The Los Angeles Lakers’ reshuffling of their roster continued Thursday, as they reportedly sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported the news, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer noted Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland’s first-round pick was the return package for the Lakers.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported Los Angeles plans on keeping Thomas and Frye in the immediate aftermath of the trade.
While the first-round pick will help Los Angeles’ rebuilding process, Thomas is the headliner. He has struggled in his first season with the Cavaliers, watching his scoring average drop from 28.9 last season on the Boston Celtics to 14.7 this season.
What’s more, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Thomas “led the charge” during a meeting when teammate questioned why Kevin Love left a game with illness.
He has also been a liability on defense for a Cavaliers team that is an abysmal 29th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Cleveland’s defensive rating when he is on the floor is 118.6 and improves to 108.2 when he is off it, per NBA.com.
Nance is an explosive forward who is averaging 8.6 points per game but is also versatile enough to guard multiple positions and could improve the defense. Opponents are shooting 3.0 percent worse than their normal averages from three-point range and 5.3 percent worse from beyond 15 feet when he guards them, per NBA.com.
As for the Lakers, Thomas is an unrestricted free agent after this season, so they don’t have to worry about a significant contract on the books if they choose not to re-sign him. Brian Windhorst of ESPN pointed to the team’s “2018 free agency dreams” while discussing the trade, and Wojnarowski noted it opens up options for the team:
Brian Windhorst @WindhorstESPN
Cavs are taking on long-term money and helping the Lakers clear cap space, opening up LA’s 2018 free agency dreams. The Cavs are wagering they’re keeping LeBron with this move.
Clarkson, 25, spent his first three-plus seasons with the Lakers. He is averaging 14.5 points and 3.3 assists per game this season.
Clarkson signed a four-year, $50 million deal last offseason, an extremely manageable deal under the NBA’s new salary cap. His base salary is never higher than $13.4 million during the life of the contract, which is a solid $5 million less per season than what Evan Turner is earning in Portland.
Moving Clarkson is also a bit of a surprise because the Lakers already traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets last June. Lonzo Ball has stepped into Russell’s role as the Lakers’ starting point guard, but Clarkson was a valuable sixth man who also provided a little bit of Lonzo insurance.
“It’s tough being able to shift your mind during the years and change roles,” Clarkson said in June, per Mark Medina of the Orange County Register. “I work through it and have made it happen. I feel like I’m one of those guys that can impact the game in any way.”
Cleveland will likely be able to provide Clarkson with more of a defined role as it pursues a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, which might help him developmentally. He was essentially the same player from year two to year three, a time when players tend to make their biggest leaps.
Clarkson was older than most other players when he came into the league, which alters his developmental curve a bit, but he’ll need to make at least one more mini leap to become a full-time starter.