Revisiting the Donovan Mitchell trade – where do things stand now for the Jazz and Cavaliers?

Donovan Mitchell has been Cleveland’s MVP. But, the Utah Jazz are having a great year as well. Let’s break it down.
donovan mitchell trade cleveland cavaliers utah jazz
CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 16: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Indiana Pacers on December 16, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you ask anyone on the Cleveland Cavaliers or even the Utah Jazz, Monday’s game between both squads at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is just that: another game. Donovan Mitchell sure said as much after Cleveland’s 118-112 win over the Indiana Pacers. Sure, in the grand scheme of the NBA regular season that’s true. The only truly noteworthy thing about this game between the Jazz and the Cavaliers is that it’s one of two times either team will play each other this season.

Instead, it’s the noise surrounding both of these squads as they take the hardwood off the shores of Lake Erie. Just in case you don’t know, the Jazz are Mitchell’s former team and the Cavaliers acquired him during the offseason for Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji and a boatload of draft selections. That trade was fairly monumental within the scope of the NBA regardless of the fact that Mitchell was one of three major names traded over the summer. It set the course for Cleveland to become an overnight championship contender and for Utah, meanwhile, it set them up beautifully for a long-term rebuild that spites their awful branding.

With all that said, it’s probably worth evaluating where things stand with both the Cavaliers and the Jazz set to clash on Monday night. Again, this trade was a big deal for both organizations as it will shape what happens for either side now and in the future. Obviously, it’s still early to say what the long-term prospects might have for either team involved in this trade. But, with more than a quarter of the NBA season completed, we have a bit of an idea of what this season has in store for both Cleveland and Utah. When the game wraps tonight, it’ll be even clearer. So, today, let’s dive a bit deeper into where things stand for both the Cavaliers and Jazz after the infamous Mitchell trade.

For the Cavaliers, it’s pretty easy to suss out where things are at. They’re currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference and are within spitting distance of the Milwaukee Bucks for second place. Adding Mitchell has taken Cleveland, an already elite defensive team, and given them a serious shot in the arm on offense. It’s allowed the Cavaliers to rack up several impressive wins already

In fact, the Cavaliers have become one of the more balanced teams in the NBA overall, finding ways to win on a nightly basis. Mitchell’s at the center of it all and has taken an already compelling MVP case and continuously solidified it. Most recently, Mitchell willed Cleveland to victory over a pesky Indiana Pacers squad, posting 41 points and also scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, sealing the victory along the way. It was a statement win for the Cavaliers and, more importantly, a win that sticks out more than others due to it all simply being from Mitchell’s Herculean efforts.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to Right Down Euclid. “At one point in time, winning mattered in the MVP vote and you’re seeing people’s names be mentioned that don’t have the record we have. I think it’s fair for him to be in that conversation for sure. You’re not slighting any of the other guys since there are some phenomenal players in this league. But, the MVP should include winning as a part of it and he’s helped us continue to grow and get us to the spot we’re in now so he should definitely be mentioned in that conversation.”

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – DECEMBER 15: Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz drives against Herbert Jones #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Vivint Arena on December 15, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

To Bickerstaff’s point, Mitchell will have some stiff competition from Jayson Tatum, Joel Emiid, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the end of the day for league MVP. The superstar guard has had more freedom under Bickerstaff compared to what he’s played under while with the Jazz and at the end of the day, it’s made him by and far Cleveland’s MVP. Mitchell is just wired to continuously find ways for the Cavaliers to win and, in turn, is having fun playing basketball again for the first time in a while. The positivity Mitchell carries has already made a massive impact on Cleveland both on and off the court. As the season carries on, don’t be surprised to see the Cavaliers reach new heights due to Mitchell’s superb play.

Mind you, things are going swimmingly for the Jazz as well in a post-Mitchell world. Sure, it isn’t quite the level of nightly excitement or nearly as much winning, but Utah has found a unique blend of being able to maintain a competitive edge now all while sitting pretty for the future as well. A lot of it is centered around Lauri Markkanen, Cleveland’s former starting small forward, who was the central player sent to Salt Lake City for Mitchell. Markkanen is averaging career-best numbers across the board for the Jazz – posting 22.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 33.9 minutes per game.

Sure, a lot of it can be attributed to Markkanen playing more at the power forward spot, his natural position. But, he’s also finally living up to his tantalizing potential as a player and is making a strong case to represent the Jazz in Salt Lake City during this year’s NBA All-Star Game. When giving up a franchise cornerstone and legend in Mitchell getting a player back like Markkanen is a win. He’s now a building block that can uniquely balance the present and the future and has helped turn what the Jazz are partaking in from a rebuild to more of a retool.

Markkanen isn’t alone in walking that unique tightrope walk between the present and the future. Collin Sexton, who the Jazz signed to a four-year extension worth roughly $71 million, has also been putting up promising numbers after suffering a serious knee injury a year prior. While Sexton has served primarily as a sixth man, his ideal role, he’s posting averages of 14.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Unlike Markkanen, there’s a good chance the Jazz ends up moving Sexton at some point and the solid statistical output makes him a more compelling trade chip. Until that time comes though Sexton can continue to provide stellar support to a Jazz team that’s in the thick of things in the Western Conference.

Speaking of trade chips, that’s all Agbaji has really looked like up to this point for Utah. The rookie swingman hasn’t been able to stick in the rotation for the Jazz but that could be more a product of too much depth in front of Agbaji. Either way, when looking at how things are going for either trade after the Mitchell trade it’s a rare instance of success for all parties involved. Sure, the Jazz aren’t title hopefuls like the Cavaliers are right now. But, Utah was still able to get a quality return for their former franchise cornerstone and Cleveland was able to become a beast in the East once again.

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 He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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