Jordan Clarkson-Dante Exum trade grades: Cavaliers, Jazz make smart deal for both teams by swapping guards

Between superstars like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard changing teams, and well over a hundred players signing new deals in free agency, the summer of 2019 was one of the busiest of all time. Since then, however, things have been pretty quiet in terms of player movement. Carmelo Anthony signing with the Portland Trail Blazers was really the only significant move since the summer. 

But when Dec. 15 rolled around, players who signed new deals in the summer became eligible to be traded, and everyone expected that to open the floodgates. Early on Monday evening, the action got underway when the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to trade Jordan Clarkson to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Dante Exum and two future second-round picks. 

It's certainly not a blockbuster deal by any means, but it's worth taking a closer look at what the first trade of the season means for each team. Let's grade the trade:

Jazz receive:

  • Jordan Clarkson

The Utah Jazz were quite busy over the summer, bringing in a number of veterans via trade and free agency, including Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. So far, the moves have been hit or miss. Bogdanovic has been stellar, but Conley has not looked like his old self. As a whole, the offense, which was supposed to be boosted by their offseason moves, has struggled yet again, checking in at 21st in the league in offensive rating. 

In Clarkson, they get a veteran scorer who might be able to help boost that middling offensive attack. He's been a pretty average player throughout his career, so it's hard to see him moving the needle too much, but he can create his own shot, and has been hitting 41.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season. Adding Clarkson certainly isn't going to hurt a Jazz team that is only getting 27.1 points per game from their bench, which is second-worst in the league. 

It's a disappointing end to the Exum experiment, but at this point it made sense to move on. He hasn't played in two weeks, and it was pretty clear at this point that if he's ever going to become a useful NBA player, it won't be in Utah. This team is trying to contend in the West over the next few seasons, and need contributors more than they need long-term projects. 

Grade: B-

Cavaliers receive:

The Cavaliers are in full-on rebuild mode, but they still have a number of veterans left over from the second LeBron James era, and that combination hasn't gone so well. Just a few months into his first season, there was a report in The Athletic about players being upset with head coach John Beilein's system, which they viewed as too college-like. It hasn't helped that they've started the season 8-21, which has them just above the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. 

Given their situation and the make-up of the roster, it always seemed obvious that the Cavs would make some trades this season, and the behind the scenes drama only further necessitate clearing out some of those veteran voices. The Clarkson move is likely just the beginning of their wheeling and dealing, which could end up including Kevin Love if they're able to find a team willing to take on his big salary. 

As for this trade, getting Exum and a few extra picks is a pretty reasonable return. Exum has dealt with all sorts of injury trouble in his four-plus seasons in the league, but he's still only 24 years old, and has only played 67 games since 2017. He has great size and length for the perimeter, and has shown some nice flashes with his playmaking and on the defensive end. His shooting is a big negative, but if he can get healthy there might still be something there. 

The Cavs already have a number of young guards in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., but none of them have been especially impressive, and it can't hurt a young team to take a look at a former top-five pick. And if he doesn't develop they can just let him walk when his contract ends after the 2021 season and won't have lost anything. 

Grade: C+

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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