The Cleveland Cavaliers played spoiler for the New York Knicks and their summertime infatuation with Donovan Mitchell. After the Knicks set a hard deadline that the Utah Jazz crossed without caving earlier this week, it was the Cavs that were there to make a deal that New York wouldn’t.
The price they paid was far from a bargain even for a supremely talented player like Donovan Mitchell. The Cavs facilitated a sign-and-trade for restricted free agent and likely Mitchell first-option replacement in Collin Sexton. They sent bounce-back big man Lauri Markkanen and promising rookie Ochai Akbaji. Then the draft pick haul that likely had OKC Thunder’s Sam Presti drooling: three unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029 plus two pick swaps in the years in between that.
That considerable haul has left many Cavs fans split on whether the team made the right decision to pull the trigger. You can debate all you want about Donovan Mitchell, but what can’t be denied is that he’s a three-time All-Star who’s under contract for three more years into his prime. He’s had several big-time playoff performances under his belt, as well.
But beyond Donovan Mitchell’s selling points as a player, there are several reasons why the Cavs are completely justified in making this move if they truly believe in their young core. Here are three (3) non-Donovan Mitchell reasons why the blockbuster trade the Cavs pulled off is completely justifiable.
Striking while the stars are aligned
Perhaps the biggest gripe that Cavs fans have on the all-in move isn’t the fact that they traded for a 25-year-old All-Star, but that it was for Donovan Mitchell in particular. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a ball-dominant guard or that he’s good but not enough to justify the price tag. But the fact of the matter is, striking at this point in the rebuilding process works to the Cavs’ advantage.
Discussing the money side of things is never sexy. But the contract situations line up perfectly for a win-now move in Cleveland. Evan Mobley, who everyone expects to be a game-changing talent, will be on his rookie scale contract for the next three seasons. Once that time is up, he’ll more than likely command a massive pay bump similar to Darius Garland’s $193 million extension that kicks in after this season. Three years just so happens to be how long they’ll be paying Donovan Mitchell for.
It’s also hard to imagine Collin Sexton’s trade value getting that much better next season given that he’ll very clearly be at best the third option on the team. There’s also no telling how he’ll look after a meniscus tear ended his 2021-22 season. Using him as a trade asset in a sign-and-trade this offseason likely leverages his value the most compared to keeping him.
The new-look Cleveland Cavs🔥
Darius Garland Ricky Rubio
Donovan Mitchell Caris LeVert
Isaac Okoro Cedi Osman
Evan Mobley Kevin Love
Jarrett Allen Robin Lopez pic.twitter.com/RhX8QqANIb
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 1, 2022
And the honest truth is that beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to prying away disgruntled All-Stars. Teams aren’t going to be receptive to trading their star players year-round unless either the front office or the player hit the nuclear option. And even then, nothing could come up if (*cough* Kevin Durant *cough*).
Yes, maybe a star small forward like Jaylen Brown or Brandon Ingram would’ve been preferable to Mitchell. But their teams are trying to win now as well and aren’t picking up calls for picks several years into the future.
The Cavs had a chance to get a bird in hand at the exact moment where the rest of their flock was ready to fly and before they had to pay their youngest hatchling a rookie max deal.
The Cavs are closer than most think
Despite the most exciting start to the season in the post-LeBron James era, the Cavs didn’t even make the playoffs last season. They had their chances in the play-in contest but failed to scrap their way into a bottom two seed.
That could be why some critics of the Donovan Mitchell trade believe it doesn’t get Cleveland over the hump. But the Cavs were gosh darn terrific last season when they weren’t hopelessly failing to stave away the injury bug.
Cavs record since LeBron left:
How many games will they win in 2022/23? pic.twitter.com/8sorkZfvti
— StatMuse (@statmuse) September 2, 2022
Cleveland has some bad luck on that front when it came to their backcourt. The team was 20-14 before Ricky Rubio was lost for the season. They went .500 the rest of the way. They were also a .500 team during the 14 games that Darius Garland missed.
But it was the injuries to their twin towers that crippled them even more severely. The success of the Evan Mobley-Jarrett Allen duo is largely what defined their success last season. The Cavs were 4-9 in the 13 games that Mobley was missing. They were 9-17 for games that Allen missed.
But when all three of their young studs were in the lineup, they were 26-14. That’s a 65 percent win rate that’s actually better than the top-seeded Miami Heat finished with last season. And they’re all only getting better given that none of Garland, Allen, or Mobley are even close to their prime state yet. Add Donovan Mitchell, who himself is only just turning 26 before the season starts, onto that recipe with a balanced cap sheet and you have yourself a legitimate contender in the East, locked up long-term, and are all only going to be better as the years go by.
It’s a good time to be a Cavs fan, people.