CLEVELAND, Ohio — Here’s the story of how the Cavaliers signed Larry Nance Jr. to a 4-year, $45 million extension:
Koby Altman has long been a fan of Larry Nance Jr.
When the Cavaliers general manager was looking to trade Isaiah Thomas in February, he was talking trade with the Lakers.
Los Angeles wanted to dump Jordan Clarkson, who still has two more years and $26 million left on his contract. Part of the reason was the Lakers were planning to clear salary cap space to sign a premier free agent such as LeBron James.
The trade talks became complicated, especially when Altman insisted on the 6-foot-9 Nance as part of the deal.
In the end, the Cavs traded Channing Frye, Thomas and their 2018 first round pick for Clarkson and Nance. Altman included the low first-round pick because he wanted Nance in Cleveland.
Frye and Thomas were expiring contracts in the summer of 2018. That was the appeal to the Lakers.
Nance was averaging 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Lakers. Modest numbers.
But Nance is an unselfish, relentless player who values defense, hustle, rebounding and ball movement. The Cavaliers had lots of stats showing how having Nance on the court made his team’s offense and defense better.
Altman believed Nance could be very effective with James and in the playoffs. If James did leave after the season, the 25-year-old Nance could be the kind of player the Cavs needed in the post-LeBron Era.
“His dream was always to play for the Cavaliers,” said Mark Bartelstein, Nance’s agent. “When he first started playing basketball, never in a million years did he dream he’d wear a Cavs jersey. That’s why he was so excited about the trade.”
Nance may be the first player in NBA history who thought being traded from the Lakers to Cleveland was a great idea.
“I still can’t thank Koby and the staff enough for bringing me here,” Nance told the media Tuesday.
That’s because he played at Revere High in Bath. Jaynee and Larry Nance Sr. still live in Bath.
But the real story is Nance is the kind of player who fits with the Cavs, a “culture guy” as Altman calls him.
Now, they wanted to find a way to keep him long term.
A LONG RELATIONSHIP
Immediately after the season, the Cavs opened contract extension talks with Bartelstein.
Nance had $2.2 million left on his rookie contract, which expires in the summer of 2019. Then he’d become a restricted free agent.
NBA rules mandated that Nance had to be signed by 6 p.m. on Oct. 15, or he’d have to wait until after the 2018-19 season.
“We wanted to get something done and so did the Cavs,” said Bartelstein. “What happens after the season is the draft, then free agency. Contract extensions get pushed back a bit.”
Bartelstein has been in the business since 1985. His first client was John “Hot Rod” Williams, who played for the Cavs. Williams and Nance Sr. were close friends.
Bartelstein’s Priority Sports is one of the biggest agencies in the country. Some of his top basketball clients include Gordon Hayward, Bradley Beal and Jabari Parker.
His most recent client with the Cavs was guard Jose Calderon.
Because Bartelstein and Cavs have a long relationship, they do trust and respect each other. It helped get this deal done.
Bartelstein also knew his client wanted security.
Nance was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in high school. He suffered a major knee injury and had ACL reconstructive surgery when playing at Wyoming. He suffered a broken thumb with the Lakers. He has dealt with hamstring, hip-pointer and ankle injuries.
He has missed an average of 16 games in the last two seasons. Because Nance plays so hard and throws his body around the court, that leads to injuries.
“Larry wanted to stay with the Cavs,” said Bartelstein. “But extensions are some of the hardest contracts. You are negotiating in a vacuum.”
He means no other teams can bid on the player. So the agent can’t say, “Team X is offering $50 million, so that’s where we are at right now.”
Furthermore, Nance is not a high scorer. So it’s not like saying, “He averages 15 points a game. The typical 15-scorer gets $12 million a year.”
What was his real value in terms of dollars, cents and connection to the franchise?
In early October, both sides had to become serious.
Nance said the last few nights, he was waking up at 2:30 a.m. He wasn’t eating. He couldn’t sleep. He wanted a contract done. But he also was trusting Bartelstein.
“Teams tell players to sacrifice their scoring,” said Bartelstein. “They tell them to do the little things – to rebound, defend, hustle. Then you go to negotiate a deal and they hold it against you because the player wasn’t a high scorer.”
The Cavs were different.
“Analytically, Larry was elite,” said Bartelstein. “The stats showed he could defend (outside) and be a rim protector. Very few can do both as well as Larry. He can set picks, then dive to the rim (for lobs and dunks). He is defensive minded.
“Most of all, he is willing to accept the less-than-glamorous roles. The Cavs appreciated that.”
There are lots of numbers, but I’ll use this one. ESPN has a “real plus/minus” stat for defense: Nance was ranked No. 18 in the NBA.
That’s part of why the Cavs wanted him.
On Monday morning, Bartelstein and the Cavs knew they needed to make this work. The deadline was 6 p.m.
Owner Dan Gilbert and Altman were thrilled Nance wanted to stay. They were thinking of adding Nance to the core of Kevin Love and Collin Sexton.
Love signed a 4-year extension early in the summer. Sexton was the team’s first-round draft choice.
Monday afternoon, Nance had his parents at his house. They were waiting for a call from Bartelstein.
“It was a meeting of the heads,” Nance said.
My guess is talks started with Bartelstein wanting more than $50 million, the Cavs offering less than $40 million.
The contract had to be actually signed by 6 p.m., not just agreed upon.
As the two sides settled on a 4-year, $44.8 million compromise, Altman told Bartelstein to get Nance in a car and get him downtown quickly to sign the deal at the arena.
Nance said when he heard the deal was done, “I’ve seen my parents happy before…but this was pretty awesome.”
All three of the Nance children attended Revere and played basketball. Daughter Casey was later a star at Dayton and now works for the Indians.
Younger brother Pete is a freshman on a basketball scholarship at Northwestern.
Nance went to Wyoming, his only major Division I basketball scholarship offer. His parents often traveled to Laramie to see the Cowboys and their son play.
The family is extremely close.
Nance wears his father’s No. 22 — a jersey that is a “retired” number with the Cavs. The NBA gave the son special permission to have his father’s number.
“When my mom heard it (the contract was done), she was through the roof ecstatic,” he said. “I don’t know who was happier, me or her.”
At Quicken Loans Arena, Nance signed the contract in front of most of the Cavs front office — the business and basketball sides.
It was 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. deadline.
The 4-year extension actually means Nance is on a 5-year deal. His rookie contract stays in place. Over that period, he will be paid $47 million.
Nance has joked he was the only guy who worked in Los Angeles (with the Lakers) and vacationed in Cleveland.
“This is home for me,” he said. “It’s great to put this to rest for five more years. I feel 100 pounds lighter.”