Advertisement

2024 NBA Playoffs Takeaways: Summer of change in Cleveland starts with Mitchell’s decision

Cleveland Cavaliers (118) Vs. Boston Celtics (94) At TD Garden
Cleveland Cavaliers (118) Vs. Boston Celtics (94) At TD Garden

Things move fast in the NBA playoffs, so to help you stay on top of everything, from now through at least the end of the second round, we will have nightly takeaways from the postseason action.

Summer of change in Cleveland starts with Mitchell’s decision

Within minutes of the Cavaliers’ season ending on the parquet in Boston, what had been simmering rumors about the future of Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff started to boil over. “Bickerstaff’s job is in serious jeopardy” wrote Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and Jason Lloyd at The Athletic. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski took a softer tone but said the "Cavaliers plan to take time to evaluate coach JB Bickerstaff's future." If Bickerstaff is out, who is Cleveland bringing in that is better?

Bickerstaff's job is undoubtedly in jeopardy, but that is not the biggest question facing the Cavaliers this summer. The answer to another question is the fork in the road that will decide the Cavaliers' path for the next few years.

What does Donovan Mitchell want?

The Cavaliers will put a four-year, $208.5 million contract extension on the table in front of Mitchell this summer. As an organization, they have done everything they can to get him to sign it. (Mitchell has one last guaranteed year on his contract next season at $35.4 million, after that he can be a free agent.)

Whether or not he signs it is the fork in the road.

Mitchell has played his poker hand perfectly. He has been positive about the Cavaliers and has never said anything to suggest he is unhappy in Cleveland. He also has never said he would commit to the team long-term. Within the organization, there is confidence that he will sign the extension.

We're going to learn what Mitchell prioritizes with his decision. Is Mitchell's top priority getting the most money he can? Is being home in his native New York or another big market the most important thing? How happy is he in Cleveland and with the organization? Mitchell grew increasingly frustrated with his teammates' lack of maturity and focus, reports Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If he signs the deal, the Cavaliers go down one road that likely sees Bickerstaff gone and potentially Mitchell's backcourt mate Darius Garland on the trade block. The Mitchell/Garland backcourt has never been a natural fit and Garland's numbers dropped this season. If Mitchell re-signs, Garland's agent (Rich Paul of Klutch Sports) is expected to talk to the Cavaliers about finding the guard a new home, reports The Athletic. If Mitchell stays this is a win-now team built around him with a roster that needs to be modified to maximize their chances.

If Mitchell does not sign an extension, the Cavaliers need to at least explore trading him — the Lakers and Nets are among a number of teams that would be interested. Cleveland is going to demand a large trade package for him, and the offers could involve multiple picks and players that jump-start a retooling of the roster. Cleveland doesn't have to take a deal it doesn't like, it could bring Mitchell back and make a trade at the deadline, or not at all and dare him to leave to a team with cap space (although Brooklyn in his native New York will have cap room in the summer of 2026).

If Mitchell doesn't sign, Cleveland likely will keep Garland and bank on him and Evan Mobley as the team's future core.

Which brings us to the frontcourt of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. The Cavaliers this season had a +0.3 net rating when Allen and Mobley shared the floor, but that improved to +1.5 when Mobley was on the court without Allen, and was +5.6 when Allen was on without Mobley.

While there is other noise in those stats, it became clear over the course of the season the Cavaliers are better with just one of them on the court. That means Allen could be on his way out as Mobley is just 22, looks like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate when healthy, and has shown improved offense — he scored the 33 he scored against Boston on Wednesday. There would be a big trade market for Allen.

Change is coming to Cleveland this summer. Maybe a lot of it. But it all hinges on this question:

What does Donovan Mitchell want?

We’re all here for Al Horford

Boston got a double-digit win in a closeout game and you can read into it whatever you want. You can argue Boston is an elite team that did what it had to and closed out a feisty Cavaliers team, getting to the Eastern Conference Finals with an 8-2 record and a +12.8 net rating, with only one of those eight wins being by single digits. Or you can argue Boston is a talented team that coasts, doesn't play with the urgency of a champion, but hasn't had to because they have enough talent to overwhelm a team like the shorthanded Cavaliers.

However you view the Celtics, it was great to see Al Horford, at age 37, be the energy catalyst for the team. He fired up the crowd with first-half hustle plays on his way to 22 points, including six 3-pointers, 15 rebounds on the night, plus some solid defense.

Horford likely returns to the bench sometime in the next series (which either starts Sunday or Tuesday, depending on if the Knicks and Pacers go to a Game 7) as Kristaps Porzingis returns. Horford will thrive in that role.

But Wednesday night, it was a joy to watch him not just as a starter but as a key part of this roster, as the veteran who changed the game.