Another failed year for the Cleveland Cavaliers could spell disaster with star guard Donovan Mitchell's contract extension and possible free agency in the not-so-distant future, but fans can remain settled for now after injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley.
Tensions have been continually rising for the Cavaliers after their embarrassing first round exit against the New York Knicks last postseason. It appeared every member of Cleveland's personnel was under fire, as nobody had lived up to their potential after the franchise's first 50-win season without LeBron James since his 2003 draft night.
Amidst the public calls for Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be fired, critics viewed a number of Cleveland's core players to be potential pieces in major trades over the summer. Jarrett Allen was likely the Cavaliers player under the most scrutiny, but even Darius Garland had a short-lived (and ridiculous) trade rumor circulating.
Donovan Mitchell shut down trade talk
Cleveland's most prolific player, Donovan Mitchell, has been subject to endless trade rumors since he joined the Cavaliers in September 2022 when the star was expected to be traded from the Utah Jazz to the New York Knicks. Instead, Mitchell became another name on the perpetually long list of NBA superstars the Knicks targeted but did not get.
The day after the Cavaliers' third loss in a row and dropped to 13-12 on the year, the Cavs announced that both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were going to miss several weeks with injuries. In the midst of an underwhelming early season, losing two of the three best Cavaliers felt like a death blow for the team. They have yet to play to play an entire week of basketball with a healthy roster, and these injuries only guarantee a longer period without a full lineup.
As with any piece of Cavaliers news, good or bad, reporters swarmed to Mitchell to secure an answer to a question they know he will not entertain yet - will he sign an extension with Cleveland?
Following a dominant 127-119 home victory against the Atlanta Hawks, Donovan Mitchell shut down a group of reporters' questions regarding his intentions with his future in wine and gold, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic (subcription required).
""My job is to focus on this. We have [Garland and Mobley] out, so I'm not answering anything. And no disrespect. I appreciate that you have to ask the question, but I'm not going there with any of those questions. My focus is on these guys being out, us trying to find a way to get wins.""- Donovan Mitchell
His response continues Mitchell's trend regarding the issue. Though he did not sign an extension this summer when he first became eligible, it was an expected result as the team had yet to prove they can build a contender around him after one year. Mitchell told the media this offseason he is focused on winning and will address an extension when it is due time - the same response he gave after the Hawks game.
While his poignant response suggests Mitchell will not seek out of Cleveland in a mid-season deal, other hopeful contenders are eyeing the situation closely. The Knicks' New York rival Brooklyn Nets are reportedly prepared to offer a blockbuster trade for Mitchell if things go sour fast. The details of the package are unknown, as expected, but the manifestation of a Mitchell trade could only be a matter of time, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst has repeatedly said that Mitchell will never re-sign with the Cavaliers.
If the Cavaliers do trade Mitchell, the expected return would likely be a retooling rather than a rebuilding move. With Garland and Mobley as the clear cornerstones of the franchise's future, there is no indication that Cleveland is nearing a full rebuild. Instead, the Cavaliers may look to exchange Mitchell for numerous depth pieces to complement their star duo in a two-team trade or a different star player as part of a multi-team acquisition.
As always, trading a star player is a monumental task to accomplish in the middle of the NBA season. Should Mitchell ask to join the Nets or any other franchise, these conversations would almost certainly take place in the offseason after Mitchell refuses an extension two years in a row. All of these discussions could be fruitless if the All-Star does remain with the Cavaliers, but recognizing his non-answers and lack of long-term commitment is unavoidable.
For now, though, Donovan Mitchell has shown nothing but dedication to the Cavaliers both on the court and off the court. Mitchell is averaging 27.3 points, 5.5 assists (career high), 5.8 rebounds (career high) and 1.9 steals (career high) on the season. Against the Hawks, Mitchell recorded a single game career-high 13 assists. While Mitchell may be willing to part ways with Cleveland in time, he has made the most of every moment he has had since joining the ranks.