by Evan Bruner
The NBA’s hectic offseason continued this week, as the Utah Jazz dealt 3x all-star Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks, and two pick swaps. While many expected the Jazz to trade Mitchell before the season began, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks appeared to be the front runners, with few other teams mentioned in trade talks.
Cleveland’s latest move makes one thing clear: they’re going all in. After last year’s squad managed to make the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left (the second time), the Cavs have added a major asset that offers the team immediate value while still being young enough to fit into the team’s long-term plans. Mitchell won’t turn 26 for a couple of weeks and has averaged over 20 points per game in each of his five NBA seasons.
He’ll be playing alongside budding superstar Darius Garland who made his first all-star team last year and finished sixth in the league in assists per game. This backcourt has the potential to be one of, if not the best, in basketball. The two also offer contrasting styles of play which could allow them to co-exist. Mitchell is more of a score-first, drive-to-the-basket type of player, while Garland is more of a facilitator who won’t force many shots.
That duo of Mitchell and Garland, as well as last year’s runner-up in rookie of the year voting, Evan Mobley, makes for one of the most intriguing cores in basketball. The ultimate question for Cleveland is whether acquiring Mitchell will prove to be enough to catapult them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Last year’s team won 44 games and was bounced in the play-in games. Though it was a significant improvement from the previous season’s 22-50 campaign, they were still a far cry from the conference’s best.
Part of what makes this move so significant is that the Cavaliers adding Mitchell made it so none of their Eastern Conference foes could. Unlike the West, which has an established pecking order, the East appears to be wide open. The Celtics are very good but still quite beatable, and same with Miami and Milwaukee. Teams like the Nets and Bulls have shown promise, but their collapses down the stretch lead to more questions than answers. This is where a team like Cleveland could sneak into the top.
The Cavs gave up a lot for Mitchell, but big rewards often require big risks. They went out and got a superstar without having to give one up. For the first time in over 20 years, the Cavs don’t need LeBron to be a scary matchup in the playoffs.