What If: Are Cavaliers better if they don’t make the Mitchell trade?

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers and Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz. Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers and Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz. Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images /
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Cleveland Cavaliers
Lauri Markkanen, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images /

What the Cavaliers would look like

The Cleveland Cavaliers surprised the NBA world by leaning into their height in a league that was still prioritizing small-ball, starting three seven-footers in Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen. The success of that group was part of the reason the league is growing in its understanding of the value of “skill” over “small” in its best lineups.

It’s likely that group would have continued to start, with reigning All-Star point guard Darius Garland in the backcourt. Caris LeVert probably would get the nod at the 2, but Isaac Okoro would be another candidate, as would Collin Sexton.

Sexton was a starter before he went down with a knee injury early in the 2021-22 season, but the team had clearly decided he wasn’t a part of its long-term core moving forward. They probably re-sign him if the Mitchell trade never happens, but to a lower number than he ultimately got to be a “Sixth Man” off the bench; judging by his up-and-down season with the Jazz last year coming off of that knee injury, it’s unlikely the Cavs would ever give him a full-minute starting role if they hadn’t made the Mitchell trade.

That gives the Cavs a backcourt rotation of Garland, Ricky Rubio, Sexton, Okoro, rookie Ochai Agbaji and LeVert. Dean Wade, Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens were the frontcourt depth, with Robin Lopez and Mamadi Diakite as center options. That’s an incredibly deep team, and it doesn’t even grapple with the reality that a Cleveland team with all of its draft picks still available could have made a trade for a two-way rotation player, be that Jae Crowder, Gary Harris or Royce O’Neale.

Donovan Mitchell likely ends up on the New York Knicks in this scenario, with the Jazz being a much worse team without All-Star Lauri Markkanen propelling them forward. The Cavs would be deeper but without the All-NBA Donovan Mitchell in the lineup. Does that make them a better or worse team?