The Cavs shocked the NBA world Thursday by trading for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell as the Jazz continue their rebuild. But was it a good deal for Cleveland? Any better or worse for Utah? And did the Knicks miss out on Mitchell?
Good deal or a bad deal for the Cavs?
Howard Beck: Great deal for Cleveland, albeit with fewer, Caveats. (I am sorry, but it was RIGHT THERE.) The Cavs were already an elite defensive team, thanks to Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Now they have a dynamic one-two scoring punch in Mitchell and Darius Garland. It is potentially a top-five team in the East. But, well, the caveats. Mitchell and Garland are both high-usage, ball-controlling guards, the former a three-time All-Star, the latter a newly minted All-Star who just had his best season. They’ll have some chemistry to work out, but it’s a deal the Cavs had to make.
Chris Herring: Good deal, but I’m unsure whether it’s excellent. The Cavs took a giant leap forward with defense and Darius Garland being the unquestioned leader on offense. By adding Mitchell, Garland will see his ball-handling responsibility split, and Cleveland’s defense weakens. Of course, there’s more potential upside on offense now. But Mitchell has to buy into what the Cavs have built on D.
Robin Lundberg: Good deal. While Garland and Mitchell might not be a perfect fit defensively, Cleveland has a versatile piece on that end in Evan Mobley and a presence inside with Jarrett Allen. It was a core that could use more scoring and playmaking. Considering it isn’t exactly a destination franchise, putting the chips in when there was a player available makes sense, even if Spida isn’t without flaws.
Chris Mannix: Good deal. The Mitchell-Garland backcourt is undersized, but that matters less when you have a pair of defensive monsters in Allen and Mobley protecting them. If Garland, Mobley, and Isaac Okoro take another step, they will be a conference contender. The question is, what happens next summer when Mitchell is extension eligible? What if he rejects a three-year extension? Do the Cavs hold onto him? Or will they flip Mitchell, with two years remaining on his contract, for the best offer?
Rohan Nadkarni: Good deal! The Cavs aren’t in a position to go out and get a talent like Mitchell often. It’s a sensible swing, and the price is what a top-25 player costs in the current NBA. When you add Mitchell’s age and the three years left on his deal, it becomes an even better gamble for Cleveland. Mitchell, Garland, Allen, and especially Mobley have room to grow. It’s a group that could become a contender if given enough time. Considering the Cavs had few routes to add this kind of talent—and didn’t give up any All-Stars to do so—I don’t see how it’s a wrong move.
Good deal or bad deal for the Jazz?
Herring: OK, deal. And seemingly not the best one they could have had. Was this a scenario where Ainge tried to stick it to the Knicks, who played hardball with him? If they could have had a slew of New York’s picks, with similar protections and swaps, plus some of the Knicks’ young talent, I would’ve probably preferred that.
Nadkarni: Good deal, I guess. It is what it’s all about now. You’re either trying to win, or you’re trying to amass as many drafts picks as possible. If Utah can tank its way into Victor Wembanyama or some other blue-chip prospect over the next couple of seasons, this move will have been worth it. If the Jazz can’t get a top lottery talent, I’m not entirely confident those extra Cavs and Wolves picks will move the needle.
Mannix: Outstanding deal. Danny Ainge got what he wanted, a cache of draft picks to add to the other draft picks Utah got for Rudy Gobert. They are positioned to bottom out—say goodbye to Mike Conley and Bogdan Bogdanovic shortly—which will put them in the mix for Victor Wembanyama, the prize of the 2023 draft and the kind of player the Jazz could never attract otherwise. It will get ugly next season, but that’s Utah’s only way back to contention.
Beck: Decent deal. Collin Sexton is a proven scorer and shot creator. Ochai Agbaji is a solid scorer and defender who just went 14th in the draft. The picks are likely to be in the 20s. You rarely get total value when trading All-Stars in this league. (The Rudy Gobert haul was both a rarity and an unreasonable standard, as the Mitchell trade underscores.) But the Jazz got what they needed: lots of draft capital, good young players they can either grow with or trade, and a guarantee of being bad enough to get a high pick next June.
Lundberg: Good deal. The Jazz probably did as well as they would in selling off Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. I don’t see a headline acquisition here, so Utah’s end of the deal will ultimately be judged by how it uses the treasure trove of picks it acquired. That isn’t a haul that can be judged now, but moving on from a core that had reached its ceiling and stocking up for a rebuild was reasonable.
Good deal or a bad deal for the Knicks?
Nadkarni: Bad deal. It’s not quite simple, but if this was the price for Mitchell, I think the Knicks should’ve never signed Jalen Brunson and made this move instead. Or they should’ve swung the deal for three firsts anyway with the extra draft capital they amassed this summer. I’m not ready to bury Mitchell after his playoff struggles this year. And talents like him, at his age, aren’t available often. I think the Knicks should have done it.
Lundberg: Bad deal from this perspective: It at least appeared they had a star they could land who wasn’t against being there. So while I don’t think Mitchell would make them contenders, it is a tough sell to pass on the scenario just described, given the recent history of the Knicks franchise. When will they have a chance to land a guy like that again?
Mannix: Good deal. The proposed Mitchell trade was the kind of deal previous Knicks administrations would have tripped over to make. That this one didn’t is a good thing. I have more thoughts on New York’s prudence here.
Herring: It’s hard to say good or bad without knowing precisely what was on the table. Mitchell was worth a haul of picks—and maybe even a couple of unprotected ones—plus some of New York’s best young talent. It’s a bit stunning that the Knicks went this far down the road without getting a deal done, but if they can land a more balanced star than Mitchell with those picks in the future, this won’t be seen as a failure.
Beck: Well, sort of both. Let’s start with the bad: The Knicks had the chance to get an All-Star, a flashy, franchise-defining player with New York roots who wanted to play there, and they whiffed. As constructed, they’re still a lottery team and not particularly interesting. But here’s the thing: Mitchell isn’t good enough for all his talent to make the Knicks a consistent winner. Even with him, they might not have made the playoffs this season. The East is that good! And the Knicks don’t have enough talent. Is it worth mortgaging all those picks and players for an All-Star who only gets you to seventh place? Probably not.
Where do you rank the Cavs in the East now?
Mannix: I can see the Cavs anywhere from 4-6 next season. Remember: Cleveland was in the mix for a top-three seed before injuries derailed the second half of the season. Mitchell, plus the organic growth from the rest of the roster, should put the Cavs back in that neighborhood. The Eastern Conference is tough — Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Miami will be difficult to knock out of the top five — but Cleveland has the talent now to at least compete with any of them.
Beck: They’re not as dominant as the Celtics or Bucks (the last two Eastern Conference champs), nor as talented as the Nets (yes, many caveats here), nor as proven as the Sixers. That leaves the Cavs battling with the Heat (most wins in the East last season) and the rising Raptors in that fifth through the seventh tier. And I haven’t even mentioned the improved Hawks. (See what I mean? The East is tough!)
Nadkarni: At their absolute peak, the Cavs could be the third-best team in the East if things go sideways in Philly and Brooklyn. For now, I’ll say they have the fifth-best chance to represent the conference in the Finals.
Herring: I think it’s feasible that the Cavs finish in the top five or six, behind Milwaukee, Boston, and Philly, if they’re healthy. As we saw at last year’s end, having Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley healthy will be key, given how small the Cavs are on the perimeter. But this trade isn’t necessarily just about this year. Cleveland’s core is young and, if it jells, could be a force at some point.
Lundberg: I’d put the Cavaliers sixth but in the top tier with the Celtics, Bucks, Nets, Heat, and Sixers. I’m not saying they couldn’t leapfrog one of those teams, but the East is now excellent and very deep. However, Cleveland is set up for some sustained success beyond what next season alone looks like.