find a fit in Portland, but he will be part of the Bulls’ rotation and if he can get back to his Heat form that’s a solid pickup.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.