Winners and losers in Donovan Mitchell trade to Cavaliers

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In a verboten journalistic move, I am going to plunge a knife into the heart of this story in the first paragraph: We will not know who are the real winners and losers of this trade for years. Maybe seven years. There are just too many variables. We don’t know what those picks Cleveland sends to Utah will look like when they convey. We don’t know if Donovan Mitchell will be happy long-term in Cleveland and stay. There are many, many questions.

But from where we stand today, it’s a good day to be Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers.

Here are the winners and losers from the blockbuster Mitchell trade to the Cavaliers. First, here is what the trade looks like:

Cavaliers recieve: Donovan Mitchell

Jazz recieve: Three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029), the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028), Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji.

WINNER: Donovan Mitchell

He wanted out of Utah. Maybe before the Rudy Gobert trade, but certainly after it.

Cleveland is not New York or Miami (his preferred destinations), but Cleveland gives Mitchell a chance to be on a team that will be in the mix near the top of the East for years. Mitchell is going to play in games that matter on a team that, as it grows and develops, could be favorites to come out of the East in a couple of years.

Landing in Cleveland is a win for Mitchell.

And, if he is unhappy in a couple of years, Mitchell can force his way out (he has three years remaining on this contract, plus a player-option fourth season). Reports out of Cleveland were that Mitchell was excited by the prospect of playing for the Cavs, and he hinted as much on Twitter.

Plus, Cleveland has better pierogi than New York or Miami.

WINNER: Cleveland Cavaliers

This was a bold move by the Cavaliers — and a smart one both because they can afford it and because 25-year-old Mitchell doesn’t change the timeline of this young core.

Outside of that “kid from Akron,” elite free agents do not come to Cleveland. GM Koby Altman built this team with smart draft picks — Darius Garland and Evan Mobley (to be fair, Mobley was the obvious pick in their position) — and a wise trade that got Jarrett Allen for the 30th pick in the draft. The Cavaliers needed another star to be a real threat in the East. Mitchell can be that guy.

Cleveland had the 19th-ranked offense in the NBA last season with Garland as the primary (and lone quality) shot creator. Now the Cavaliers have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA, two players who can shoot from three levels, drive, and set teammates up. The risk with this backcourt is both Mitchell and Garland are 6’1” and not great defenders — this could be Portland east (where Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were entertaining to watch there was a cap on Portland in the postseason because of their size and defense). Having a front line of Mobley and Allen helps here, they are two mobile bigs who are elite rim protectors. Last season the Cavaliers were sixth in the league in defense with a poor defensive backcourt, that kind of trend could continue.

How good the Cavaliers are in three or four years depends on two things: 1) Can they retain Mitchell after this contract? 2) How good Mobley ends up being. He will be elite defensively, but can he be a No.1 option on offense? Garland and Mitchell are All-Star level players, but not necessarily franchise cornerstones, top-10 in the league guys. Mobley has the potential to be. The Cavs will also have to find a quality 3&D wing to go with the other four starters.

LOSER: New York Knicks fans (and maybe the Knicks)

Leon Rose and the Knicks stood their ground and did not overpay to land a star. If you’re a New York Knicks fan, you can spin that as a positive, as a break from bad patterns of the past for the organization. “The Knicks did the right thing” crowd can bolster their argument by saying those eight draft picks they didn’t use to land Mitchell (as well as promising young players such as Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin) are still there. They can be used in a future deal.

But Mitchell was a player the Knicks had targeted — New York ties, CAA ties, and he wanted to be there and take on the role of star in New York City. This was the sexy new thing Knicks fans largely wanted and would get behind. A lot of Knicks fans reacted like Stephen A. Smith.

The Knicks swung and missed. Rose played it tight, only putting two unprotected first-round picks in the mix at the end (there may have been three early on, but that changed), betting that nobody else would offer more, and then setting an artificial deadline. When the Jazz didn’t meet that deadline, the Knicks extended RJ Barrett. The Knicks thought the Jazz would return to the dance floor, and they did — but with a new partner. Rose miscalculated.

The Knick got better this offseason by adding Jalen Brunson. However, the Hawks got a lot better adding Dejounte Murray to pair with Trae Young. The Cavaliers are now much better with Mitchell and Garland in the backcourt. The Knicks did not keep up with the best of the East and it could come back to bite them this season. Maybe this works out because the Knicks get the next available All-Star and he is better (or a better fit), but make no mistake, not landing Mitchell as the frontrunner was a miss.

WINNER: Utah Jazz

Danny Ainge wanted picks. He got picks.

We can debate if two unprotected Knicks picks would be better than three Cavaliers picks that — if they retain Mitchell and the rest of their core — could be in the 20s in a few years. But Ainge has stockpiled picks this summer: Six unprotected, one top-five protected, plus a series of swaps. Plus the Jazz have their own picks still. It’s going to be about drafting and development, but the Jazz have gone down the deep rebuild road and in that context this trade works (even if it’s not the haul they hoped for).

One other winner in Utah: new coach Will Hardy. If he had to start training camp with Mitchell on the roster, it would have been a circus, with him answering half an hour of Mitchell questions daily. Now, he gets a clean slate to start and build his culture.

LOSER: Lauri Markkanen

The best player ever out of Finland is a solid NBA player who was asked to play out of position as a three last season in Cleveland. Now he gets traded to the Jazz, who are expected to flip him by the February trade deadline to somewhere else. Markkanen may get showcased early in Utah and put up numbers, but it’s so that he can get moved again (his contract for $16.5 million this season and a little more each of the next two years also makes him a very tradable player).

Markkanen may want to keep a “go bag” by the door this season, because he could be on the move at any time.

WINNER: Collin Sexton

Sexton was going to have to play for the $7.2 million qualifying offer and prove himself, then hope to find a payday next summer. Instead, he signed a four-year, $72 million extension as part of the trade — and the Jazz are going to keep him around and give him the ball this season. It’s a good day to be Collin Sexton.

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.

Jose Alvarado had Pelicans’ fans singing his name after 38-point game

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jose Alvarado brought fans to their feet repeatedly, and they gleefully sang his name.

Alvarado highlighted a career-high 38-point performance with a career-best eight 3-pointers, and the Pelicans won their fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets 121-106 on Sunday.

“I’m happy he had a big night,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s fun. This is why you watch the game. This is why guys go out and compete and work hard, to have moments like this.”

Alvarado, a 6-foot guard whose production has far exceeded expectations since he went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, came off the bench with the Pelicans trailing by 14 in the first quarter and immediately scored eight points during an 11-1 run.

“Jose, in that moment, he felt his number was called and he he had to make a play – do something. He did that and more,” said Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, who added 25 points in his typically forceful way around the basket. “The shots he made were huge.”

It wasn’t long before fans began serenading Alvarado with a soccer-crowd-style chant replacing “Ole,” with “Jose.”

“Jose was the guy tonight,” Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said. “He killed us.”

Denver coach Mike Malone said his team “never adjusted” when it became apparent Alvarado was going to be a premier scorer in the game.

“Give him credit,” Malone said, “but we did a poor job, obviously, of guarding him.”

Alvarado hit 12 of 19 shots and missed just three of his 11 3-point attempts. He also scored on explosive driving floaters over significantly taller defenders in the lane.

“I’m not a big scorer,” said Alvarado, whose game-high in college was 29 points.

He couldn’t recall scoring as many as 38 at any level, adding with a smile, “This is the one I’m going to remember.”

When he checked out of the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Teammates hugged Alvarado as he came to the bench, and some playfully poured water over his head after the game ended.

“This team is special,” Alvarado said. “It’s more than just teammates to us. We’re all brothers and we all want to see each other win. When someone’s hot, they’re going to give you the ball and that’s what they did.”

Because Alvarado lacks the “physical attributes a prototypical NBA player would have,” Williamson said, the reserve guard represents the type of “underdog story” people love.

“He’s making an impact. He’s the X-factor for us,” Williamson said. “So, when people see that, and he’s telling them to stand up and get hyped, it’s infectious energy. You can’t help but want to be a part of that.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for New Orleans despite being limited to less than 14 minutes by foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez, who played nearly 20 minutes in place of Valanciunas, responded with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Trey Murphy scored 12 points, including a pair of driving dunks and a 3-pointer from 27 feet away. That helped the Pelicans, who were without Brandon Ingram for a fourth straight game, win for the ninth time in 11 games.

Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who’ve lost two straight on the heels of four straight victories. Aaron Gordon scored 19 points and Jamal Murray 18 for Denver.

But Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led to 18 Pelicans points.

“When you play better teams on the road, you can’t beat yourself,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, tonight was another example of us doing that.”

Jokic had 13 points in the first nine minutes. His end-to-end layup as he was fouled and two free throws shortly after gave Denver an early 30-16 lead.

But about the time Jokic checked out, Alvarado checked in and hit two 3s and a driving layup to help the Pelicans close it to 31-27 by the end of the opening quarter.

Jokic had 21 points and Alvarado 19 by halftime, when Denver led 60-59.

Watch Anthony Davis drop season-high 55, Lakers handle Wizards 130-119

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Anthony Davis dazzled so much, he heard fans chanting “MVP!” And that came while playing on the road.

Davis scored 55 points on sizzling 22-of-30 shooting and added 17 rebounds, leading the Los Angeles Lakers over the Washington Wizards 130-119 Sunday night.

After scoring 44 points against Milwaukee in his previous game, Davis came close to his career-high of 59 against Detroit in 2016. He’s averaging 35.3 points in his last nine games.

“Coming off a huge win in Milwaukee, can’t get complacent, get comfortable,” Davis said.

Davis was 2 of 3 on 3-pointers and made all nine of his foul shots. He scored 31 points in the second half.

LeBron James had 29 points as the Lakers won their fourth straight road game. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games while trying to extricate themselves from a 2-10 start.

“Our team is locked in right now,” Davis said. “Very focused on both sides of the ball. Overall, we’re just trying to make up ground.”

Washington lost leading scorer and three-time All-Star Bradley Beal to a hamstring strain with 8:31 to play in the first quarter. Beal sat on the bench after an early substitution, talked with a trainer, then went to the locker room. He did not return and is day-to-day.

Los Angeles led by 21 points in the first half. It was 85-56 early in the third quarter before the Wizards rallied within nine points in the fourth.

The 6-foot-10 Davis presented a rare match in wingspan for 7-3 Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis. Both have 7-foot-6 wingspans.

But Davis’ mobility and scoring from every level on the floor helped him control the matchup Sunday. Porzingis shot 11 of 25 for 27 points.

“When you talk about people in MVP race or category, (Davis) should be up there for sure,” Lakers point guard Patrick Beverley said.

The Wizards were 5-for-25 from behind the 3-point line in the first half. Three of those five makes came from backup shooting guard Corey Kispert, who finished with 16 points.

Former Laker Kyle Kuzma added 26 points for Washington before he fouled out.

The Lakers travel to face Cleveland next. James, an Akron, Ohio native and former Cleveland star, said he will have a lot of friends and family at the game. But he’s more focused on the Lakers’ resurgence.

“We never tipped over the glass when things weren’t going well,” James said. “We just continued to work. Continued to get better. Understood that we’re a new team being put together. New coaching staff, new system. We had to figure out some things. We haven’t done anything. We want to continue to work.”