The Cleveland Cavaliers had a good season in 2021-22, doubling their win total from a season before and finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference before losing in the Play-In Tournament to just barely miss the playoffs. Rookie Evan Mobley was an immediate impact player, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen were All-Stars, and the arrow was pointing up for the Cavs for the first time since LeBron James left (err, again).
The front office decided that core group was good enough to push their chips into the middle of the table, sending control of five first-round picks, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and the recently-drafted Ochai Agbaji to the Utah Jazz for All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.
The result was a career year from Mitchell, including a franchise-record 71 points in a single game, and another step forward for the team. They won 51 games, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference and with the second-best net rating in the league. Their playoff debut was less exciting as the New York Knicks knocked them out in just five games.
Part of evaluating any trade is to look into the unknown and consider what not making the deal would have looked like. The Cavaliers won 51 games and are in the mix at the top of the East heading into this season; where might they have been if they didn’t make the move for Mitchell and instead went into last season with Markkanen, Sexton and Agbaji?
Let’s take a closer look at this “What If” and ask the question: would the Cavaliers have been a better team if they didn’t make the trade?