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The Utah Jazz Won the Donovan Mitchell Trade

Almost two years ago, the Cavaliers mortgaged their future for that dreamy mansion with a glistening pool.

Nobody has been interested in swimming in Cleveland, and now the poolkeeper has lost his job.

The pricey Donovan Mitchell acquisition from the Jazz in September of 2022 hasn’t yet qualified as a disaster for the Cavaliers. The pool still levitates most floaties. Though it initially appeared to be a big splash, the Mitchell era is looking more and more like a dive-turned-bellyflop. 

Blessed with an up-and-coming frontcourt, the Cavaliers thought a superstar guard to complement Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley could fast-forward a 44-win team in 2022 into Eastern Conference contention. And they’ve been proven correct.

After not having sniffed the postseason in the wake of LeBron II, Cleveland won 51 games in 2023, then captured a playoff series this past April.

Sounds good, but May’s second-round playoff loss said more about the current state of the Cavaliers than anything that came before it. Quite simply, the Mitchell men weren’t in the same stratosphere as Boston and won’t be until they make additional upgrades.

And therein lies the problem. The best Cleveland could do in the 2023 offseason was acquire Max Strus in a trade. And so far this off-season… changing coaches and extending Mitchell’s contract equates to skimming the top of the water.

That pool is no hunk-magnet.

Consider the 76ers and Knicks have taken gigantic strides toward demonstrating they might compete near the Celtics’ level next season. And Cleveland looks like a team you want to draw in the first round of the playoffs. Good, but certainly not LeBron-good.

It’s also worth noting that the Cavaliers actually won fewer regular-season games last year (48) than the year before (51). So does a seven-game playoff survival over the Orlando Magic really indicate the elevator is still going up?

Mitchell is sticking around for at least three more years, which is good news. But it does cap the Cavaliers—like most good teams—for years to come, meaning their imperative talent importation will have to arrive via a trade or the mid-level exception.

Remember, the draft is no longer an option. Not that this year’s pick—a guy who averaged 1.8 points at Texas three years ago—has opponents scripting new defensive schemes.

A quantity-for-quality trade requires depth, an area in which the Cavaliers are seriously lacking, which leaves the NBA’s transfer portal, aka the role-player exception. Alas, landing a big fish requires a big hook, and not only has Mitchell proven not to be capable of talking a difference-maker into taking a discount, but the city of Cleveland ain’t exactly Miami when it comes to destination sites.

No pressure, Kenny Atkinson, but the Bucks, Pacers, Heat, and Magic likely all believe they’re ahead of the Cavaliers in the 2025 Eastern Final Four line. If even one is right and a first-round playoff exit without home-court advantage is the result, the Cavaliers will find themselves in the deep end without fins.

And that’s why Danny Ainge is all smiles these days in Utah. He not only pried Lauri Markkanen in the Mitchell deal but also got first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029, as well as the right to swap first-round spots in the years in between.

Mix in six top-32 picks from the last two drafts, their own first-rounders for the foreseeable future, at least two No. 1’s from the Timberwolves and likely one from the Lakers, and… well, the Jazz potentially have a future.

And if they do, it’ll come at the Cavaliers’ expense.

Utah won the Mitchell trade.

It doesn’t matter how much Cooper Flagg wants to play in Boston. If he’s drafted by the Jazz next June, he’ll be planting his flag in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, if the Cavaliers want Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry or some other disgruntled superstar at the trade deadline… having Donovan Mitchell hand out Hunting Valley brochures at the All-Star Game will be a waste of time.

Kinda like printing future Cavalier playoff tickets.

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