Things have gone from bad to worse for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ravaged by injuries since 2023-24 tipped off, the Cavs lost their two foundational building blocks on Friday for extended stretches. Evan Mobley is set to miss the next six-to-eight weeks due to arthroscopic surgery on his balky left knee, while Darius Garland will be sidelined for several weeks after fracturing his jaw.

The injuries to Mobley and Garland effectively end Cleveland’s quest for a top playoff seed in the East, a hope already in doubt as the team sits at 13-12, ninth in the conference standings, just over a quarter of the way through the regular season. The Cavs’ increasingly dire straits loom extra large for the organization’s long-term trajectory due to uncertainty surrounding Donovan Mitchell.

Acquired by Cleveland in a blockbuster trade with the Utah Jazz prior to last season, Mitchell has long had eyes to play in his native New York. Both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were involved in the Mitchell trade sweepstakes last year before the Cavs won it, and the four-time All-Star’s disinterest in signing an extension with the wine and gold has only added fuel to the fire that he plans on leaving Northeast Ohio once he hits free agency in the summer of 2025.

There were calls for Cleveland to get ahead of Mitchell’s seemingly imminent exit by trading him this season well before the injury fates of Mobley and Garland were known. Unsurprisingly, those appeals and related speculation reached a fever pitch from NBA analysts and fans of all stripes on Friday.

Should Cavs trade Donovan Mitchell?

Cavs' Donovan Mitchell with question marks everywhere

Mitchell has carefully avoided discussing his future ever since landing in Cleveland. It’s telling that rumors of his desire to play in New York persisted throughout last season, though, as the Cavs cemented themselves as not just one of the league’s best up-and-coming teams, but a legitimate contender in the East.

Cleveland, of course, fell well short of that distinction in the playoffs, getting embarrassed by the underdog New York Knicks in a five-game first-round series. Nothing JB Bickerstaff’s team has done early this season suggests a different postseason fate awaits come spring.

Mobley hasn’t taken the significant offensive steps as a shooter and overall creator necessary to unlock the Cavs’ offense, while Mitchell and Garland haven’t been able to re-establish—let alone build on—the chemistry they so quickly developed in 2022-23. Max Strus was clearly a worthwhile signing in free agency, but the same can’t quite be said for Georges Niang. Neither has made the team-changing offensive difference Cleveland was counting on.

Fading ambitions of full-fledged contention this season almost vanishing entirely with Mobley and Garland’s injuries, there’s an easy case to be made the Cavs’ best path forward really is moving early on a Mitchell trade. Bringing Mitchell in left Cleveland bereft of high-quality trade assets. Trading him this season would re-stock those coffers, giving the front office ample flexibility to rebuild on the fly for 2024-25 behind a foundation of Mobley and Allen. Maybe trading Mitchell would be the perfect opportunity to part ways with Jarrett Allen, too, making Mobley the Cavs’ permanent center.

Regardless of what Koby Altman and company decide, rumors of Mitchell’s departure won’t be quieting anytime soon. Tough as it may be to stomach, trading Mitchell really seems like Cleveland’s most prudent long-term approach toward re-establishing itself as an Eastern Conference power.