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Why a contract extension makes sense for both Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs

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In a post LeBron James world, there is value in the Cavs locking Nance beyond next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Of the players the Cavaliers acquired during their trade deadline reset, no one was happier than Larry Nance Jr. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s back playing for the franchise his Dad played for, wore father’s retired No. 22 jersey and made the Finals for the first time. Now, he’s part of the team’s future, a core part of their rebuild.

Now, the next step for both sides is to extend the partnership.

For Nance, a deal to keep him Cleveland beyond the 2019-20 season would offer him long term security. And he’d still hit the open market again around his 30th birthday. It also would establish him as core part of the Cavs post LeBron James.

For the Cavs, locking up Nance gives them a piece to build around. Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton and others isn’t a bad place to restart. It also gives Koby Altman and his staff some financial clarity for 2020 and beyond when their cap sheets will be mostly clear.

The problem is that it’s hard to gauge exactly what Nance is worth. He’s 25 years-old — he’ll turn 26 in the middle of next season — and has a core skill set. He runs the floor well (1.17 points per possession in transition with the Cavs last year), rebounds well on both ends (12.1 ORB% and a 25.5 DRB% in Cleveland last year), finishes at the rim, hustles and can switch onto smaller players well enough. There are parts of his game that indicate he might still evolve into something new. And those two realities likely come with two different price tags.

The market for young big men also does not set a baseline for what Nance’s camp and the Cavs’ front office will negotiate. Players around Nance’s age on the open market have been affected by flux of cap space in 2016, a cooling in 2017 and a completely frigid market in 2018. Clint Capela, for example, has had zero success getting the contract he wants in restricted free agency.

Dating back in 2015, when Tobias Harris signed his current contract, players around Nance’s age and similar RPM Wins, have signed deals ranging from $9 million to $16 million per year. Gorgui Dieng is the exception due to his lower RPM Wins total; Dieng also benefited from signing his post-rookie contract extension in 2016:

Larry Nance Jr. contract comparisons

Name Team RPM Wins in 2017-18 Age Average salary Year deal signed in
Name Team RPM Wins in 2017-18 Age Average salary Year deal signed in
Larry Nance Jr. Cavs 5.33 25 $2,272,390 Rookie contract
Julius Randle Pelicans 5.28 23 $9 million 2018
Tobias Harris Clippers 7.51 26 $16 million 2015
Kelly Olynyk Heat 7.11 27 $12.5 million 2017
Gorgui Dieng Timberwolves 0.01 28 $16 million 2016
Jusuf Nurkic Trail Blazers 6.53 23 $12 million 2018

Nance, were he to hit restricted free agency next summer, would be on the market when there is expected to be significantly more money available. Perhaps he and his team prefer to sign a deal in that environment.

Of the players on the list, Randle may be the best comparison for Nance. He was a restricted free agent this summer before having his qualifying offer revoked. On the open market, Randle was able to secure $9 million this year and have a player option for next year. His skill set, although different than Nance’s and more set in stone, is like what Nance is now. Both players lack any real range to stretch the defense, limiting at least some of their value. Last year, Nance’s jump shot was not a reliable tool. It was only above average in a few areas without enough of a sample size to show that it’s a real tool:

The Cavs, though, believe he can stretch out his range, maybe to the three-point line — something Randle will never be able to do. Tyronn Lue has said as much, too, and Nance said during an interview at summer league that he wants to expand his game next season. With the Cavs’ focus shifting from title contention to player development and a rebuild, allowing Nance to try to expand his game makes sense. If he can even develop one facet of his game, he becomes a different caliber of player. If Nance can do that, he expands the potential of Cleveland’s current core too.

He also should in nicely with Sexton and Osman. With Sexton, he can be rim rolling, pick-and-roll partner and help the rookie get some easy assists. One of the biggest strides Nance made with the Cavs was as a screener — working with Tristan Thompson in practice paid off — and pick-and-rolls with Sexton should be a staple of Cleveland’s offense. Nance is best known for his ability to finish alley-oops, but he’s also improved at catching an initial pass and then getting to the rim:

With the Cavs, Nance averaged 1.38 points per possession as a roll man, place him in the 93rd percentile league-wide, per nba.com/stats. There is likely bump here from playing with LeBron — Nance averaged .93 points per possession as a roll man in 2016-17 with the Lakers and , per nba.com/stats — but settling in somewhere in the middle is a realistic expectation.

Nance is also fast for a big and, for a team that wants to play faster this year, his ability to make runs like this should help while still keeping things simple for Sexton:

As for Osman, both hustle, switch and have some of the same gritty, physical DNA in their game. Nance’s fit with Zizic is less clear and may depend on how they both develop over the next few years. If Nance can become legitimate three-point shooter, it’d make their fit much cleaner.

Defensively, Nance helped the Cavs last year — they were 8.5 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per nba.com/stats. It’s not because he’s an elite shot blocker — just 2.8 percent better with Cleveland last year, per basketball-reference — but he at least contests shots and works to be in the right position. His foul rate is a bit high at 4.3 per 36 minutes, per basketball-reference, but it’s manageable. If he plays a large number of minutes this season next to Kevin Love, it’ll likely serve as the best view of what he is a defensive center. Remember: His time with the Cavs was the first time he played a full season’s worth of minutes at center.

There’s is some risk for Cleveland in letting Nance develop this season and not having him signed past it. If he develops and reaches a different level, maybe a different team comes calling and drives up the price with an overpay. Even if it’s a few million more per year than what Randle signed, signing Nance Jr. now could save a few million. It also locks in a player the Cavs can market and make a face of the franchise, or at least one of them. That’s something Cleveland needs.

As of now, there has been little talk of Nance’s extension. Both sides are reportedly open to it, but that’s all that’s out there. There is nothing out there indicating how long the deal might be or how much Nance is seeking. Both sides have what they need to make their case for the type of deal they want.

What is best for both the Cavs and Nance is understanding that both the team and player benefit from an extension. It may take some time to hash out, but there is a middle ground, somewhere between $9 and $16 million per year, that makes sense for both parties. It’s now a question on whether it’ll happen.