In the 2022 NBA offseason, the Utah Jazz began entering a rebuild after consecutive disappointing playoff appearances. Shortly after Utah traded big man Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves, rumors of Donovan Mitchell’s future took the spotlight in Salt Lake City.
While the majority of NBA media expected Mitchell to be traded to his hometown New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers emerged as the eventual suitor for the All-Star guard in a deal centered around Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and an assortment of first-round picks being sent to the Jazz.
The Cavaliers went all in for Donovan Mitchell, meaning the importance of success is seriously heightened. After a poor playoff exit in the first round against the New York Knicks of all teams this year, rumors around Mitchell’s tenure in Cleveland have already come into question.
ESPN’s Ohio-born insider Brian Windhorst reported that Mitchell is expected not to sign any extension with the Cavaliers this summer, although he is eligible for one. Last season, Mitchell was an All-Star starter and selected to the All-NBA Second Team for his heroics over the 2022-23 campaign. Mitchell averaged career highs with 28.3 points per game and a 57.2 efficient field goal percentage.
Along with his season averages, Mitchell set a franchise single-game scoring record with 71 points versus the Chicago Bulls early in the season. Mitchell has thrived in Cleveland, making the prospect of his eventual departure an anxiety-inducing idea to the Cavaliers fanbase. With so many indications that Mitchell plans to join the Knicks, many have suggested trade proposals to send Mitchell to the Big Apple now rather than later.
With the recent news of Mitchell’s extension drama, is it time to worry? The Cavaliers had an abysmal performance in the playoffs and have yet to prove to Mitchell that Cleveland is the best city for his prime seasons and career legacy.
When the Cavaliers traded for Donovan Mitchell, they did so to capitalize on the emergence of Darius Garland as an All-Star point guard and Evan Mobley’s unforgettable rookie season. Mitchell’s arrival in the Land has accelerated an already quickened Cavaliers rebuild.
Trading for a player of Mitchell’s caliber was not a hasty decision by Cleveland’s front office. Mortgaging every future first-round pick possible in the trade means the Cavaliers will plan to contend with Mitchell as a member of their core.
Mitchell will not be eligible to enter unrestricted free agency until the 2025 summer at the earliest, and Mitchell can opt into a player option that will retain him in Cleveland until the 2026 summer at least. In short, the Cavaliers have plenty of time to build around Mitchell and prove that this is the place for his future.
The latest panic surrounding Mitchell and Cleveland is nothing new for a star player, especially those in a small market. In 2020, the NBA news cycle surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo’s situation with the Milwaukee Bucks after a devastating playoff defeat. It was mentioned that the Bucks could seemingly consider trading the MVP forward before his free agency in 2021, even while it was reported the team wouldn’t do so prior to his free agency to come.
The league seemed to be preparing for Giannis to enter one of the league’s biggest markets, but in December 2020, the Greek Freak signed a five-year supermax extension with the Bucks. A year later, the team won the NBA Finals. When he signed the massive extension, the Bucks had never even appeared in the NBA Finals. In fact, it came directly after a sad end to their season.
Giannis’ situation is not identical to Mitchell’s, as the Bucks drafted and developed Antetokounmpo from the beginning. But, where these stories can be analogous in one major way.
Namely, the Bucks built around Giannis every offseason and continually worked to give him the best contending roster they could. With Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday all joining the ranks on the Bucks, Antetokounmpo was given a team that complemented his talents and gave him everything he needed to succeed as a leader.
As for the Cavaliers, it is hard to find a team with a better fit for Donovan Mitchell, especially following this summer’s moves. Cleveland acquired a duo of consistent sharpshooters in Max Strus and Georges Niang, and they built their overall depth with Ty Jerome, Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers recognized their need for floor spacing and depth to capitalize on Mitchell’s skillset.
Additionally, Mitchell’s history in Utah was best remembered with the fantastic defense provided by Rudy Gobert and lob threat potential. Not only does Mitchell have Jarrett Allen in the post, Evan Mobley’s devastating defense and emerging offense offers Mitchell another interior option for the long haul. Darius Garland has been a tremendous backcourt running mate, something that benefits Mitchell every night on the court. In Utah, Mitchell had Mike Conley with him and thrived with the creativity of Conley’s playmaking.
Thus far, Mitchell has only shown a sense of pride in being a Cleveland Cavalier. Do not forget that the same Brian Windhorst also reported that Mitchell ran around a golf course in joy when he heard he was joining the Cavs, a story Mitchell later confirmed. Undeniably, the sting of a playoff loss has likely hurt Mitchell this summer and probably plays a role in his patience with an extension. But, it takes a whole team to win a series, and Mitchell was far from perfect in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers have invested in Donovan Mitchell wholeheartedly, and Mitchell has seemingly invested his heart and soul into the city. NBA contract negotiations will always be a harrowing concept, as any misguided decisions can lead to the downfall of an organization’s future, dragging their star talent down with it.
For Donovan Mitchell, he still has at the very worst two more seasons to make a true impact on the Cavaliers. Nobody would have expected him to sign a contract extension after a single season, barring an NBA Finals win.
With the expanded roster and talent on the Cavs, they will be well prepared for next season, not only to prove to Mitchell the team’s worth, but to succeed in front of the millions of faithful fans that support and love every moment of Cleveland basketball.