Exploring the Donovan Mitchell situation from a Heat perspective and different factors in play

The pursuit of star guard Damian Lillard consumed the Miami Heat’s offseason last year. After missing out on Lillard, will this Heat offseason include the pursuit of another star guard?

With the Cleveland Cavaliers eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs on Wednesday night, an offseason of questions surrounding five-time All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell’s future with the Cavaliers has begun.

The Heat was linked to Mitchell before the Utah Jazz traded him to the Cavaliers two years ago, and it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Heat is again one of the teams that pursues Mitchell should he hit the trade market this offseason.

But first, Mitchell must decide on his future with the Cavaliers.

Mitchell, who turns 28 in September, is eligible to sign a four-year, $208 million contract extension with the Cavaliers this summer starting July 6. If he doesn’t accept an extension, he can become a free agent in 2025 with a $37 million player option in his current contract for the 2025-26 season.

According to The Athletic’s latest reporting, “the Mitchell situation will be resolved this summer, and there is a growing sentiment around the league that the Cavaliers will be able to position themselves to receive his commitment for a lucrative contract extension that would keep him in Cleveland past his 30th birthday.”

If Mitchell declines the extension this offseason, the Cavaliers would need to consider trading him or risk losing him as a free agent in 2025.

Along with the Heat, ESPN reported the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are among the teams that could try to land Mitchell this offseason if he doesn’t accept an extension with the Cavaliers.

But any team that’s going to be comfortable giving up significant assets to potentially acquire Mitchell in the coming months will probably need to feel there’s a good chance that he would commit long-term and sign an extension to stay there past this upcoming season.

Mitchell would be eligible to sign the same four-year, $208 million extension that he can sign with the Cavaliers with any team he’s dealt to because his Bird Rights carry over in a trade. However, Mitchell won’t become eligible to sign that extension in this scenario until six months following the trade.

This is all important background because the Heat would probably need Mitchell, who has developed a close friendship with Heat center Bam Adebayo through the years, to use that leverage if he wants to end up in Miami.

That’s because other teams can arguably put together more attractive trade packages than the Heat at the moment, which currently only have one future first-round pick available (in 2030) to throw in a potential offer because of NBA rules that make other first-round selections Miami holds ineligible to be dealt.

The Heat also could theoretically trade this year’s No. 15 pick if it has a prearranged trade by draft night on June 26 to select a player on behalf of that other team. But that would require the Mitchell situation to play out during the next month.

Teams can trade picks up to seven drafts into the future, but the NBA doesn’t allow teams to be without consecutive future first-round picks. So while most teams can trade a 2031 first-round pick following this year’s draft, the Heat can trade only its 2030 or 2031 first-round selection — not both because of league rules prohibiting teams from being without future first-round picks in back-to-back years.

Considering that the Cavaliers still owe the Jazz three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus two years of pick swaps (2026 and 2028) from the deal they made to acquire Mitchell in 2022, getting significant draft capital in return as part of any potential Mitchell trade this offseason would likely be important to Cleveland.

This could be problematic for the Heat, as other teams expected to be interested in Mitchell should he become available on the trade market have more draft picks to offer.

The Lakers will go from having one tradeable first-round pick (2029) to three (2024 or 2025, 2029 and 2031) starting the night of the draft, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

The Nets are allowed to trade up to seven future first-round picks.

Of course, the Heat can get creative and acquire more picks in a separate deal to add to its draft capital. Or the Heat can try to include more teams in a potential trade with the Cavaliers as a way of sending more picks to Cleveland.

Another thing worth noting: As a team above the punitive first apron, the Heat can’t take back more money in a trade than it sends out. But the Heat will still be able to aggregate salaries in a trade.

Assuming a deal would not be completed until July or later after the NBA calendar flips to the 2024-25 season, that means the Heat must send out salary at least equal to Mitchell’s $35.4 million salary for next season.

So, hypothetically, a Heat trade package of Tyler Herro’s $29 million salary for next season paired with Jaime Jaquez’s $3.7 million salary and Nikola Jovic’s $2.5 million salary wouldn’t be enough to add Mitchell’s $35.4 million salary. Would the Heat even be willing to deal those three players plus another small salary that makes the math work as part of a package to land Mitchell but depletes its depth?

“It’s not necessarily getting another star,” Heat president Pat Riley said last week during his season-ending news conference, speaking in generalities. “You get another star and then your bench gets weaker probably and you do have some financial responsibilities with the tax and the first apron and the second apron and all the consequences of going there. That’s why I say there might be two or three critical players, maybe, in this league, if they ever became available and we had an opportunity, then there’s no doubt that we would go for it and shoot for the moon. We’ve always been that way.”

Mitchell, who missed the final two games of the Cavaliers’ second-round playoff series against the Celtics because of a calf strain, averaged 26.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range with Cleveland this regular season.

Mitchell then turned it up a notch this postseason, averaging 29.6 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field in 10 playoff games.

Will Mitchell forgo an extension with the Cavaliers this offseason to keep his options open? Will the Cavaliers look to trade Mitchell if he doesn’t sign an extension? Does the Heat have enough assets to get the Cavaliers’ attention in a potential Mitchell trade? How strongly does Mitchell even feel about playing for the Heat compared to other teams that might be interested in dealing for him? How strongly does the Heat feel about trading for Mitchell? Could the looming Jimmy Butler extension question factor into the Heat’s thinking?

With Mitchell’s future up in the air and the Heat at the start of what could be a transformative offseason after its first-round playoff exit, there are plenty of questions left to be answered surrounding this situation.

“Our organization is not about rebuilding. I’ll never use the word,” Riley said last week. “We’ll re-tool as if we’re rebuilding to try to make it better. We’ve always done that. And we’re not going to avoid anything if we have an opportunity to bring in who we think is the critical piece. There’s only a couple of them in the league.”