On Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and power forward Larry Nance Jr. finally reached an agreement on a contract extension. Nance will wear a wine and gold uniform for the next five seasons, and his new deal will pay him a total of $44.8 million. That number is a far cry from the rumored three-year $72 million that Nance’s camp was pushing for. This move is very good for Cleveland, and its impact goes beyond just retaining their young big man.
At the February 8th trade deadline, general manager Koby Altman decided to end the Isaiah Thomas experiment, and traded Thomas, Channing Frye, and Cleveland’s 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Nance was to improve the Cavs’ interior defense, and Clarkson was to lead the second unit and provide scoring and ball handling. Nance performed well, which lead to his extension.
Clarkson, however, had a historically bad postseason and ended up being benched in the NBA Finals. Even at the time, the Cavaliers had overpaid, as Los Angeles was trying to trade Clarkson in order to clear up cap space. Cleveland not only helped them accomplish this goal, but also threw in their 2018 first-rounder, which the Lakers used to select Michigan center Moritz Wagner.
Ironically, the cap space gained from Thomas and Frye’s expiring contracts allowed the Lakers to sign LeBron James and still have room for another max contract next offseason.
All that is water under the bridge, and it’s time for the Cavs to move on and from a new identity. A major part of that will be Nance. In 24 games with the Cavaliers last season, Nance averaged 8.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. His energy and athleticism breathed new life into the team, and his flashy alley-oop dunks quickly turned him into a fan favorite. The fact that he is the son of Cavaliers legend Larry Nance Sr. certainly helps his popularity.
A good way to gauge whether or not the Cavs got a good value from this extension is to compare it to what the team gave Tristan Thompson before the 2015-2016 season. Thompson’s deal totaled five years and $82 million, starting at $14.3 million in 2015-2016 and ending at $18.5 million in 2019-2020. Thompson was 24 when he signed the deal, and was coming off a season where he averaged 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds.
Thompson hadn’t missed a game since his rookie season, and seemed to be trending upward. As the Cavs were already over the salary cap, they didn’t have much of a choice concerning Thompson. He absolutely had to be re-signed.
The move paid off, as the Cavaliers won the NBA championship in Thompson’s first season with his new deal. Since then, however, Thompson’s contract has been a gross overpay. In 2016-2017, his free-throw percentage plummeted 12 points, and defenses began to employ the Hack-A-Thompson technique. Thompson missed four games that year and another 29 in 2017-2018. He proved to be an off-court distraction, and his on-court play wasn’t worth $16 million per season.
Compared to Thompson’s deal, Nance’s extension looks like a steal for the team. Nance will make just over $11 million per season, but it gets better. His contract starts at $12.7 million in 2019-2020 and ends and $9.7 million in 2022-2023. This deal is shorter-term and cheaper than Thompson’s, and although Nance will turn 26 in January, he is a better player than Thompson. What’s not to like about this agreement?
Things look even better when looking around the league. Myles Plumlee is on a four-year $50 million deal and he averages 3.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Timofey Mozgov signed a four-year $64 million contract with the Lakers, and is now in Charlotte, passed around simply for cap relief. Chandler Parsons, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng are more examples of ridiculous offers handed out recently. These inflated deals are the result of the salary cap spiking, and once that happens again in two years, the Cavs won’t have to worry, because Nance will still be under contract.
With Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, and Kyle Korver off the books after the 2019-2020 season, the Cavs could be in position to make a splash in free agency, as the salary cap will have risen to $116 million, up from its current clip of $99 million.
With, Nance, Kevin Love, and Collin Sexton signed long-term, the Cavs have a solid nucleus which can keep the team competitive now and set Cleveland up to land a star in the future. It’s certainly not the Sam Hinkie-style rebuild that many fans desired, but the Cavaliers are in a good position for the future. The loss of LeBron James is devastating, but it won’t send the team to a 19-63 finish without him.
Cleveland has a legitimate shot to keep their playoff streak alive, and Larry Nance Jr. will be a major reason why. Extending him now gives the Cavs flexibility for the future, and keeps a building block in place. Nance is a player that any NBA team would love to have; he is athletic and versatile, he gives consistent effort, and he plays good defense. He should be a mainstay of the Cavaliers for years to come, and the Cavaliers did an excellent job locking him up.