Regrading the Donovan Mitchell-Lauri Markkanen trade

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports)
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Just over a year after the Donovan Mitchell-Lauri Markkanen swap, each player has delivered record-breaking performances for their new club while pointing them in a positive direction. The Finnisher (Markkanen) tallied over 200 3-point makes plus 100 dunks and received 1.64 million All-Star votes, placing him fifth among Western Conference frontcourt players. Spida (Mitchell) dropped 71 points, the most ever for a Cleveland Cavaliers player in the regular season and, tied for sixth all-time, and earned a Second Team All-NBA selection as he helped drive Cleveland to 51 wins.

Both squads appear content with their shining new All-Stars. Yet, the probability of the deal getting done again for the same price is as high as Dan Gilbert making a sincere apology, Draymond Green rediscovering how to score, or James Harden showing up in the playoffs when his team needs him. Cleveland and Utah each got the goods, but the former massively overpaid.

The deal included Utah getting multiple pick swaps and unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029 with Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton and Markkanen. Cleveland got Mitchell.

It’s safe to say the Cavaliers’ front office had no idea Markkanen was the gunslinger who played for Finland in Eurobasket 2022, even with head coach J.B. Bickerstaff inspecting up close overseas for the tournament and during the season with the Cavaliers. Had the decision-makers understood that he deserved more than 11.5 shots a game, I’m not convinced he’d be traded for a player who isn’t that much better than him, with three unprotected FRPs.*

A team that moves more than one FRP in a deal better thrust itself into contention because not having that ammo will hurt later. Justifying the move by pointing out that the picks will be late in the first round ignores the fact that NBA scouting is a joke. Talent falls every year into the latter stages of the opening round, and into the second, even sometimes value is found in the undrafted lot.

Don’t believe me? In the 2022 NBA Draft, Tari Eason (pick 17) and Walker Kessler (pick 22) earned rookie team honors, and they were selected outside the lottery. Three-time high school champ and singular collegiate winner Christian Braun was taken 21st and played a pivotal role for the Denver Nuggets in capturing its first title. Former Gator and Bulldog Andrew Nembhard, chosen 31st, was seventh in total minutes for rookies with the Indiana Pacers.

In 2021, the Knicks got Quentin Grimes in a trade at #25 on the board. He started 72 combined games for New York in 2022-2023. Pesky defender Herb Jones’ name was called in round two (pick 35) by the New Orleans Pelicans. Only 10 players, Jones included, have over 200 steals recorded in the last two seasons. Jose Alvardo, undrafted, signed with NOLA too and established himself as a viscid defender and inked a four-year deal.

Get the point? All of those guys could help a team win, and they weren’t clamored for. By the way, someone warn Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn that Cam Thomas, pick 29, is wasting away on the bench.

So how did each squad grade out?

Let’s begin with Utah.