Just like everybody else, Donovan Mitchell thought he would be
on his way home this summer.
After all, for months and months, the former Utah Jazz superstar
had been included in countless trade rumors and hypothetical
scenarios landing him in the Big Apple with the New York
That is, until the Cleveland Cavaliers stealthily snuck into the
mix and interrupted his golf round with some wild news. President
Koby Altman, general manager Mike Gansey and Co. executed a
blockbuster trade to bring Mitchell to The Land, which made waves
throughout the NBA and Eastern Conference in particular.
“I was running around crazy, mainly when I figured out who we
kept in the deal because I didn't know who was in the trade. I just
knew I was traded, and when I found out we kept DG (Darius Garland)
and JA (Jarrett Allen) and Evan [Mobley] and Caris [LeVert], and
all these guys and I was like, ‘Wow.’ We’ve got a talented group
that was third in the East and then obviously injuries came about,
and that's before I got here,” Mitchell said at his introductory
press conference at Rocket Mortage FieldHouse.
“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.”
From the moment Mitchell touched down in his new city, he
noticed the love that “blew him away.” Expecting a handful of
people to say hello, Mitchell was greeted by “a sea of people” who
were lined up at Burke Lakefront Airport at 9 a.m. He’s also
friends with a couple of Cleveland Guardians, Amed Rosario and
Triston McKenzie, as well as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel
Ward and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow — all of whom
reached out when they heard the news.
The Cavs proceeded to roll out the red carpet for their new
All-Star, bringing a bunch of those fans to their downtown arena to
greet him before the press conference. Cleveland hosted his family
in the front row, as well as his agent Austin Brown.
And sitting next to them were Garland and LeVert, who were all
“I love the cold, to be honest. I think I dress better in the
cold,” Mitchell quipped when asked about going to another small
market, non-destination city.
Of the aspects that appeal to Mitchell, the answer above all
else was the team's joy and chemistry.
“We're young, but we're hungry. We're ready,” Mitchell said.
“It's weird saying I'm probably one of the older guys on the team.
But like I said we're really excited. I spoke with J.B.
[Bickerstaff], spoke with Koby, and we're all excited, spoke with
the guys and we're ready to go.
“Honestly, experience, I think, is the one thing I could
definitely provide off the jump. Being able to use my scoring and
find my ways to create plays and get guys open shots and then let
Darius do what he does, Caris do what he does, and be able to be a
decoy as well over there in the corner and let them get open lanes,
and [with] Ev and JA finding the roll man. And then defensively,
when you got two 7-footers down there, I've played against them and
they both got me a few times last year. So it'll be good to be on
the same team as them. But I think from that standpoint that we can
accomplish a lot.”
Mitchell already senses the Cavs’ camaraderie, and he’s gotten a
head start on interacting with the guys thanks to Garland’s efforts
to get the team together in Nashville last week for some pickup
games. Even before that, Mitchell has trained with Cleveland’s
fourth-year All-Star a number of times, and has liked what he’s
“In the times we worked out, I consider myself a pretty good
shooter and I’m trying to keep up with him and I’m like, ‘Jesus,’"
Mitchell said. “That had me have to even raise my level in a
workout. If he can bring that out on a night in and night out
basis... and we’re now on the same team, you know it could be
Altman is thankful that he was able to strike a deal with his
close friend in Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, and he spoke
about how Mitchell “enhances our acceleration” with his 39-game
“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,” Altman said. “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 happy and excited about what we can do.
“I think we've earned the opportunity to try to compete against
the best in the world. And it's an exciting group that has great
character, great work ethic, and most importantly guys that really
want to be in Cleveland. I think that's really important. We’re
super young and the timeline fits to bring in this caliber of
player with this group. And let's rock. I mean, let's rock out! I'm
excited to see what it looks like. But there's a runway here and I
don't want anyone to think that this year, we have to be contention
or bust. That's not what this is. This is a real runway here for
these guys to grow together, learn how to play together, and get
better each year and grow to hopefully some really exciting
Bickerstaff shared his initial thoughts on the move to follow
“It doesn't change what we want to do and how we play. We live
our lives every single day by trying to do two things: We want to
be the most competitive team and the most selfless team. So he'll
come in and he'll fit right away with that,” the Cavs head coach
said of Mitchell. “As a coaching staff, we sit back and we have all
these grand ideas, and it just goes to another level when you think
about the dynamic offense that we can put on the floor and the
threats that we have on the floor.
“To be able to add talent and character, we were extremely
excited and we think about where we needed to go. You think about
some of the games that we had last year, we just didn’t have that
level of experience. To be able to add somebody who brings that
experience of playing in those moments, we felt like that would
help push us over the hump. You add a player of his caliber, he’s
going to make other guys better because he’s going to push them.
These guys are competitive. He’s talking about [competing with
Darius] in a drill in a summer workout, imagine our practices now.
So now our practices are going to go to another level and the game
play is going to go up to another level because we’re pushing each
other and we’re competing at that level. We were extremely excited
about it. It was kind of a curveball when it happened. We had had
our coaches' retreat and put a plan in place, so we had to make
some changes. But we’ll make it work (laughs).”
Speaking to the trio of Garland, Mitchell and LeVert,
Bickerstaff is eager to put together different combinations on the
“If you're an opposing coach, what decision are you going to
make? Who are you going to stay home on? Who are you going to
leave? And then, you throw in Kevin Love popping on the perimeter,
JA and Evan rolling or now they get the ball in the pocket. So
these guys can present some problems for people,” Bickerstaff said.
“But again, it's going to start about us being unselfish. But I
told Donovan and I've told Darius and Caris this as well, it's
like, 'You’ve got to be the best version of yourself. Don't come in
on your heels trying to figure it out.' We want all of you guys to
be aggressive with the mindset that we're going to share the game
and then make defenses have to make tough decisions.
“If you think about, whatever, your three-man game, your two-man
game, you can go out every single night and you can find the weak
link on the defensive end of the floor and defenses, most of them,
don't have enough strong defenders that they can just put one guy
on each of these guys. So, again, we can go out and manipulate the
game. We play an unselfish, uptempo ball-movement type of game. The
fourth quarter is where it's really gonna get fun, where you get to
slow the game down a little bit and then you get to play that chess
match, but there's so many threats on the floor that our guys have
and how they present themselves. And a lot of times it's just going
to be take what the defense gives you because we know that guy can
make you pay.”
Asked about the defensive side of the ball, Mitchell
acknowledges he needs to get better and wants Bickerstaff and the
coaches to hold him accountable. However, like in Utah with Rudy
Gobert, he’ll have a big man (or two) to cover for him if
“The more the merrier, right? Obviously, JA, Ev, they've gotten
my shot a few times," Mitchell said. "Rudy's one of the best bigs
in the league on the defensive end. Ev, who's a phenomenal
21-year-old kid who made a play for Rookie of the Year, his
offensive game is unique, but his defensive game, his instincts —
it's up there.
“And then you have JA, who blocks everything, runs the floor —
like, sprints the floor — and keeps up with DG, which is
impressive, being able to switch, able to guard the perimeter, able
to protect the paint. So I'm excited to play with both of those
guys. They've got a lot of talent in the frontcourt, and I think
that's something that I'm truly excited about.”
In addition to the fresh faces, Mitchell has some established
relationships in Cleveland as it is. (Bickerstaff knows Donovan
through one of his former assistant coaches, for example.) Yet no
bond compares to the one he has with Ricky Rubio, who returned to
the Cavs this summer.
“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
Mitchell delved further into the kind of leadership he’s hoping
to bring to Cleveland’s locker room, which he said was influenced
“It comes with a lot of comfortability. There’s going to be
habits and the little things. Because at the end of the day, we
were a three seed for a good part of the year and obviously losing
in the Play-In [Tournament] is not what the team wanted, but
there’s a lot to take in from that, from losses and from situations
like that. Come in and use my leadership and skills,” Mitchell
“But Ricky was the one who helped me too. He helped Darius. He
has a good track record with helping the guards become All-Stars
and different things (laughs). Being able to piggyback off Ricky
and use my voice and also listen to understand guys. Sometimes guys
need to be uncomfortable, like myself. Going to have to push
through that day when you don’t feel like it, be ready on that
back-to-back, show up early for a film session, whatever it may be.
That’s the stuff that ultimately builds championship habits and
that starts with days like today. It doesn’t start in December or
January. It’s not all going to come to fruition on Day 1, but if
you start early enough and continue to build throughout the season,
by the time you get to the postseason, you’re ready to go.”
In his playoff career, Mitchell has averaged a whopping 28.3
points to go along with nearly 5 assists and 5 rebounds per
contest. Altman pointed to his postseason success as a major reason
for striking the deal.
“I think the experience to get there was huge for us. I think we
had some solutions in-house as well. We were excited about the team
coming back already. If we weren’t able to get this transaction
done, we were excited about what we had coming back. But when the
opportunity presented itself, absolutely Donovan takes us to
another level,” Altman said.
“It makes Caris more dangerous, it makes Darius more dangerous.
It helps Evan. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. It gives
us an entirely different dynamic. Of course, you’re thinking about,
‘What if we had Donovan in that Atlanta Hawks game?’ Hopefully, it
won’t be that this year. We’ll see though.”
When Basketball News asked Mitchell what he learned from those
tight situations and close games that he could share with his new,
young teammates, he actually took it in a different direction with
a long-winded response.
“First and foremost, I think it's not even just about the
playoffs. I think it's about the games leading up to it,” Mitchell
said. “Coach [J.B.] and I were just talking about that. If you're
in a series with a division rival and it's 2-0, how important is it
to get that 3-0 [lead] and not make it 2-2 so now you're fighting
for a 4/5/6/7 [seed], whatever it may be. Those little games that
kinda matter, those should-win games that you need to win to take
care of business, I think that's first off where it starts.
“Then, you ultimately get to the playoffs and understand that
the game, the pace slows down. It's a possession game. Stops,
rebounds, those extra efforts, those little things, diving on a
loose ball, diving into a crowd, taking the charge, being able to
make the right play, not turning the ball over — that goes a
long way in those playoff games 'cause it's a 48-minute game, but
it sure doesn't feel like it in the playoffs. It feels like every
possession is like the fourth quarter with five seconds left.
You've got to make sure that everything's on-point. And that's
ultimately what I want to bring in, is understanding the relevance
and the importance of each possession... Just prepping yourself
throughout the entire season, throughout workouts, prepping your
mind. That way when you get there, it's not a complete shock. It'll
be different 'cause guys have never been [there], but it's still
not a complete shock when you get there.”
In just a short 12 days, NBA Media Day will be here across the
league, which means training camp is around the bend. Both Mitchell
and the Cavs will have all eyes on them following such a booming
shakeup. Posed a question of if there’s any reason Cleveland can’t
compete for a championship right now, he couldn’t think of one.
“There’s no reason. I think for us, we have to go out there and
do the work. On paper, we look scary. But at the end of the day, it
comes down to what we do in the gym,” Mitchell said. “It starts...
like we had a good run today and we’ve got to continue to have good
work, so I can’t sit here and tell you, ‘Yes, we’re a championship
team.’ We have to go out there and prove it every night. I know
we’re going to have good months and good weeks and good days and
we’re going to have bad weeks and bad days. But for us, if we
continue to put the work in night-in and night-out and continue to
put that effort in with the right plays, we might do
Noticing Cavs public address announcer Ahmaad Crump in the
background, Mitchell noted his famed “Cleveland Cavaliers!” intro
before games. Having been a LeBron James fan his whole life, Spida
wore the wine-and-gold when he was only a kid. Seeing The King come
back to Northeast Ohio and deliver the title he promised is a
moment Mitchell said he’ll never forget when he was in his dorm
room at Louisville.
Cleveland hasn’t won a championship since that fateful day on
June 19, 2016. Hopes for the Cavs, in particular, haven’t been this
high since LeBron was still donning the organization’s colors. But
Mitchell pays no mind to the outside perception of things.
He’ll just put his head down and get to business.
“At the end of the day, it starts with my work,” Mitchell said.
“Someone asked how I handled being at the center of the summer. At
the end of the day, I had to go into the gym and all that. I had to
be the best Donovan I could be every day. That’s what I would tell
the team. There are going to be expectations, there’s going to be
noise, but how can we be the best team we can be?
“It’s 5-on-5 basketball. Doesn’t matter how many cameras or how
many people are watching. It’s 5-on-5 basketball and just do the
little things — continue to grind, continue to get better. There’s
always going to be expectations. Losses are going to feel a little
bit harder and the wins are going to be celebrated just as high.
Continue to stay level throughout the entire thing. Ricky taught me
that. Never too high, never too low. Everything else will take care