The Cleveland Cavaliers trade for Donovan Mitchell is still a success

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports /

Donovan Mitchell did not shy away from the blame for the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round playoff exit this season.

While Mitchell did not play up to par in the playoffs, let’s get one thing straight. Cleveland would not even be in this position if they didn’t go out and acquire Mitchell.

The trade for Mitchell last offseason raised the ceiling of the Cavaliers and put them in Eastern Conference playoff discussion. While Cleveland made great strides in the 2021-22 season, that team likely reached its ceiling: the Play-In Tournament.

They ultimately lost both Play-In games, partially due to inexperience, but the Cavs also lacked that true star who could take over a game at a moment’s notice.

The Cavaliers trade for Mitchell is still a success, given what it solidified for the team.

As is the case in any trade for a star player, Cleveland did give up quite a bit for Mitchell in the deal. They sent Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, and three first-round picks in 2025, 2027, and 2029 (plus two pick swaps in 2026 & 2028).

While this weakened the Cavaliers depth, it gave Cleveland four All-Star-caliber players, who were all 26 years old or younger.

Mitchell hit the ground running in his first season with the Cavaliers, averaging over 32 points per game in October.

Before the All-Star break, Mitchell scored at least 30 points in 20 games, including six games of at least 40 points, highlighted by his 71-point performance against Chicago in January. He closed the regular season especially strong as well.

As the regular season ended, Mitchell set a couple of single-season Cavalier records, including the most made three-pointers (245) and most 40-point games (14). Mitchell’s 28.3 points per game were a career-best and tied a career-best by shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Even in Game 1 of the first-round series against New York, Mitchell showed up, as he scored 38 points, but the Cavaliers lost the game.

However, in the final four games against New York, Mitchell averaged 19.5 points on 42 percent shooting, including 24 percent from three-point range.

While it is more than fair to criticize Mitchell for his lackluster playoff performance, he is a crucial reason why the Cavaliers even won 51 games and secured the 4th seed in the East.

It is possible to acknowledge that Mitchell struggled in the playoffs but also that he played well for the vast majority of the season. Emotions are obviously high after the disappointment of the first-round playoff exit, but don’t let that emotion stop you from looking at the bigger picture.

To say that the trade to acquire Mitchell was a mistake is extremely short-sighted. As stated earlier, Cleveland doesn’t win 50+ games and earn the No. 4 seed in the East without Mitchell.

Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen are all talented players in their own right, but the ceiling of the Cavaliers was significantly raised when No. 45 was traded to Cleveland.

Also, the emergence of Markannen in Utah came as quite a surprise, but with all the other talented players in Cleveland, there’s no guarantee he would have had that same season in Cleveland.

Sexton was also limited to just 48 games and is not on the same level as Mitchell, and Agbaji is an unknown young talent.

The issue moving to next season is that no matter how well Mitchell plays in the regular season, he will solely be judged on how he performs in the playoffs. After two less-than-stellar playoffs in a row, Mitchell will be starving to prove his doubters wrong.

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But Mitchell has made a career of proving people wrong, and he’ll be leading a team full of hungry Cavaliers who will be eager to come back stronger after a disappointing end to the 2022-23 season.