Would the Cavs make this trade?
There are a few different steps for the Cavaliers to make to get to the point where they would make a trade like this. First, they have to decide that they want to trade Donovan Mitchell at all; we’re assuming for the moment that they do. The next step, however, is whether they want to pull back and restock (trading Mitchell for younger players and picks) or push the chips even further into the middle.
This deal would be an example of the latter. Damian Lillard is 33 years old, set to make over $45 million this season. It will be difficult to maintain an elite roster around Lillard for long, and he won’t be playing at a high level forever. There is a path where Mitchell re-signs and the Cavaliers have this core together for the next decade. That can’t happen with Lillard swapped in for Mitchell.
At the same time, Lillard probably raises their ceiling even further right now. He is one of the few guards in the league with more on-ball scoring and shoot verve from everywhere on the court, and he has some of the most impressive playoff moments in recent NBA history. He won’t shirk away from the spotlight when they reach the postseason and he is one of the best locker-room leaders in the league.
Lillard is also under contract for four more seasons, versus just two for Mitchell. He makes significantly more than Mitchell, but he also isn’t going anywhere for quite a while, especially if the Cavs win enough that he doesn’t try to force another trade. That seems unlikely; Lillard wants a chance to win, and the core of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley will elevate the Cavs that far if Lillard remains even just an All-Star over the next few seasons.
There are reasons to like this trade, but it would be an expensive trade for a player who has indicated he wants to be elsewhere. It doesn’t solve any roster-building issues (Lillard is still another small guard to start with Garland) and it greatly restricts their spending power moving forward. Is it worth it to make a push the next few years? Perhaps, but it’s not an obvious decision to make.