CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cavaliers president Koby Altman got it right when he said the Donovan Mitchell deal was “perhaps the biggest trade in franchise history.”
Three first-round picks and three players (Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji) in Utah for Mitchell is the largest in terms of assets traded. The team made two franchise-changing trades when the Cavs acquired Brad Daugherty and Mark Price in the 1986 draft.
But this trade is huge. This is a bet due to the future first rounds (2025, 2027 and 2029) being traded. Markkanen and Sexton will likely leave for Utah.
I asked Altman about the high price of Mitchell, a 24-point career scorer.
“He’s a 26-year-old, three-time All-Star,” he said. “It gets pretty simple, right? Basically, 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 draft situation:
1. Altman knows the Cavs likely won’t have a first-round pick in 2023. That pick will go to Indiana as part of the Caris LeVert deal, assuming the Cavs make the playoffs.
2. For the rest of the decade, the Cavs will have first-round picks in 2024, 2026 and 2028.
3. Unless they get another first-round pick, they won’t be able to trade any of those picks due to Ted Stepien’s rule. This prevents a team from not having a first round for two consecutive years.
That’s why Altman also admitted that trading “comes with pain.”
But as coach JB Bickerstaff told me after the press conference: “Getting Donovan is a given.”
The Cavs lost and drafted. Over the past five years they have picked Sexton (2018), Darius Garland (2019), Isaac Okoro (2020), Evan Mobley (2021) and Agbaji (2022) in the first round.
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 in this accolade.
Mitchell is a three-time All-Star. They are four key players under the age of 26 or under.
“We’re super young and the schedule suits us to bring this caliber of player with this group,” Altman said. “I think we’ve earned the opportunity to try and compete with the best in the world.”
IT’S TIME TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP
The Cavs were 44-38 last season. It was their first winning record without LeBron James since 1997-98. Altman wants to secure a top spot in the playoffs.
“When you simplify it, is Donovan Mitchell going to make us a better basketball team? – Yes!” said Altman. “How can we do this? You’re going through the pain, but I think we’re all really happy and excited about what we can do.
Bickerstaff was all in, although he knows he’ll have to figure out how to play with a pair of 6-foot-1 guards who both like to handle the ball. It didn’t go well with Garland and Sexton, but Mitchell is the better player.
“You add a guy at that level and you start foaming at the mouth,” Bickerstaff told me. “You feel you have the chance to do something special.”
Altman and Bickerstaff emphasized Mitchell’s character.
“How he performs in the community and impacts 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 ‘people over talent’ remark means bringing in a gifted player who has attitude issues. Mitchell is not in this category. He came across as caring, gracious, and excited to be with Cleveland.
PLAYOFFS AND MORE
“Donovan has the ability to rise to the occasion and play in the moment,” Bickerstaff said. “How many guys have numbers that go up in the playoffs, especially at a young age?”
Over his six NBA seasons, Mitchell averaged 23.9 points. In 39 playoff games, it’s 28.3. Twice he scored 50 points in a playoff game.
I asked Bickerstaff who would be the small forward in the roster with 7-foot Allen and Mobley as well as 6-foot-1 guards Mitchell and Garland.
The coach wasn’t sure. He talked about the clashes and the time it took to figure it out. They have candidates like Okoro, LeVert and Cedi Osman.
If they want a big lineup, there’s Kevin Love and Dean Wade. Bickerstaff said Love “is really excited” about Donovan’s trade.
“We have quality guys who can come off the bench like Kevin Love,” he said. “If you can keep two or three of your top six players on the pitch at all times and have some of your starters playing substitutes, that gives you an advantage.”
My feeling is that fifth place can vary depending on the opposition and the performance of the different candidates.
“There’s a lead here,” Altman said. “I don’t want anyone to think that this year we have to be in contention or bankrupt. It is not what it is. It’s a real track here for these guys to grow together, learn to play together.
That’s why it will take a few years to find out if this was indeed a franchise trade for the Cavs. It’s good news. Because with such a young group, it will take a little patience.
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