CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cavaliers President Koby Altman is right when he said the deal with Donovan Mitchell is “perhaps the biggest deal in franchise history.”
Three first-round picks and three players (Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji) to Utah for Mitchell are the largest in terms of assets traded. The team made two franchise swap deals when the Cavs acquired Brad Daugherty and Mark Price during the 1986 draft.
But this trade is huge. It is a gamble because the future first rounds (2025, 2027 and 2029) are traded. Markkanen and Sexton will likely start for Utah.
I asked Altman about the hefty price tag for Mitchell, a career 24-point scorer.
“It’s a 26-year-old, three-time All-Star,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty easy, isn’t it? At its core, my job is to bring the best talent to Cleveland, and I’m sitting next to one of the best players in the world.”
Let’s look at the design situation:
1. Altman knows the Cavs likely won’t have a first-round pick in 2023. That pick will go to Indiana in the Caris LeVert deal, assuming the Cavs make the playoffs.
2. For the remainder of the decade, the Cavs will have 2024, 2026, and 2028 first-round picks.
3. Until they receive another first round pick, they cannot trade any of these picks due to the Ted Stepien Rule. This prevents a team from not having a first-round player two years in a row.
Because of this, Altman also admitted that trading “comes with pain.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
But as coach JB Bickerstaff told me after the press conference, “Getting Donovan is a no-brainer.”
The Cavs lost and drafted. Over the past five years, they have first-round selected Sexton (2018), Darius Garland (2019), Isaac Okoro (2020), Evan Mobley (2021), and Agbaji (2022).
They also used a first-round pick they acquired from Milwaukee to trade for Jarrett Allen in 2020. Allen and Garland are already All-Stars. They rightly believe that Mobley will soon join them for this award.
Mitchell is a three-time All-Star. That’s four key players aged 26 or younger.
“We’re super young and the schedule is right to bring this caliber of players into this group,” Altman said. “I think we deserve the opportunity to compete with the best in the world.”
TIME FOR THE NEXT STEP
The Cavs were 44-38 last season. That was her first winning record without LeBron James since 1997-98. Altman wants to secure a permanent spot in the playoffs.
“If you simplify this, will Donovan Mitchell make us a better basketball team? – Yes!” Altmann said. “How do we do that? You go through the pain, but I think we’re all really happy and excited about what we can do.”
Bickerstaff was all in despite knowing he has to figure out how to play with two 6ft 1 guards, both of whom enjoy handling the ball. That didn’t work well for Garland and Sexton, but Mitchell is the superior player.
“You add a guy at that level and you start frothing at the mouth,” Bickerstaff told me. “You have the feeling of being able to achieve something special.”
Altman and Bickerstaff emphasized Mitchell’s character.
“How he behaves in the community and works for others is important,” Bickerstaff said. “When you don’t have to sacrifice people for talent, you give yourself the opportunity to build something special.”
The notion “people over talent” means using a talented player with attitude problems. Mitchell doesn’t fall into that category. He seemed thoughtful, kind, and excited to be with Cleveland.
THE PLAYOFFS AND MORE
“Donovan has the ability to face the situation and play in the moment,” Bickerstaff said. “How many guys have numbers going up in the playoffs, especially at a young age?”
In his six NBA seasons, Mitchell has averaged 23.9 points. It’s 28.3 in 39 playoff games. Twice he has scored 50 points in a playoff game.
I asked Bickerstaff who the small forward will be in the lineup with 7-footers Allen and Mobley and 6-foot-1 guards Mitchell and Garland.
The coach wasn’t sure. He talked about matchups and how much time it takes to figure it out. You have candidates like Okoro, LeVert and Cedi Osman.
If they want a big cast, there’s Kevin Love and Dean Wade. Bickerstaff said Love was “really excited” about the trade for Donovan.
“We have quality starters who can come off the bench like Kevin Love,” he said. “If you can keep two or three of your top six players grounded at all times and some of your starters can play against backups, that’s an advantage.”
My impression is that fifth place can vary depending on the opponent and the performance of the different candidates.
“There’s an airstrip here,” Altman said. “I don’t want anyone to think we have to be controversial or broke this year. That’s not it. This is a real catwalk for these guys to grow together and learn how to play together.”
Because of this, it will be a few years before anyone knows if this was actually a franchise-switching trade for the Cavs. That is good news. With such a young group, patience is required.
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