Facebook Twitter

Grading the Donovan Mitchell trade from every angle

A closer look at the deal that sent Jazz All-Star to the Cavs, which left the Knicks on the outside looking in

SHARE Grading the Donovan Mitchell trade from every angle
Fans pass behind Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell prior to game against Charlotte in Salt Lake City, Dec. 20, 2021.

Fans pass behind Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell prior to game against Charlotte at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Dec. 20, 2021. MItchell’s trade to Cleveland that went into finalizing stages on Thursday shocked the NBA world and changed the landscape of multiple teams.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Donovan Mitchell will be wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey.

The trade that went into finalizing stages on Thursday shocked the NBA world and changed the landscape of multiple teams. But does it make the Cavaliers better? Did the Utah Jazz get what they wanted? And, did the New York Knicks make a mistake?

Let’s look at this trade from every side, even the side that didn’t come away with anything.

New York Knicks — D-

There are two ways of looking at the Knicks not getting Donovan Mitchell.

The first is probably the way a lot of Knicks fans will want to look at things. New York didn’t give up the farm for a player who is not a top-five talent and they still have the assets to go after someone else down the road.

The second way of looking at things is not nearly as positive.

The Knicks haven’t had a player of Mitchell’s caliber since Carmelo Anthony. I think it’s important to remember what Anthony’s time with the Knicks was like though. They had multiple players who were past their prime, more people probably remember Anthony’s first season more because of Linsanity than they do Anthony, and the Knicks only made the playoffs three times during Anthony’s tenure. They lost twice in the first round and once in the second. That’s the legacy.

The Knicks got Anthony in a trade and haven’t been able to lure a top-level free agent to Madison Square Garden since. They need to have a team that not only is capable of winning but appeals to the rest of the players in the league. The Knicks, New York and MSG are destinations all on their own, so the reason that free agents are not lining up to play there has to be the team.

The current Knicks team, while not constructed perfectly, is younger and more versatile than many of the Knicks teams prior, but they are not a team that can win a title. Mitchell would not have made them instant title contenders. But, he would have made them more appealing to the kind of players that would catapult them into title contention.

The Knicks pursued Mitchell in what seemed like a tireless way for months, and they fully thought that trade discussions with the Jazz would start back up after they stalled out last week. But they were wrong. They didn’t get the guy they were going after and the Cavs swooped in, ready to make the deal that the Knicks weren’t.

If the Knicks had landed Mitchell, he would have very likely been willing to re-sign with the Knicks after his contract ends in 2025. The Knicks could have had Mitchell for as long as they wanted, the future could have been made easier if they had the kind of team that would attract other players. Instead, the Knicks are exactly where they were.

The Knicks are an OK team. They might make the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they missed the playoffs. They might make a deal for a star at some point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold out for too long and then are unable to convince someone to come save them.

Sources indicated during trade talks that there was a lot of disagreement within the Knicks front office about the package that was offered for Mitchell. One executive was unwilling to part with certain players, one executive was hesitant with unprotected picks, one executive wasn’t willing to budge, and one executive was trying to make sense of everyone not being on the same page. That doesn’t really inspire hope for the next time a negotiation is happening.

If the Knicks weren’t really invested in getting Mitchell, I might be willing to give them an OK grade here. But they wanted him and felt like they needed him and then they lost out on him. So the Knicks are getting a D-.

Utah Jazz — B+

It was clear from the moment the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert that they were prioritizing picks over everything else. They wanted draft capital. So negotiations with teams regarding Mitchell were likely to come down to the picks that were going to be included in a deal.

Draft assets are not all created equal, and any team that Mitchell was going to be traded to would have a chance of being a very good team for as long as Mitchell was there. So when the Jazz were negotiating with New York, they knew that any picks included in a package would probably not have a chance of being high picks because Mitchell would probably stay with the Knicks for the rest of his career and keep the Knicks just good enough to not be eligible for the lottery.

The Cleveland Cavaliers arguably offered a more intriguing draft package. When Mitchell’s current contract is up, there’s a much higher chance that he leaves Cleveland and chooses where he will play. There’s also a chance that some of the Cavs other young and bright stars decide to sign elsewhere. The Cavs are not a destination team and they are a team that could go through lull years, which could lead to very valuable draft picks.

Of course, none of this is guaranteed. The Cavaliers could be good for a very long time if their young core decides to stick around long term. Either way though, the Cavaliers were willing to part with the package that the Jazz wanted and were unable to get from the Knicks.

The Jazz come away from this deal with the No. 14 overall pick from the 2022 draft, Ochai Agbaji, and two other young players with a lot of untapped potential in Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton. Additionally, and probably most importantly, the Jazz receive three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029) and two unprotected pick swaps in 2026 and 2028.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Jazz won’t necessarily want to hit on all of the draft picks that they are racking up. Some of these will be used as capital in their own trades down the line and the fact that there are no protections will make them look even better to the next buyer.

The Jazz were not trying to get better, they were trying to get younger and to come away with some assets for future use and they accomplished all of that.

It can be argued that the players that were available in New York were better than the players that were available from the Cavaliers, but since the Jazz’s main priority was garnering the best asset package, they got exactly what they wanted.

It’s never going to feel like a perfect deal when you trade away a star player, but this feels like it’s about as close as the Jazz were going to get to feeling like they got an ideal return. That’s good enough for a B+.

Cleveland Cavaliers — B

Last year the Cavaliers already had two young All-Stars in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen. Evan Mobley was a runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors and he looks like the kind of player that is destined for All-Star appearances of his own.

On top of all that, the Cavs are now adding All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to the picture. Without a doubt, they upgraded their roster and they are going to be a massively fun team to watch. 

They did have to give up quite a bit. They swapped out a starter for Mitchell, losing Markkanen, they lost Agbaji, who they really liked and felt could help them pretty quickly, and they lost Sexton, who likely would have been one of the first subs off the bench.

They also gave up some serious draft capital. But the Cavaliers’ attitude here is admirable. They are banking on being good enough for long enough that losing those draft picks is not going to be the end of the world.

They’ve done a very good job of making smart deals and putting together a team that has a great culture and is really close to breaking into the top tier of the Eastern Conference and there’s a good chance that Mitchell could put them near the top.

When it comes to more specific on-court production, Mitchell adds shot creation along with pick-and-roll acumen that the Cavs were missing. When Garland wasn’t on the court last season, there wasn’t much creation and movement. Now, with Mitchell, the Cavs can almost constantly have an All-Star creator who can knock down a pull-up shot and run a smooth offense.

The Cavs’ defense does take a hit, but the Cavs are again betting on some of their own players taking another step forward this season.

There’s going to be a lot about this trade that time will tell. But on the surface, the Cavaliers gave up a little for the hope that a lot can come from it and that’s often how it has to go in the NBA. They get a solid B here.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell reacts at Vivint Arena

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell reacts at during a game against the Spurs at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. The Jazz All-Star guard was traded to the Cavs on Thursday.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News