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The Cleveland Cavaliers made what so far has been the biggest move made by any team in the NBA this off-season by trading for the 25-year-old, three-time All-Star, Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz for Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and rookie Ochai Agbaji, along with three first-round picks in 2025, 2027, 2029, and two pick swaps. On the surface, it seems like the Cavs mortgaged a lot to acquire Mitchell, but you have to look at what the Cavs did last year to appreciate this great deal; one that could catapult the Cavs to the top of the Eastern Conference.
No one expected the Cavs to have a year like they did last year. Most analysts had the Cavs winning 20-25 games and staying at the bottom of the East for at least another year. They exceeded those expectations by finishing 44-38 on the year, barely missing the playoffs. It took season ending injuries to Collin Sexton 12 games into the year and another to Ricky Rubio near mid-season. Injuries to both the Cavs emerging big men in Rookie of the Year runner up Evan Mobley and All-Star Jarrett Allen near the end of the year to derail the Cavs just enough to push them out of the Play-In Tournament, a tournament that if healthy, I don't believe they would have even been a part of in the first place. A healthy 2021-2022 Cavs team more than likely finishes within the top six spots in the East, and the Cavs would have had their first playoff appearance in the post LeBron James era.
Collin Sexton is a great player. Will he ever be an All-Star? It's possible, especially on a rebuilding Utah Jazz team that much like the Cavs during their rebuild will be looking for someone to score points, and Sexton can do that when called upon. Lauri Markkanen is a 7'0 who can hit the three but is a power forward and was asked to start at the wing on a Cavs team that already had Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the starting rotations. Ocahi Agbaji could be a solid starter or rotation piece in the league after playing four years at Kansas and winning a colligate National Championship with the Kansas Jayhawks. However, he is still an unproven rookie.
Of the players the Cavs gave up for the star shooting guard nicknamed "Spider" in Donovan Mitchell, the only player who saw meaningful minutes on a good Cavs team last year was Markkanen. Three first-round selections seems like a lot, but considering the Cavs have the youngest team in the NBA, they are primed to be contenders for a long time, but the question is: How good can they be this upcoming season?
When looking at the Cavs future, you first have to look at breakout All-Star point guard Darius Garland. His improvement towards stardom last year saw a huge jump. During the 2020-2021 campaign, he averaged 17 points, six assists and two rebounds a contest. Jump to last year, and he averaged 22 points, 9 assists, three rebounds and shot 90% from the free throw line at just 22-years-old. In short, his improvement jumped through the roof.
Some say it may have been because Sexton went down early in the season with an injury, but I think it had more to do with working in the off-season and having someone like Ricky Rubio as his backup teaching him as the season went along. This can be seen by his big jump in assists while also showing shades of a Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving by being able to hit the three from anywhere on the court. His handles are also becoming more and more of a problem for opponents, as he is able to get the paint at will or out of a double team. The sky is the limit for Garland entering this year.
Next, we look at Jarrett Allen, who also made his first All-Star appearance last year for the Cavs. In his first full season as a Cavalier, he showed that at his best, he can be one of the top centers in the NBA. He is a player that plays his part perfectly. He is a high percentage shot center, who defends at the rim and will pull down rebounds in buckets. He is a throwback to the mid 90s centers, who clogged up lanes, contested shots at the rim, blocked everything they could and knew they were the last line of defense for any opponent to get through.
He was the heart of the Cavs team last year. A leader that knew when he wasn't doing his job to the best of his ability, he took it personally. He called himself out and became better when he wasn't playing up to his standards. He was a leader by example, and wherever he went, the rest of the team followed.
Last year's rookie sensation Evan Mobley finished second to Toronto Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes in Rookie of the Year voting, but in my mind, it shouldn't have been close, as I thought Mobley was not just the better player, but had a more meaningful impact on his team. When Mobley was battling injuries near the end of the season, along with Allen, the Cavs went cold. Mobley, who turned 21 in June, is a 7'0 who can do just about anything. He is just scratching the surface of what he can do, and what he can become.
He averaged almost a double double last season, and he was still trying to figure out what type of player he is going to become. This off-season, he has been training with the best NBA players in the league. He has been attending both big man and guard camps, improving his already stellar defense with an explosive three-level offensive game, including his explosive athleticism that allows him to jump out of arenas on a moments notice for a dunk or a blocked shot. If he adds the ability to consistently hit a mid range jumper and three pointer, he will become the generational talent that many who have worked with him this year have said he possesses the ability to become.
Now, we get to the newest member of the Cavs: Three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell. At 6'1 with a 6'10 wingspan, Mitchell was the star of the top seeded Utah Jazz the last few years. His last two seasons in Utah, he averaged 26 points per game, along with five assists and five rebounds while playing point guard two years ago when Mike Conley went down for the majority of the year, then moving back to shooting guard last season. He shoots 85% from the free throw line.
At 6'1, he is as athletic as they come, exploding to the rim for a dunk or taking contact and getting to the free throw line. He is a three-level scorer, being able to hit a shot from anywhere on the floor. He can facilitate the ball with great court vision, being able to find the open man. He had one of the best pick and roll games in the NBA with former Jazz, now Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert.
Now, he has not one, but two exceptional big men to look for in the pick and roll with Mobley and Allen, which will open up all sorts of possibilities on the court. Mitchell adds a new dynamic to the Cavs where he can thrive by being a lethal offensive weapon while also no longer needing to carry the burden of being needed nightly to be the best scorer on the floor.
Lastly, we look at the Cavaliers bench, which was bolstered with some small, but meaningful moves that fix a lot of problems from the prior year. Kevin Love, who finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, is still leading the charge off the bench. Caris LeVert, who the Cavs made a trade deadline deal for last year, will now presumably also come off the bench, adding another player who can create his own shot. Cleveland signed veterans PG Raul Neto and C Robin Lopez to add depth to areas where the Cavs were thin at last year.
Rubio was brought back on a three-year deal after being a floor general for the Cavs last season before going down for the year. Deeper down the bench Cedi Osman looks to bounce back from a disappointing second half of the year, as well as Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens, who when called upon during certain situations last year, provided much needed energy off the end of the bench.
How good can the Cavs be this upcoming year? First off, they could very well have four All-Stars in their starting rotation, plus the 21-year-old Isaac Okoro, who will probably start at the wing and has also been putting in a massive amount of work to improve this summer and could be primed to take his game to the next level.
The Cavs are the youngest team in the NBA. Cleveland has not just good vets coming off the bench, but the right veterans to help the younger players. The bench is deep and a mix of young and seasoned players. In 2021-2022, the Cleveland Cavaliers were beaten up, bruised, injured, tired, and at times, ran out of gas, yet still finished with a 44-38 record. Now, with another year together under their belt, a star at point guard, a hungry All-Star center, a new star at shooting guard, an emerging generational talent at power forward, and a deep bench, the Cavs could be a top three seed coming out of the East, and who knows? Once you get deep into the playoffs, anything is possible, even the Larry O'Brien trophy.
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