WHEN center Rudy Gobert was traded to the Timberwolves for a massive haul in early July, speculation grew rampant that guard Donovan Mitchell would be next. The rebuild under new head of hoops operations Danny Ainge — just quoted as saying the Jazz “didn’t really believe in each other” en route to a one-and-done stint in the playoffs — was under way, and pundits figured the asking price to be yet another treasure trove of assets. And they were right, with the Knicks, owners of four unprotected first round picks through 2029, only too willing to engage in talks.
The stars seemed to be aligned for another blockbuster deal. Unfortunately, the Jazz appeared to have overplayed their hand. They viewed what they got in exchange for Gobert as the baseline, and the Knicks apparently balked at including the moon with the sun. After all, the very reason for the trade was to become competitive, and far be it for Mitchell’s potential employers to get him at the expense of everybody else. Allowing the cupboard to go bare was tantamount to accepting one form of mediocrity for another.
As things turned out, the impasse between the Jazz and the Knicks enabled the Cavaliers to step in. They had been interested in claiming Mitchell from the get-go, but felt that they lacked the resources to keep up with the Knicks. That said, the fact that they ultimately won the sweepstakes came as a shocker, even to him. As franchise president Koby Altman acknowledged, “We just kind of hung around and hung around and hung around. And when they decided to pivot, we were there.”
For the record, the Jazz contended that they simply took “the best offer … To get a good return, you have to give up something good as well,” general manager Justin Zanik argued. “They certainly gave up a lot. Meaningful for them, and it was a meaningful trade that we liked as well.” Whether that “best” was, in fact, better than what the Knicks could have provided is subject to debate. What’s not is the Cavaliers’ excitement in getting Mitchell to headline a roster that includes Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, never mind that they had to give up three rotation regulars, three first round picks, and two pick swaps in the process.
No doubt, Mitchell would have been enthralled playing for his hometown Knicks. Even as he came close to doing so, however, he noted that “I was truly excited when I got traded” to the Cavaliers. And why wouldn’t he be? A new beginning awaits.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, oprerations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.