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From Deep: How the Cavaliers winning the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes raises the bar in Cleveland

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The Cleveland Cavaliers could bounce back. If they chose not to meet the Utah Jazz’s asking price for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell—or if the New York Knicks chose to do so—they would have brought back basically the same team as 60% of the way. 2021-22, was third in the East. Maybe they’d come up with something with restricted free agent Collin Sexton so they’d have more scoring shots.

But they wanted a lot more scoring shot. They needed a proven playoff player who saw all kinds of defense. Their offense ranked 20th last season. Mitchell was the driving force behind whoever took first place.

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In a sense, in the “Earth” everything lined up perfectly. Mitchell, who turned 26 earlier this month, is the oldest member of the Cleveland backbone. He’s excited to join Darius Garland, 22, and Jarrett Allen, 24, who made the All-Star Team last season, and Evan Mobley, 21, who could be the face of the franchise. If you could come up with a theoretical team that would trade for a theoretical star coming into its prime, it would be a young team on the rise, with enough draft picks and contracts to close the deal without losing their most important players.

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However, this is not a theoretical team trading a theoretical star at a theoretically perfect time. Now the Cavs are trading Mitchell. And there are questions about how the pieces are going to fit.

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Every year in the playoffs, the effects of the modern interval become more pronounced. Every team wants to be versatile enough to play multiple ways, with multiple creators, and as many shooters and switchable defenders as possible. Now it’s not just the slow-moving big men that are being hunted in defense; It’s getting harder for smaller playmakers like Mitchell and Garland to hide. At the same time, the defense is getting more and more brazen when it comes to deceiving poor or reluctant shooters. Cleveland’s top perimeter defenseman Isaac Okoro has dwindled pregame minutes, and Mobley isn’t a threat yet.

The Cavs built a great defense last season thanks to their size and length. They weren’t afraid of inconsistencies because they usually had a 7-foot paddle tracking the ball and often had another 7-foot paddle ready to spin. Their best lineups included Allen, Mobley and Lauri Markkanen, who was later traded. Ideally this will work the same with the new twist, but it will be tricky. If Allen and Mobley can’t fully cover the little guys and the zone fails, they can step back defensively. If they prioritize placing their best defenders on the court, then floor spacing will suffer and their offense may not improve as they imagine.

Maybe Cleveland will be able to make up for the dubious distance by breaking the attacking glass, forcing losses and finding light buckets in transitions. Perhaps Mitchell will be encouraged in his new surroundings and become as protective as his 6ft 10in wingspan suggests. Maybe things will work out quickly and the Cavs will be fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs. But if they had a rough start, what will happen next? You don’t make a trade like this if you don’t think it will take you to the next level.


Cavs believer: This team is amazing. It is studded with stars. It’s just something special that the city of Cleveland hasn’t seen from a non-LeBron team in how many 30 years? Maybe someday? Are we going to discuss the relative merits of the 1991-92 Cavs?

Cavs skeptic: I hope no.

Cavs believer: For the record, I would prefer Darius Garland over Mark Price, Evan Mobley over Larry Nance, and Jarrett Allen over Brad Dougherty, but you could make good counterarguments to each of them. What confirms this is that absolutely no one chooses Craig Elo over Donovan Mitchell. I still can’t believe Kobe Altman made this deal. Genius.

Cavs skeptic: I’m a little worried about how excited you are. The Big Four are extremely talented, but what about the rest? Isn’t it strange that while most teams are trying to get their hands on big switchable wings that play on both ends, Cleveland doesn’t have them? I can’t help but think of the Nets crushed a few months ago: tiny backcourt, giant frontcourt. But this team lacked two players in the starting lineup. (Besides, if Price had a contemporary interval, he would be in the Hall of Fame.)

Cavs believer: At this time last year, you probably thought Mobley and Allen couldn’t coexist. You must have laughed when you first saw Lauri Markkanen starting next to them. I like that this team is original. Let’s see how the rest of the league tries to stop the small backcourt – I bet it will be just as fun as trying to score against the big frontcourt.

Cavs skepticA: Distinctive is definitely one word for these Cavs. Flawed is another one, unless you think they’ll play the same style of basketball as Price, Nancy, and Dougherty. Mitchell won’t have the same interval he used to, now that he’s around Mobley and Allen, and he Indeed it won’t if the Cavs have to play Isaac Okoro to give them some perimeter protection. I’m not sure how good Ochai Agbaji will be, but given that he was the only 3D guy on the list, I wish they had found a way to keep him out of the trade.

Cavs believer: I’m sorry the administration had the audacity to refuse a 22-year-old late lottery pick in exchange for bringing back a longtime All-Star in his prime. Yes, how irresponsible. Look, while you’re drinking from your half-empty glass, I’ll be thinking about the jump Mobley’s about to make and how Mitchell and Garland can play each other. You know how dangerous Garland can be without a ball, right?

Cavs skeptic: Sure, but I doubt Mobley will make any huge offensive leap if Mitchell and Garland have the ball all the time. And you can’t do the Lowry-and-VanVleet case if none of your guards can protect anyone. Carys LeVert is still here, too, if you’re worried that Cleveland doesn’t have enough weak defensemen who need touches. This is an unbalanced, top-heavy team with a giant hole where a reversible wing should be.

Cavs believer: Wait, I’m under the impression that all the nerds on the internet have agreed that you can’t be too expensive on form when a legitimate star is available. I’m also confused about the “heavy top”: LeVert could be Sixth Man of the Year because the opposition can’t put their best defensemen on him, and Love should have won him last season. Ricky Rubio is back and Raul Neto will be a great replacement until he recovers. Between Dean Wade, Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler, who you have the utmost respect for, the coaching staff will have plenty of options if Okoro can’t stay on the floor. You showed disrespect to Robin Lopez too – they could use him when they weren’t enough.

Cavs skeptic: I just keep thinking about Trae Young cooking up Cavs in a play game. They put LeVert on him because Okoro was killing their offense and Young knew he could change Allen or Markkanen whenever he wanted. What has changed now? We simply saw Mitchell terribly defensively in the playoffs, and it wasn’t the first time. Opponents will be able to spread Cleveland the way they spread Utah, and stars like Young will have a choice of targets. At Best: The entire zone and scrambling work well enough in the regular season that expectations are extremely high going into the playoffs, leading to huge disappointment for the Cavs when the foundation was found to be shaky. Sounds familiar?

Cavs believer: They finished 22-50 a couple of seasons ago. If they are good in the regular season but disappoint in the playoffs this season, that’s progress! Mitchell was on the veteran team that hit the wall; now he is in a young team with many years of experience. You underestimate their short-term prospects – they had Markkanen’s stellar wings last year; anyway it’s really all about helping protect – but that’s not even the point. The Cavs have four All-Star players, none of whom are over 26 years old. Enjoy the trip.

Skeptic Cavs: In order to have four All-Star players, they sent almost everything else of value to the Jazz. So yes, there will be internal improvements, but they don’t have much flexibility. Teams that go all-in need to achieve average and minimum signings year after year and make the most of the few picks they still have. This hole in 3rd place will not fill by itself; just ask Lob City Clippers or the Grizzly Grind and Grind. I don’t predict that the Cavs will have to trade Mitchell in 2025 before he can become a free agent, but I also don’t predict that they will have created a suitable opponent by then.

Curiosity: Isaac Okoro

It’s grossly unfair to say that this whole experiment in Cleveland is based on the idea that Okoro can be a respectable three-pointer. But it would make things a lot easier.

Okoro hit 35% of triples last season, but that figure is misleading. Almost all of them were wide open, and as shown by its 12.3% usage rate, it didn’t make up for the lack of gravity when shooting with playmaking. Okoro can land well-timed strikes and attack bent defenses, but those skills would be a thousand times more useful if defenders couldn’t sag from him.

The Cavs are serious, so if Okoro fails to be a useful attacking player, he will likely lose his place in the starting lineup. If he doesn’t make enough 3’s to change his defense…


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