July 22, 2024

Cavs’ gamble on Donovan Mitchell pays off, and city of Cleveland is the big winner

Less than three months after the Cavaliers traded for Donovan Mitchell, I began hearing rumors swirling around his future.

He doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. He wants to be in New York. This isn’t going to last. The Cavs will eventually have to trade him. 

Powerful agents, executives from other teams, and even players around the league whom I spoke to all agreed. The idea of Mitchell remaining in Cleveland long term just didn’t seem feasible to anyone who actually worked in the league.

That’s what makes Tuesday such a significant milestone for the Cavs and the city of Cleveland. The trade for Mitchell may have been the single-biggest gamble in the history of the franchise. His signature on a three-year, $150 million extension this week made it all pay off.



Donovan Mitchell agrees to 3-year contract extension

Regardless of what happens from here, the Cavs won the Donovan Mitchell trade. That doesn’t mean Utah lost. Both sides can be happy with the outcome. But the Cavs took a far greater gamble and won.

First the disclaimers: The fact Mitchell signed for two seasons plus a player option is simply good business. He is eligible for free agency now after his 10th season in the league, which will net him a larger portion of the salary cap (35 percent vs. 30 percent) as a 10-year vet. By the time Mitchell reaches free agency, the cap could be upwards of $190 million. The difference between 30 percent of that cap and 35 percent is quite significant.

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Also, signing this extension does not ensure he remains in Cleveland for the length of the deal. It has become standard practice for guys to take the money when it’s offered, such as Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and Mitchell in Utah, and then force your way out later if necessary. A trade in future years is always possible once the checks have cleared. That’s not important today.

What matters right now is that Mitchell’s signing allows the Cavs to breathe a bit. When I first posed the question to one high-ranking Cavs official shortly after Mitchell arrived, about his desires to be in New York, the response wasn’t that such talk was absurd. It was that the Cavs knew the risks when they made the trade. And they pushed all in anyway.

Koby Altman took a massive risk with this trade. The Cavs’ trajectory may have been a year early for such a bold move, but it’s impossible to predict when stars are going to become available. Bradley Beal was the star on the move last season. Who would you rather have? Mitchell or Beal? It isn’t even close.

Mitchell’s age, position and skill set fit perfectly with what the Cavs needed. So they swallowed hard, pushed all in for Mitchell and trusted that their culture and two years was enough time to convince him to stay.

Had Mitchell told them this summer he wasn’t interested in an extension, it could have been disastrous. Sure, the Cavs would’ve recouped some assets in a Mitchell trade. But a Mitchell trade out of Cleveland would’ve meant the Cavs surrendered the next five years of control of their draft for a player no longer here. One rival executive, before this year’s trade deadline, described it as a wrecking ball headed toward the Cavs if they didn’t get an extension out of him. It’s the type of risk that get guys fired.

Instead, Altman and the Cavs withstood two years of speculation and held firm in their beliefs they could get Mitchell to stay.



LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers’ past, present and future

The Knicks took themselves out of the race when Jalen Brunson emerged as a star and they pivoted to use their trade assets to acquire OG Anunoby. Brooklyn is a mess and rebuilding, eliminating both New York teams.

Who else could give Mitchell a better chance to win? By the time the Cavs eliminated Orlando and advanced to the second round, the Cavs could officially point to progress. They were a first-round playoff team last year and a conference semifinalist now. The arrow was pointing up.

Mitchell has equity here. He gets a seat at the table. He had a vote in the dismissal of J.B. Bickerstaff and he gave his blessing on Kenny Atkinson. He’ll likely have a voice in future personnel decisions. It’s the price of doing business for small-market teams like the Cavs.

Furthermore, Mitchell’s signing continues a trend of the Cavs convincing players to come to (or stay) in Cleveland. For 15 years, all the talk has been about how free agents won’t come here and stars won’t stay.

Well, Max Strus is not an NBA superstar, but his signing last summer felt significant. He was an impact free agent on the market last summer with multiple offers. He chose to come here. Now Mitchell has followed that up with the most significant signing yet.

LeBron James had personal reasons for coming back in 2014. Mitchell chose to stay because he’s comfortable here and the roster offers him the best chance to contend.

The new collective bargaining agreement is intended to prevent super teams from forming in the league’s most desirable markets. Parity is the league’s 31st franchise, and Mitchell’s presence keeps the Cavs in contention for the foreseeable future.

It’s a win for Mitchell. It’s a win for the Cavs. Most importantly, nobody won more than the city of Cleveland.

(Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images)