Back in the summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets agreed to the blockbuster trade that swapped All-Star point guards Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. That was 165 days ago on July 11, and since then there had been no trades in the NBA. Until Monday night.
Just before the night’s action got underway, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to send veteran shooting guard Jordan Clarkson to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Dante Exum and two future second-round picks. Brian Windhorst of ESPN added that the picks are a 2022 pick via the San Antonio Spurs and a 2023 pick via the Golden State Warriors.
Sometimes trades happen and it’s a bit confusing to see why one team made the deal, or how the conversation even happened. That isn’t the case here, as it’s extremely easy to see the motivation for both sides.
During the summer, the Jazz were widely praised for bringing in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. Those two veterans were expected to boost their middling offense, which has been the main problem for them come playoff time the past few seasons. But while Bogdanovic has been tremendous, Conley has struggled, and so too has Utah’s offense. As of this writing, they’re ranking 21st in the league in offensive rating.
Clarkson, in theory, can help give that offense a boost. He’s a pretty classic shooting guard, and really isn’t going to give you much more than scoring, but he can create his own shot, which is a skillset the Jazz have lacked in recent seasons. It’s hard to see him moving the needle much, but the Jazz do have the second-lowest scoring bench unit in the league at 27.1 points per game, and he could improve their second unit. For a guy who wasn’t playing anyway in Exum, and a couple of second-round picks, it’s worth taking a flyer on Clarkson.
As for Exum, his time with the Jazz comes to an end after a disappointing four-plus seasons. He’s dealt with a number of injuries since being picked No. 5 overall back in 2014, has only played a total of 67 games in the last three seasons and had lost his spot in the rotation in the past few weeks. Because of the intrigue surrounding him after being drafted out of Australia as a teenager, and his constant injuries, he’s been a sort of eternal prospect.
He’s shown some flashes with his playmaking and defense, and has great size and length for the perimeter, but he can’t shoot at all, which makes it really tough to succeed as a perimeter player in today’s NBA. Perhaps a new environment will help him get his career on track, but the unceremonious way the Jazz dumped him makes it clear how little they think about that possibility.
Still, it’s worth a chance for the Cavaliers. They’re in the beginning stages of a years-long rebuilding project, and had no use for Clarkson. Exum is still only 24 years old, so he fits their timeline and it hasn’t really cost them anything to take a closer look. If he doesn’t work out, they just let him walk when his contract ends in 2021, but perhaps they can unlock something in Exum.
In all likelihood, this is a pretty forgettable trade that doesn’t end up mattering much for either team, but we will see.