What is going on in Utah? Two months to the day after the Utah Jazz sent three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves, his former teammate Donovan Mitchell is on the move, as well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired the three-time All-Star from the Jazz in exchange for forward Lauri Markkanen, rookie wing Ochai Agbaji, guard Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028). Sexton will join the Jazz on a four-year, $72 million sign-and-trade deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
While the New York Knicks were the front-runner in the Mitchell sweepstakes, the Cavaliers stepped in on Monday night as the Knicks “temporarily walked away” from trade talks, according to Wojnarowski.
Mitchell will join a Cavaliers team that includes 2022 All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, along with Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley. Are the Cavs a contender now that Mitchell is in Cleveland?
Are the Knicks the biggest loser in the deal? What’s next for Danny Ainge and the Jazz? Our insiders break down the implications of the deal between the Jazz and Cavs.
1. Who is the biggest loser in the Donovan Mitchell trade?
Tim Bontemps: The middle tier of the Eastern Conference. After putting the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in some order at the top of the standings, there are now six teams — the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers — fighting for five remaining playoff spots. The days of the “Leastern Conference” are long gone. And there will be a lot of ramifications moving forward, depending on who is able to live up to their expectations.
Jamal Collier: Oh, Knicks. What happened here? New York seemed like the clear destination for Mitchell all along, so to come away with nothing while watching another team in the East improve and position themselves to finish ahead in the standings doesn’t really inspire optimism for next season.
Stephen A. Smith expresses his frustration with the Knicks not landing Donovan Mitchell.
Nick Friedell: Utah. Can you imagine being a Jazz season ticket holder right now? Woof. Wake me up in a few years when they might be relevant again. The picks are cool to look at on paper, but it’s the fans who suffer most in the short-term when deals like these go down. It would be easy to say the Knicks lost here, but where were they actually going if they’d landed Mitchell? Especially when you consider all they would have given up to get him.
Andrew Lopez: Jazz fans could be in for some rough basketball in the near future. The Jazz traded away Mitchell and Gobert this offseason, both All-Stars a year ago. Sure, Utah now has a treasure trove of picks over the next seven years, but this is only the second time since 1977 that a team has had two All-Stars change teams the following offseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last time? When Oklahoma City traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook in 2019.
Bobby Marks: For right now it is Evan Mobley. Because the Cavaliers signed Darius Garland to a designated rookie extension and acquired a player in Donovan Mitchell that signed the same extension in Utah, Mobley is not allowed to sign a five-year rookie max extension in the 2024 offseason. He is allowed to sign a four-year extension or wait until the 2025 offseason to sign a five-year contract as a restricted free agent.
2. Where does the Mitchell/Garland back court rank in the East?
Marks: From an offensive standpoint, the combination of Mitchell and Garland is the best in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland has two closers in both players that can carry a team offensively. Of course, there is a liability on the defensive end, but the frontcourt of Mobley and Allen should provide a defensive presence to camouflage those deficiencies.
Friedell: They’re really good, but that team still isn’t beating the Bucks or Celtics in a seven-game series. I’d still take the Heat — and if they could somehow stay healthy and on track — the Nets, as well. Cavs-Sixers would be a fun series. Mitchell and Garland make a strong backcourt, but backcourts alone don’t advance in the postseason by themselves.
Bontemps: If we’re strictly talking about the two starting backcourt players for all 15 Eastern Conference teams, I think the answer is second, behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray in Atlanta. If James Harden returns to the MVP version of himself, perhaps he and Tyrese Maxey get ahead of them, too. Regardless, it’s a heck of a lot better than what Cleveland had yesterday.
Collier: On first thought, I like the other new backcourt in the East (Atlanta) better, but this certainly puts them in the conversation among the top groups in the conference. I’m excited to watch Mitchell and Garland score a lot of points.
Lopez: They have a legitimate argument for being a top-three back court. Garland is coming off a career season averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists during his first All-Star campaign, while Mitchell averaged 25.9 points a night. That’s 47.6 points a night combined — a number no qualified backcourt (sorry, eight games of Kyrie Irving and Harden) in the league hit last season. Both players were also in the All-Star Game last season. The only other Eastern Conference team that can say that is Atlanta.
3. What is Cleveland’s ceiling now?
Collier: The Cavs should consider themselves a top-six playoff team next year and set themselves up to avoid the play-in tournament, at the very least. But the East is so good and I’m not sure this puts them on the level with the top four from last year — Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami — and whatever you make of Brooklyn. But if the Cavs win enough regular-season games to get the right matchup, they can win a playoff series.
Friedell: Second round of the East playoffs. I think they can win a series, but they aren’t beating a healthy Milwaukee or Boston group.
Marks: Cleveland will certainly improve, considering that a 44-win team swapped Markkanen for an All-Star. But this trade does not guarantee that the Cavaliers will avoid the play-in tournament or even compete for a top-four seed. It does, however, give them a stronger chance to compete with the likes of the Bucks, Nets, Heat, 76ers and Celtics.
Lopez: This was an all-in move for Cleveland. With Mitchell and Garland running things on the perimeter, and Mobley and Allen protecting the rim, an Eastern Conference finals run wouldn’t be out of the question — although competition in the East will be stiff.
Bontemps: I think it is home court in the first round and potentially a first-round series win. Thursday morning, I would’ve had Cleveland as a firm ninth. Now? The Cavaliers could be as high as fourth. Last year, the Cavaliers were 20th in offense and fifth in defense, and they essentially swapped Markkanen for Mitchell in terms of roster players from last season. They have a real chance of being a top-10 team in offense and defense. Four teams did that last year: Boston, Memphis, Phoenix and Utah.
Friedell: Does it matter? The rebuild is on and the tanks are out now. The answer here is whichever player Danny Ainge can get the most picks for.
Bontemps: All of the above. It’s abundantly clear what the Jazz are doing: stripping this thing down to the studs, securing as many bites at the NBA Draft apple as they can get and doing everything in their power to tank for Victor Wembanyama. We have seen this playbook from Danny Ainge before. So I don’t know which of those guys will be dealt first, but I’ll be surprised if they aren’t all gone by February, at the latest.
Lopez: All three figure to be on their way out of Salt Lake City. Bogdanovic may be on the move considering he’s on an expiring contract while Conley ($24.4 million in 2023-24, $14.3 guaranteed) and Clarkson ($14.3 million player option for 2023-24) have longer deals. The 33-year-old Bogdanovic was consistent over his time in Utah, averaging 18.4 points and shooting just under 40% from three in 204 games over the last three seasons. Bogdanovic, currently playing for Croatia in EuroBasket, may have a new team by the time he gets back stateside.
Collier: Both Conley and Bogdanovic seem like their days are numbered, but Bogdanovic especially considering teams are constantly looking for a big wing player that can shoot from 3. I do feel for Utah Jazz fans, who are going to have one of their worst squads in a while.
Marks: Conley and Bogdanovic. The next call for Danny Ainge should be to Rob Pelinka to offer both players for Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-round picks.
5. Bold prediction:
Collier: Mitchell’s Cavs are going to win more playoff series than Gobert’s Timberwolves.
Bontemps: I’ll say the Cavaliers finish in the top 10 in the NBA in offense and defense, for the reasons I cited above. It’s been 30 years since Cleveland won a playoff series without LeBron James on the roster. I don’t know if I’m willing to say Cleveland can do that, but they’ll at least be good enough to give it a real shot — something the Cavaliers weren’t close to before this deal.
Friedell: I actually think Markkanen will do well in Utah. There’s not going to be much pressure on him, given how big a rebuild this is becoming — and he’ll get plenty of shots up in an offense where there aren’t a lot of difference makers. It’s a low-stress spot for a prospect who still hasn’t been able to live up to his potential and find the consistency he needs in his game night after night.
Lopez: There will be multiple drafts this decade where the Jazz and Thunder walk away with two of the top three picks — and it won’t just be because of their records that season.
Marks: Cleveland will have three players in the All-Star game in February: Garland, Mitchell and Mobley. Ironically, the game is in Utah.