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Nearly two weeks after acquiring three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz, the Cleveland Cavaliers introduced Mitchell during a press conference featuring fans and media at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Cavaliers' move to acquire Mitchell, where they sent out Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji and a boatload of picks, came as a surprise to everyone – Mitchell included.
The three-time All-Star admitted to the media during the press conference that he genuinely expected to start next season as a member of the New York Knicks, his childhood team. Mitchell grew up in Elmsford and his father, Donovan Sr., was a director of player personnel for the New York Mets, Mitchell's favorite baseball team. The longing to return home makes sense, Mitchell sent his life from high school to now outside of the city he adores. But, at the last minute, the Cavaliers were able to swoop in and grab Mitchell when, according to league sources, the Knicks waffled on their final offer to the Jazz.
"We've always admired his game from afar and we've had a great relationship with Utah," said Altman. "I would just describe it as something where we just hung around and when they decided to pivot, we were there.
“In terms of the value, it’s a 25-year-old, three-time All-Star. It becomes pretty simple, right? At the core, my job is to bring the very best talent to Cleveland. And I’m sitting next to one of the very best players in the world. When you simplify that, is Donovan Mitchell going to make us a better basketball team? Yes. How do we get that done? You go through the pain points of it, but I think we’re all really really happy and excited about what we can do.”
Despite Altman and his staff being firm in their decision to grab Mitchell, there are naturally concerns with the guard's longing for home. But, when Mitchell began to open up more about his admiration for both the organization and the city of Cleveland itself, the concerns about him looking elsewhere washed away. Sure, he was a Knicks fan but Mitchell, like so many others, grew up a fan of the Cavaliers because of one man: LeBron James. In fact, soon after the star guard was traded to Cleveland, he tweeted out a childhood photo in a now vintage LeBron James Cavaliers jersey.
Fast forward to when Mitchell entered the NBA and the love he found for Cleveland and the Cavaliers continued to grow. Mitchell shared that he always admired Cleveland's venue and the diehard fans that packed the seats at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse from afar. But, when he touched down at Burke Airport on Wednesday morning, with a Brownie the Elf hat on his head, the admiration of Cleveland and its fans became even more genuine.
“I didn’t realize how many Cleveland fans there are in America, in the world. Once I got traded, everywhere people were walking, ‘I’m from Cleveland’ or ‘I’m a Cleveland fan.’ I had no idea. The love and support you get from the fans is truly, truly incredible.”
“It’s still blowing me away, looking at the sea of people here," Mitchell continued. "It makes you feel appreciated. The biggest thing is you want to give your heart and soul for people that show up for you, especially getting here at 9 o’clock this morning, which means them getting up by 7:30 or 8.
"Things like that really go a long way. I truly appreciate that because night in and night out we’re going to be up working and continuing to fight for this city and bring this city another championship.”
Mitchell is doing and saying all the right things in the nearly 24 hours he's been in Northeastern Ohio, but the pressure is now on the Cavaliers to perform with him in tow. There will always be negative, intrusive voices that will circle the organization like vultures, wishing Mitchell ended up a Knickerbocker. Whenever Cleveland struggles, and there will be times they do, those voices will become emboldened.
So, more than anything, this young Cleveland squad needs to learn to grow with their newly-acquired star in order to keep those naysayers at bay. Mitchell expressed sentiments that this Cavaliers squad has what it takes to become championship-worthy. But, he and Altman both acknowledged it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a process and, thankfully, Mitchell is more than equipped to help lead Cleveland to where it wants to go.
While it's going to take time, new Cavaliers star guard Donovan Mitchell believes he can help build a championship-worthy squad in Cleveland. Photo credit: Nick Cammett/Getty Images
"I think it comes from a lot of uncomfortability," Mitchell shared with Right Down Euclid. "I think it's going to be habits. I think it's going to be the little things that ultimately take us because at the end of the day like I said, we were the three seed for a good part of the year. Obviously, losing in the play-in I know is not what the team wanted but, you know, I think there's a lot the team can take in from that.
"There's a lot to take in from losses and being able to come in and use my leadership skills. … Just kind of being able to piggyback off Rick and use my voice. Listen and understand where guys like their spots and, sometimes, help guys that will be uncomfortable like myself.
"We're going to have to push through that day where you really don't feel like going through nothing. Be ready on that back-to-back. Having to show up early for film session. Whatever it may be. That's what ultimately builds championship habits and that starts from days like today. It doesn't start in December. It doesn't start in January. Like I said, it's not all going to come to fruition on day one. But, if we start early enough and continue to build throughout the season, by the time we get to the postseason we'll be ready to go."
The Rick that Mitchell mentioned is Cavaliers veteran guard Ricky Rubio, who is one of several familiar faces within the organization. Rubio and Mitchell played together in Utah several seasons ago and Mitchell credits Rubio with making him the player he is today.
“That's my guy, man. I call him Jesus; he cut his hair now, but back when he was in Utah, he had the hair and the whole bit. He really helped me lock in on the little details as far as my work, as far as my craft, as far as the possession game. Just being able to watch him lead our team from the point guard position, allowing me to kinda take the reins as a young guy, which I didn't even expect coming into the league, and just kinda teaching me the little things throughout the game,” Mitchell said.
“I'm forever grateful for Ricky Rubio, and to be back here with him — he's a little bit older now, but he's still [the] light-hearted, fun guy that I've always known. I've gone to Spain to see him and hung out with him, so to be back here with him is truly special.”
While they were apart, Rubio helped build the current culture that's thriving within the Cavaliers. Rubio also helped push Darius Garland, Cleveland's franchise point guard, to new heights as well. Garland's young star is rising and is viewed by some as one of the top point guards in the Eastern Conference. Mitchell shared that joining forces with Garland in the backcourt carried a ton of appeal. He expressed similar sentiments to playing with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley as well, giving the Cavaliers one of the most impressive young cores in the NBA.
Cleveland guards Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio once built something special together whie in Utah. Now reunited, the tandem will look to push this young Cavaliers squad to its maximum potential. Photo credit: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
"When I found out we kept DG (Garland) and JA Allen) and Evan and Caris [LeVert], and all these guys and I was like, ‘Wow.’ We’ve got a talented group that was third in the East,” said Mitchell about the trade. “Now, we can only look to do more and better and just continue to win and build. And I'm truly excited just to be a part of this organization, to be here in the city, to have fun playing basketball with a group of guys who really want to win and really want to continue to build.”
Trading for a star like Mitchell accelerates expectations, but it’s the furthest thing from an absolute. It's going to take time and there will be a lot of growing pains, especially early into Mitchell's first season with the Cavaliers. But, when Cleveland reaches the playoffs for the first time without LeBron James since the 1997-98 season, the growing pains they went through this season will all be worth it.
Once they do reach that point, Cleveland will be able to build upon and hopefully go beyond their initial success. Altman as well as Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff expressed that one of the biggest appeals in getting Mitchell was his playoff experience. In 39 playoff appearances, Mitchell has averaged 28.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also has the propensity to show up whenever the lights are brightest, which will only push Cleveland further than they've gone before.
Last season was already a dream come true for the Cavaliers. Now, it's only going to get better from here on out. This Cleveland squad is hungry and ready to prove they belong in the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference. When Mitchell arrived, it feels like the expectations have now truly shifted and that those ambitions can now become a reality for the Cavaliers.
Featured image credit: Nick Cammett/Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!