Donovan Mitchell learned about the business side of the NBA directly and quickly.
He was selected No. 13 in last June’s NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets and went on stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand wearing a dark-blue Denver Nuggets hat with his grey suit. But within a minute or so of stepping off that stage, he was a member of the Utah Jazz, who traded up to get him. He had been a piece in a trade before he even got his tie loosened on that draft night suit.
In Utah, Mitchell has evolved over the course of the season into a ball-handling, scoring force and a serious Rookie of the Year candidate. He, along with Rudy Gobert, are seen now as the young core that Utah is going to build around for a decade or more. Mitchell is becoming an NBA star.
So much so that he will be showcased All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles where he is part of Team USA in Friday night’s Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge — Mitchell has partnered with Mountain Dew Kickstart as a sponsor, he will be working with them at events around Los Angeles all through that weekend with the public — and he will be on a bigger stage yet in the Dunk Contest Saturday night.
Mitchell is stepping into the spotlight.
All that doesn’t make the business side of the NBA any easier.
Tuesday the Jazz shipped out Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson in a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and Kings. Mitchell said he leaned on Hood this season as a mentor, helping him adjust to the NBA Game.
“Rodney Hood’s been instrumental in kind of mentoring me throughout this entire season,” Mitchell told NBC Sports Thursday afternoon, hours after the trade was announced. “We play the same position, obviously, and he’s been really, really helpful. It’s his career, and he has he has a really big, big role coming up when he gets to Cleveland, and I’m really excited for him.”
Still, it’s hard to adjust to the game you love and played for fun growing up now being a cold, hard business.
“I’m getting used to the business side of the NBA real fast,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, I learned it within my first three minutes in the league being traded from Denver (to Utah), it’s just another part of it.”
Mitchell said he leaned on Hood to help teach him the nuances of the NBA game — coming off picks with the ball, using screens, etc. — but it was the veteran Johnson who helped him understand the business side of the sport better.
“I’ve talked to guys like Joe Johnson. There’s certain times when, I guess, you assume or you kind of know it’s about to happen, so I asked him questions, like ‘what happens in this situation?’ or ‘what happens in that situation?’ and they’re great for answering the questions for me so that way as a young guy coming into the league I know what’s going on or why teams are doing certain things,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s pretty cool I now have the insight because at heart I’m still a fan of basketball and a fan of the NBA so being able to understand why certain trades are happening, understanding what a buyout is — to be honest with you I didn’t really understand a buyout so Joe Johnson explained it to me. It’s pretty cool to have an understanding of these things.”
Tuesday’s trade brings the Jazz Jae Crowder, who had looked lost and dispirited in Cleveland this season, but should be put in better positions to succeed by Quin Snyder. Crowder can defend, hit threes, and blend right in with what Utah likes to do on both ends of the court.
Whoever is in or out, the goal for the Jazz remains the same — make the playoffs. Utah has won six in a row and is back in the postseason mix.
“This doesn’t change much at all,” Mitchell said of the team’s goals. “We’ve been playing well. You know Ricky (Rubio) has been leading the charge, after some time off he’s been great, and we’re just following his lead. Having Rudy (Gobert) back has definitely helped.
“We’re about two-and-a-half or three games out (note: 2.5 games of the eight seed as of today) and we’re making that playoff push. You know, this is around the time when certain teams get tired and kind of get relaxed and we’re using our energy to keep feeding into that and keep going.”
This rookie is learning fast — the NBA is a business and you need to focus past that on the game.