The Cleveland Cavaliers have bet big — $67 million big — that the best of Lauri Markkanen is ahead of him. And it’s much better than what he’s shown in Chicago.
Demand for Markkanen’s services seemed low when the Cavaliers swooped in and picked up the Finnish big man as part of a three-team trade. While pundits largely panned the Cavs’ role in that sign-and-trade, Markkanen was very optimistic about his future in speaking with K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.
“I don’t think I’ve hit close to my ceiling yet,” Markkanen said in a phone interview with NBC Sports Chicago…
“The last couple years have been mentally pretty tough,” Markkanen said. “I’ve grown as a person because of that so I wouldn’t change it. I’ve learned a lot. But I just felt like I need to get back to the old me and how I know I can play the game. I think this is a good opportunity for me to do that.
“I’m happy. I’m really excited and looking forward. We kind of felt like I needed a fresh start. And I appreciate all the people who were involved to help facilitate it and make it happen.”
The first step to Lauri Markkanen to get back to “the old me” would be to stay healthy. He missed 21 games last season — due to the league’s COVID health and safety protocols, plus a shoulder injury — 22 games the season before that, and 30 the season before that. He has struggled to just stay on the court.
When healthy he has shown flashes, and last season he averaged 13.6 points per game and shot 40.2% from 3. Markkanen went into free agency looking for a larger role with a team than he foresaw in Chicago, but Cleveland — with just drafted Evan Mobley, just re-signed Jarrett Allen, plus Kevin Love not going anywhere — will be a tough place to carve out that role. Frontcourt minutes will need to be earned.
Markkanen should be happy, he got what he wanted — out of Chicago and a large payday.
Now he just has to live up to the bet the Cavaliers made on him.