Last week’s trade of Jordan Clarkson was a bit of surprise to most Cavs fans. Not that Clarkson was traded, but how early he was dealt, and what Cleveland received in return. There are plenty more deals on the horizon for the Cavaliers, and the Clarkson package isn’t good for those trades.
Clarkson was always going to be traded this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent following the season, and his nearly $13.5 million salary will open up a nice chunk of cap space for the Utah Jazz. But he’s not just a contract; Clarkson is one of the best sixth men in the NBA.
He currently ranks eighth in the league in scoring off the bench at 14.4 points per game, something that the Jazz desperately needed. Instant offense from a reserve is valuable, which led many to believe that multiple playoff teams would be vying for Clarkson’s services, which makes both the timing and package odd.
The trade deadline isn’t until February, and the Cavs had no reason to be in a hurry to deal Clarkson, or any of their veterans. If a trade was made this early, one would think Cleveland would receive more, as Clarkson’s new team would have him for two extra months. Maybe that was the case, but even if it isn’t, things aren’t looking good for potential deals involving Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and others.
Clarkson was traded for guard Dante Exum and two second-round picks; San Antonio’s in 2022 and Golden State’s in 2023. The Cavs also received a trade exception worth $3.83 million. The picks are of little value, but they do add to Cleveland’s future stockpile.
Exum is a bust who has yet to figure out the NBA game due to constant injuries. He could still end up becoming a solid player, but that is unlikely at this point. He comes with two years and $19.2 million remaining on his contract, so the Jazz were able to improve their bench while dumping salary. The Cavaliers take a chance on a young (Exum is still 24) and talented bust while adding some draft capital.
The problem is that the Cavs received no sure thing in the deal. It’s unlikely the team will even use the draft selections, and even if they do, second-round picks rarely become good players. Exum can’t stay healthy, and hasn’t developed an offensive game when he has been on the court. It’s an underwhelming package for a top bench scorer.
And that’s why expectations for future trades need to be reevaluated. The Clarkson deal has now set the market for what is to come. Cleveland still has John Henson, Brandon Knight, and Tristan Thompson on expiring contracts, along with Kevin Love on his long-term deal. The Cavs were able to net first-rounders for both George Hill and Alec Burks last season, but things are different now, and it would be surprising if they could get a first for any of the players outside of perhaps Thompson.
Love is a different situation because he’ll be with his new team for three years, rather than half a season. Reports are that some teams want the Cavaliers to actually give up assets to get rid of Love, which is the exact opposite of why Cleveland is looking to deal him in the first place.
As a player, Jordan Clarkson is more valuable than Henson and Knight. If all he returned was a salary dump and two future second-rounders, fans shouldn’t expect too much from then next couple of trades the Cavaliers make. Maybe some team will offer a package similar to what the Bucks and Rockets did in 2018, but at this point, if the Cavs are able to add another first-round pick prior to the trade deadline, it would be a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
We don’t know what exactly Cleveland’s vets will fetch in a trade, but here’s what we do know. Unlike Burks last season, Exum will not be traded again in 2019-2020. The Cavaliers are looking to jettison their expiring veterans in order to give their young players more minutes and to increase their stock of future draft capital.
The team is rebuilding, and finally (and wisely) committing to a full rebuild. The post-LeBron delusions of competing for the playoffs seem to be completely gone. And while the new draft lottery odds aren’t helping things, at the very least it appears Cleveland is not content with remaining perpetually mediocre.
The Jordan Clarkson trade is just the beginning of a mass exodus of Cavs players, but the market it sets for the value of Cleveland’s players isn’t great for the team. More veterans will certainly be traded, but the returns for those players may not be as high as many were expecting or hoping.
Most fans won’t be worried about that at the moment, however; the priority at the moment is the development of the team’s young core, which should hopefully be sped up as they play more in the absence of traded vets.