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Evaluating the Donovan Mitchell trade

Everyone shook their head when the leaks came out that Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge felt he had strong non-New York Knicks alternatives for a Donovan Mitchell trade. Sure, Danny.

Well, it turns out he did, and he acted on it. Once the Knicks and Jazz couldn’t come to an agreement that included RJ Barrett, the Knicks effectively pulled Barrett off the table by signing him to an extension. That merely seemed like a prelude to a different trade structure between the two teams that would include other players. Three days later, the Jazz zagged in a different direction entirely.

And so, instead of Mitchell ending up a Knick, he is a …. Cavalier? Yes.

To review, the trade sends Mitchell to Cleveland in return for Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, a signed-and-traded Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) and two unprotected pick swaps (2026 and 2028). Sexton’s new deal will pay him $72 million over four years, fully guaranteed, ending his restricted free agency staredown with the Cavs. There likely was not even a place to bet online about Mitchell to Cleveland.

Agbaji, the 14th pick in the 2022 draft, was trade-eligible because rookies who sign their contract can be traded within 30 days. (A cap fact most Cavs fans no doubt retained from the Andrew Wiggins days. If you’re a lottery pick from Kansas and Cleveland drafts you, please consider renting.) The Cavs also generated a $3.9 million trade exception for Agbaji.

At the end of it all, seemingly everyone has some questions. Should the Jazz have waited for the Knicks to come back to the table? Did Utah make Cleveland too good for the picks to have value? Did the Cavs push their chips in too early on a player who might leave once his current contract ends? Did the Knicks blow it?

While all three teams’ decisions may potentially look bad in a few years, I think they each played solid hands that minimize those risks.

To sum up most of what I feel in five words: Cleveland is not New York. The differences between those two organizations’ current states made it much more palatable for the Cavs to meet Utah’s high asking price.