The talk never ceases with star players. Only the special few with a long-standing connection to one team and the elite play to back it up are exempt. For every other star in the league it’s never-ending: trade rumors.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was leaving Milwaukee until he wasn’t. Joel Embiid is preparing to ask out. Damian Lillard actually did, but it took years. James Harden seems to ask for a trade once or twice a season. Despite never once giving an indication that he was unhappy in Cleveland or was considering a life after the Cavaliers, Donovan Mitchell is caught in the maelstrom of rumors and speculation all the same.
With Lillard now in Milwaukee, however, and James Harden finally traded to the LA Clippers, it’s not immediately obvious who the next star guard to be traded will be. And after the Cavaliers’ early stumbles to start the season, the trade chatter around Mitchell is only going to increase.
Teams that missed out on Lillard and Harden could be calling Cleveland to inquire about Mitchell’s availability. Media outlets without salacious rumors to chatter about now that Lillard and Harden are settled could turn their microphones and headlines to Mitchell. Cleveland sports fans, broken by years of rooting for Cleveland-area sports, may already be resigning themselves to a disappointing future.
Is it possible that the rumors and speculation are correct, however? Could Donovan Mitchell actually be the next star guard to be traded?
Looking around the league, there is not a plethora of options fighting him for that distinction. The Boston Celtics added Jrue Holiday and are unlikely to move him again, especially given how good their top-6 looks together. Similarly, the Atlanta Hawks are playing really well for head coach Quin Snyder and are unlikely to consider moving Trae Young or Dejounte Murray anytime soon. Jordan Poole and Tyler Herro certainly don’t fit the bill of “star guards” for this exercise.
CJ McCollum could be an option, but at 32 years old and having never made an All-Star team he doesn’t exactly tickle the fancy either. Ja Morant is a sneaky option to discuss, but he will need to rebuild his value significantly to the point the Memphis Grizzlies could entertain trading him, given how talented he is when available. Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander aren’t going anywhere for a very long time.
The answer to this question will likely come from the shores of a different Great Lake. The Chicago Bulls are hovering between success and disaster, refusing to break up their core but unable to rise out of the Play-In mix either. They held a player-only meeting after their first game, and this could (should?) be the year they finally fold and trade at least one of their key veteran pieces.
Zach LaVine is the younger of their two on-ball stars at 28 years old, and he is under contract for another three seasons after this one (two guaranteed, one a $49 million player option). He also has a more checkered injury history, with the probability that more issues with his knee will come up this year and beyond.
DeMar DeRozan is 34 years old and in the final season of his contract, making him more of a rental than a long-term investment by another team. That lowered cost could make him more likely to be moved. He certainly doesn’t have the cache of Harden or Donovan Mitchell at this point in his career, but he is a big-name player who will be sought after if he becomes available.
Other than Chicago, though, even the slim possibility that Donovan Mitchell could be traded seems to lead the way. And it’s a very slim possibility; this season would have to go incredibly sideways for the Cavaliers to move Mitchell prior to next summer. Yet it’s also possible that no star guards are moved until next summer, putting Mitchell being the next dealt back in play.
The Cavaliers have had a shaky start to the season, but it’s only been four games and they’ve been riddled with injuries. They have months to get healthy, right the ship and start preparing to go to war in the playoffs with Mitchell. If they flame out in the postseason then the question of a Mitchell trade will be more seriously considered.
Until then, however, it’s going to be impossible to quiet the maelstrom of rumors. They’ll swirl around Mitchell and every NBA star for as long as the NBA allows trades. The tantalizing prospect of the unknown or the horrifying pit of loss will continue to resonate with fans.
Which tone will Mitchell set? It may take a while to find out.