Well, look at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
A franchise that has been moribund for nearly every year of the new millennium that did not include LeBron James may have just turned itself back into an Eastern Conference contender. One week before the start of the NFL season, the Cavs sent a shockwave throughout the sports world by being the team that pulled off the Donovan Mitchell trade.
Acquiring Mitchell from the Utah Jazz, meant the Cavs were going to have to negotiate with Danny Ainge. And by negotiate, I mean, be ready to give Ainge a kidney and a firstborn child. The price for Mitchell was set when the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and received three rotation players, three unprotected first-round picks, and two pick swaps.
The Mitchell trade also cost the Cavs three unprotected first-round selections and two pick swaps, and also Colin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and their 2022 first-round pick, Ochair Agbaji, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
That is quite a haul for a player who is under 6-foot-5 and in five seasons has never been named to an All-NBA team. However, putting him in a starting five with Evan Mobley and Darius Garland can turn a team that lost in the play-in tournament last season into a juggernaut.
Scottie Barnes deserved Rookie of the Year in 2022, but the star of last season’s NBA rookie class is going to be Mobley. He averaged 15 points per game and 8.3 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting, but that doesn’t tell nearly the whole story. Mobley has all the makings of a player who could one day be top-five in the NBA.
He’s a 7-footer with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, and moves on the court like a small forward. Quick off his feet, great lateral quickness, and he’s also already one of the better rim protectors in the league. It doesn’t take long watching Mobley on a court to tell that he has a bright NBA future. With Jarrett Allen also in the frontcourt, those two can cover up for much of whatever Garland and Mitchell don’t do on defense.
Pairing Mitchell with Garland in the backcourt gives the Cavs a monster two-headed on-the-ball attack. When James and Kyrie Irving were teammates, defenses were at the Cavs’ mercy because they had two players who were arguably the best in the NBA with the ball in their hands. Mitchell and Garland aren’t that, but they will still be dangerous. Mitchell can get to the basket on anybody and is also a career 36 percent shooter from three. He’s the type of player that can produce several 30-50 point games in a playoff series. There is a ton of talent in the NBA, but only a small percentage of players are able to score like that.
After an up-and-down rookie season, and missing a lot of time in his second due to injury, in 2021-22 Garland showed why he was selected fifth overall in 2019. He averaged 21.7 points per game and 8.6 assists on 46.2/38.3/89.2 shooting splits. Garland made his first all-star team last year, and with him running the offense the Cavs finished the year with their best record without James since the 1997-98 season — Shawn Kemp’s last as an All-Star.
Keeping the same roster and trusting that it would gradually improve would’ve been a good choice for the Cavs, but this trade shows they want to contend immediately. Their depth took a hit, but they still have Caris Levert, Cedi Osman, Raul Neto, Issac Okoro for more help on defense, and Kevin Love. Since James and Irving left, Love has been disengaged, but with him being a free agent after this season, and the Cavs’ strong starting lineup, put your bets in now for Love to win Sixth-Man of the Year.
Koby Altman and the Cavs took a humongous swing with this Mitchell trade, but even after all they gave up, their current roster looks complete. Dominant, long, young talent in the front court and an attacking backcourt that is a threat from behind the arc. There’s going to be some exciting basketball in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.