Donovan Mitchell trade to Cavaliers makes NBA's Eastern Conference even tougher

·3 min read

Mitchell trade to Cavs makes Eastern Conference even tougher originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Last year, the NBA's Eastern Conference won its regular season head-to-head matchup with the Western Conference for just the second time this century. The conference was so deep it required a winning record just to make the play-in tournament. The East was unusually good and, after Thursday, it should be even better.

That's because three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell was traded from the Utah Jazz to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal that will send three unprotected first-round picks to Utah (2025, 2027 and 2029), two pick swaps (2026 and 2028), plus Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji. The trade was first reported by ESPN.

Mitchell, just 25, will now join forces with All-Star Darius Garland in the backcourt with All-Star Jarrett Allen and likely future All-Star Evan Mobley behind them. They should form one of the best young cores in the NBA.

Cleveland made the postseason unexpectedly last season by doubling its win total from the year before. It went from 22 wins in 2020-21, which landed them Mobley with the 3rd overall pick, to 44 wins in 2021-22. That was good enough for the eighth seed, though they lost in the play-in tournament to fall short of the playoffs.

The Cavs, though, appeared to be on an upward trajectory because their top players are all young. Landing Mitchell should further solidify their status as playoff contenders and could help them enter the top tier of the conference which figures to include the Bucks, Heat, Celtics and Sixers. The Nets may join that mix, depending how things shake out with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Mitchell should help the Cavs improve exactly where they need to improve the most which is on the offensive end. Cleveland was seventh in defensive rating last year, but just 20th in offensive rating. Mitchell averaged 25.9 points per game last season while carrying a career-high 53.3 effective field goal percentage. He is under contract for three more years, giving the Cavs a window to compete for the foreseeable future.

There may be some questions going into the year about the defensive combination of Garland and Mitchell, who will amount to an undersized backcourt. But Mitchell was a key cog for Utah, which boasted a top defense over the years led by Rudy Gobert on the back end. He should have plenty of rim protection in Cleveland's frontcourt between Allen and Mobley.

The Wizards had been linked to Mitchell in trade rumors, though not to a serious degree. They were mentioned on several occasions by Shams Charania of The Athletic as having interest in Mitchell. All along, it was going to be difficult to field an offer with enough first round picks, which the Jazz were clearly coveting, given the Wizards have their 2023 to 2026 firsts tied up in trade protections.

The Knicks had long been considered the favorites to land Mitchell, who is originally from New York. They have plenty of first round picks, but evidently were not willing to part with as many as the Cavaliers ultimately did. The Jazz have fully committed to rebuilding through the draft under front office architect Danny Ainge.

Now the Knicks, Wizards and the rest of the Eastern Conference will see Mitchell more often. He was finally traded and the Cavs are clearly better, which means the East will be as well.