Donovan Mitchell trade evaluations: Cavs loading up for present and future; Jazz adds to a massive download of future assets

Kevin Durant has rescinded his trade request. LeBron James signed an extension with the Lakers. Kyrie Irving appears to be staying in Brooklyn. The NBA offseason has reached an anticlimactic lull over the last few weeks, but we know we can’t think that will last.

Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers got to macho man Randy Savage with an elbow off the top rope on Thursday, the acquisition of Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz in exchange for young players and picks. Mitchell was expected to be traded, but most reports suggested the New York Knicks had the inside track to land the 25-year-old three-time All-Star. When negotiations between New York and Utah stalled (reportedly because the Knicks refused to include Quentin Grimes in the deal), the Cavs seized the opportunity and positioned themselves as one of the NBA’s most promising young teams.

Here’s a summary of the reported trade, followed by grades for each team.

Knights get:

Jazz get:

Cavaliers trade grade: A+

Let’s start with what the Cavaliers got: A three-time All-Star who scored 26 points per game over the past two seasons on 44/37/85 shooting and has averaged 28 points in 39 playoff games, including multiple postseason games with over 50 points. Mitchell was better than the 80th percentile in both pick-and-rolls and isolations last season, according to Synergy Sports. Long story short — the dude is a walking bucket who can score from all three levels.

Darius Garland desperately needed help as the team’s only reliable starter, evidenced by the Cavs’ 20th-place finish last season, and Mitchell will immediately fill that void. Mitchell isn’t the most natural passer and facilitator, so he’ll be perfectly complemented by Garland, who was sixth in the league with 8.6 assists per game last season and was in the 82nd percentile in possessions plus assists, according to Synergy.

Each at 6-foot-1, Garland and Mitchell make up one of the smallest backcourts in the NBA, which will likely cause some problems for a Cavs defense that ranked fifth in the league last season. However, they are backed by two of the NBA’s best defenders in the game in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. The two young 7-footers have combined to block three shots per game, and Mobley could eventually develop into a transcendent, switchable perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Basically, Mitchell’s two biggest weaknesses — pitching and defense — are, at least on paper, masked by his new teammates.

Now on to what the Cavs gave up. There’s no sugar coating it, it’s a big catch. Giving up three unprotected firsts literally nukes their draft capital and forces them to rely on their new core four, for better or for worse. Sexton averaged more than 24 points in his last healthy season, Markkanen is a rare, shifty 7-footer who can extend to the 3-point range, and Agbaji was the 14th pick in June’s draft.

But from the Cavs’ perspective, you can see why those assets might not be as valuable as they are to the Jazz. Assuming the health and growth of Cleveland’s young stars, these unprotected first-round picks will likely be in their late teens or 20s — not exactly the range where you’ll find an impact player for a team with big playoff aspirations. Barring unforeseen disasters, the 2026 and 2028 trades won’t even come into play because their picks should be worse than the rebuilding Jazz.

Sexton clearly had trouble coexisting with Garland in the 11 games he played last season, and the Cavs had no interest in giving him the contract Utah did, so he was essentially cut from the franchise’s future plans. The experiment with Markkanen playing alongside Allen and Mobley was interesting (plus-7.9 net rating in 621 minutes), but probably not sustainable, making Markkanen indispensable. And while Agbaji is a promising prospect, he’s an older rookie at 22 and completely unproven at the NBA level.

So the Cavs gave up a lot, but it’s easy to look at it from their perspective and see why the move was absolutely worth it for the opportunity to add Mitchell to the core of Garland, Mobley and Allen. In one fell swoop, the Cavs set themselves up for both present and future success with three All-Stars (and one future All-Star), all under the age of 26.

Jazz Commercial Grade: B+

As Jazz CEO Danny Ainge made clear with the Rudy Gober deal, Utah wants all the picks. If that was the goal, the Mitchell deal makes perfect sense. Even assuming trades don’t happen, three unprotected first-round picks (and a lottery pick in Agbaji) seem to be about market value for a star of Mitchell’s caliber — especially when everyone knew he was going to be traded. On top of that, Utah added solid young players on friendly contracts in Sexton and Markkanen, who could either become part of the franchise’s future or end up being flipped for — you guessed it — more picks.

So really, when evaluating this deal for the Jazz, the question is what other options were on the table. We’re not entirely sure what the offers were to other teams, but there were prolific reports of what the Knicks were willing to give. Their most recent offer was reportedly RJ Barrett, Imanuel Quickley, two unprotected first round picks and another top five protected first round pick. The Jazz reportedly wanted New York to trade Grimes for Quickley and/or remove protections on the third future pick, so the deal fell through and they moved to Cleveland.

Another report from ESPN said the Knicks offered Barrett, Obi Taupin, Mitchell Robinson and three unprotected first-round picks in early July, which the Jazz declined.

Given the Cavs’ post-trade roster, it’s hard to imagine this pick being anywhere near the top-10, even in 2029. Would you prefer Barrett, a 22-year-old All-Star prospect who is averaging 20 points per game last season plus the Knicks’ future picks instead of Cleveland’s? Maybe, but only time will tell.

What we do know is that first rounders are golden in the NBA. They can be packaged for stars, used as sweeteners in trades, or combined to move up in the draft for a prospect you covet. After all, even if Cleveland’s picks aren’t the cream of the crop, they’re still first-rounders that can be used in many ways.

Combined with the Gobert and Royce O’Neale trades, bringing in Mitchell means Utah has already acquired seven unprotected first-round picks, one protected top-five first-rounder and two traded picks this summer alone. Not to mention they have several players on the current roster like Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson who could mark first rounders themselves.

Not a bad start to Utah’s rebuild, and the spin-and-trade is far from over.

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