H/T Rick Bowmer/AP for the picture
On Thursday afternoon it was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski that Donovan Mitchell is headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. This trade came out of the blue, as many expected the Knicks and Jazz to strike a deal until Monday when the Knicks signed RJ Barrett to a max contract extension of $120 million over four years. This really put the nail in the coffin of New Yorkers hoping they could land the dominant shooting guard out of Louisville.
The headline has been how major of a miss this could be for the Knicks, but who cares about that? That ship sailed four days ago, and now it is an especially exciting time in Cleveland. Let's take a look at both sides of the trade as I make my case that this could be a rare win/win deal when we look back on this trade ten years from now.
It has been well known across the league ever since the Rudy Gobert deal that Danny Ainge is piecing together another war chest of picks. He had a similar strategy in Boston that has panned out nicely over time as Boston was on the brink of an NBA Championship two months ago. The problem in Utah is how historically difficult it has been for small market teams to land a big star in free agency. In the current NBA market, you have to either dish out an ungodly amount of picks as the Cleveland Cavaliers did for Mitchell, or you have to get lucky and hit on several draft picks over time.
Utah received Cleveland's 2025, 2027, and 2029 unprotected first-round picks, along with two pick swaps in 2026 and 2028, and Cleveland's first-round pick this year in Ochai Agbaji. Lauri Markannen is an additional underrated asset that Utah acquired in the deal, as well as the rights to Collin Sexton who immediately signed a four-year deal with the Jazz. Let's get back to the Jazz in a minute. Is Donovan Mitchell worth all of these assets to Cleveland?
The Case for Cleveland Winning the Trade
The answer is yes. Yes, the Cavaliers potentially overpaid for Mitchell. We will not know what they gave up until a long time from now, but we can rate the current assets they shipped as well as what those picks may now look like with a bright future ahead. Donovan Mitchell is signed for the next three to four years, and will not have even turned 30 years old by the time he hits unrestricted free agency. The Cavaliers can confidently say they will be able to have Mitchell through 2024-2025, and if he picks up his player option the following season that is four years of Mitchell.
The importance of Mitchell sticking around for four years is massive. The Cavaliers have All-Star point guard Darius Garland locked down through the 2027-2028 season and All-Star center Jarrett Allen's deal runs through the 2025-2026 season like Mitchell's potentially does. Pair these three big salaries with Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley whose rookie deal runs through 2024-2025, and I would argue you have the best group of four star-caliber players of any roster in the NBA.
Now you may be thinking, what does this look like financially? It could get really tight if these guys like playing together and Mobley wants to get his bag of money when his rookie deal expires in three years. This is where I think the Cavaliers will largely benefit from the NBA cap space continuing to rise. The NBA salary cap is rising this season from $112 million last year to $123 million this season. It is projected that by the time the collective bargaining agreement is renewed, the NBA salary cap could be as large as $171 million by 2025 according to Forbes. Oh wow, what perfect timing for our friend Evan Mobley whose rookie deal completes that year.
H/T AP Photo/Seth Wenig for the photo
As it stands today the Cavaliers bench appears to be deep, but a lot of the deals will expire after this coming season and that is when things will get tight. Cleveland brought back Ricky Rubio who looked great as their backup point guard until he got hurt. Caris LeVert is still in town on a larger deal than he will probably see next summer, and Kevin Love should return after finding his new role in Cleveland as an impressive role player. Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman are still big question marks moving forward, but if Okoro can grow as a defender he will provide excellent cover alongside Mobley and Jarrett Allen who were great defensively for the Cavs.
The challenge for Cleveland will be finding key bench players and a defensive-minded small forward. They still have their first-round pick in 2023 and 2024, which provides them two more shots at landing a 3-and-D wing in the draft. The problem there is that in the previous two NBA Drafts these 3-and-D players have skyrocketed up team's draft boards more than most of your favorite Mock Drafts may have had these guys landing. I believe Cleveland can figure it out as they have the hard work done of fielding the strongest group of four players in the league. This surely justified for them that their 2025 first-rounder and 2026 pick swap would be no big deal. Now the biggest questions are how will they fill the bench appropriately after this season, and will they keep these stars around for a long time to make sure the draft capital they spent was fine to give away?
The Case for Utah Winning the Trade
Utah got their war chest for Rudy Gobert, and now they have a king's ransom for Donovan Mitchell too. Danny Ainge has had a clear objective since taking the helm in Utah, and his objective has been clear: gather as many picks as possible to give Utah the potential to find the NBA's next big superstar. The Jazz now have three first-round picks in 2023, three first-round picks in 2025, three first-round picks in 2027, and three first-round picks in 2029 with Minnesota's being lightly protected if it lands in picks 1 through 5 that year. On top of this, Utah has a three-way pick swap in 2026 where they can pick between the best first-rounder of theirs, Cleveland's, or Minnesota's, and a 2028 pick swap with Cleveland as well. For those of you who don't have your calculators in front of you or don't have enough fingers to count, that is 14 first-round picks from 2023 through 2029.
I was surprised that Utah did not try to go for Cleveland's 2023 first-rounder, but as I highlighted above it made a lot of sense for Cleveland to keep both their 2023 and 2024 first's as they are going to need to draft their bench unit and maintain those guys on rookie deals while they pay the big bucks to their four stars. The trade does not stop there for Utah though, as they acquired Cleveland's 2022 draft selection in Ochai Agbaji, as well as Lauri Markannen and Collin Sexton.
The Jazz acquiring Ochai Agabi and Walker Kessler from Cleveland and Minnesota respectively gives them youth to start working on immediately. Both of these guys did not show the biggest promise that their games would translate to the NBA right away, but their dominance at the college level warrants some respect. Utah will give these two the chance to play decent minutes as rookies, and they may get significant run as the Jazz are a prime tanking candidate in 2023.
Lauri Markannen was believed by Bulls fans to be a star after they did not know who this Finnish kid was that their franchise drafted back in 2017. Markannen had a tough stretch of injuries after his rookie season and saw his scoring average go down in 2020 and 2021 before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers after signing a new deal in Chicago. Cleveland gave Lauri the resurgence he was looking for, as he was an excellent compliment to Mobley and Allen playing as a 6 foot 10 small forward last season while everyone was healthy. Now he joins a front court of Walker Kessler and Jarred Vanderbilt in Utah where the Jazz could still give Lauri some run at the 3, but he will surely thrive at the 4-spot too.
Lauri is not a long-term play for the Jazz, but from a fantasy basketball standpoint, he could get some nice run depending on how the minutes shake out with Agbaji and Vanderbilt. He has averaged over 2 three-pointers per game over his five seasons in the league and is still only 25 years old. Lauri is not the most intriguing fantasy asset though, as everyone wants to talk about Collin Sexton and his new home in Utah.
I have a lot of thoughts on Collin Sexton. I respect him as a scorer, and he was fun to watch in Cleveland when they were not very good. He averaged 24.3 points per game in his third season, before tearing his meniscus last year after 11 games. We won't really know what he would have looked like in Cleveland alongside their new group of stars as Garland took that massive step forward last season toward All-Star level, and Mobley and Allen were just beginning their dominance in the front court. But I do not think he is going to be some must-have fantasy player in Utah.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
First of all, Sexton will get a similar usage rate in Utah as he did his first three seasons in Cleveland. He is arguably their best player if Utah decides to trade Conley and Clarkson, and honestly, I'd take Sexton over Clarkson if we are looking at pure scoring numbers. But Sexton does not give you as many threes as you would like from your best shooting guard, only averaging 1.5 over his career. On top of this, what other stats does he give you? He is above average at FT%, but doesn't provide assists, FG%, rebounds, steals, blocks, or anything for that matter besides points.
Finally, I don't know why some people are high on Sexton now when the rest of the league was not for the past two months. Collin Sexton has been a restricted free agent for the last two months and nobody out of the 30 teams in the league had given him an offer. That is crazy to me that he did not get anything at all, and it is a red flag. Utah did not hesitate to sign him to a solid four-year deal, as they are going to tank no matter what. Somebody has to score on this Utah team, so it may as well be Sexton. He could be a great add in fantasy basketball points leagues, but besides that, I am probably staying away in categories.
Cleveland Cavaliers Fantasy Outlook
Cleveland is going to be a lot of fun this coming season in fantasy basketball. It is easy to assume that all four star players may take a fantasy hit this season, but I am not fully on board with that thought. Let's jump into the case for all four guys.
Darius Garland is the easiest player to pinpoint as someone who may take a hit. I think it is totally fair to assume that Garland's points per game may go down a few. Last season, Garland averaged 21.7 points per game, and I would not be surprised to see this regress closer to his 2021 numbers of 17.4 per game. However, what Garland loses in points I believe he will potentially gain in assists. He is only entering his fourth year in the league, and his game should continue to grow. Garland averaged 8.6 assists last season, which was 6th highest in the league. An impressive number that may improve even further with more mouths to feed the ball to in Cleveland now.
Donovan Mitchell is a hard one to gauge. I think Mitchell's assist numbers may take a very small hit of half an assist to a full assist per game, but the steals, threes, and points I really don't see changing all too much as he should be the number one option in Cleveland. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley may share the same points hit that Garland will take on of about 2-3 points per game, but Mitchell does not affect their game as much as he will Garland's as Darius ran the show at guard once Sexton went down, and did exceptionally well.
From a Dynasty standpoint, I do not believe any of these four players on the Cavs take a hit. All of them are still so incredibly young, and only a bit of their fantasy stock has been altered now. Overall I believe all four guys should be top 60 to 70 fantasy assets, with Mitchell and Garland leading the way in the Top 30 to 40 range. If things go south in 2 to 3 years and one of the stars ends up leaving, then they still have tons of run left at a dominant level because of their age.
Photo by Rick Osentoski/Getty Images
Best Bets Following the Trade
I was already looking heavily into the Cleveland Cavaliers win total of 42.5 before the trade happened on Thursday. Following the news, the Cavaliers win total has moved up to 46.5, which I am still in favor of. The Eastern Conference is the deepest it has been in a long time, which puts the Cavaliers win total as the sixth highest win total tied with the Hawks. The Raptors and Bulls are just behind them at 45.5 wins and 44.5 wins respectively, putting them at eighth and ninth by the bookmakers.
I still love the Cavaliers win total to go over this season. You can make the argument that once again the Eastern Conference will beat up on one another, and that this Cavaliers team may need some time to gel with a new star in town. I would argue that I do not think the team figuring each other out is going to be an issue. These guys did not spend a ton of time together heading into the beginning of last season and were able to figure each other out quickly. The Jarrett Allen injury derailed a lot of this squad's progress, and they did level out a bit towards the second half of the season. This roster has depth heading into the 2023 season with Rubio, Levert, and Love coming off the bench. Osman and Okoro have some work to do, but are not net negatives to the squad. This team should be able to go 6 games above .500 to hit the 47 win total mark or greater, and I will gladly play this one for two units.
The Play: Cleveland Cavaliers o46.5 Wins -120 - 2 Units
I am comfortable sitting back and letting some more moves play out for the Utah Jazz before we do anything to fade this team. With a win total as low as 25.5, you really do not know what is going to happen as the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes go down for the first overall draft pick in 2023. Stay tuned throughout September and early October as we prepare for the NBA season. I will have NBA win totals for each conference, and should have more NBA content coming your way! Let me know what you think about the Donovan Mitchell trade in the comments below, and feel free to bring the convesation to Twitter @AndyHHSports.
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