The Utah Jazz made the decision to move on from Donovan Mitchell, and that was the right call.
The NBA, like other pro sports leagues, are copycat leagues. Originality isn’t that big of a concept when we’re talking about millions upon millions of dollars on the line. Every NFL team is going to a spread offense, every MLB is prioritizing home runs over every other metric, and NBA teams are focusing mostly on star-chasing. It’s a theory that you have to build a team out of stars to win an NBA title.
It’s not an incorrect idea, you need at least one transcendent player to win a title in the NBA, even if they go under the radar a little. Look around at the most recent NBA winners right now with Milwaukee and Denver; they genuinely only had one superstar on their respective teams. Sure, guys like Kris Middleton and Jamal Murray are good, but they aren’t the driving forces of their respective teams.
Which is the core concept here, teams. Teams that draft their stars, or acquire them young, and build around them are far more likely to win an NBA title than star-chasing. Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers won a title by getting LeBron James and trading for Anthony Davis, but now they have to rehaul their roster every off-season just to have a shot to be competitive.
Teams like the Brooklyn Nets gave up everything to get James Harden and pair him with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. It didn’t work. Then the Phoenix Suns went and did the same thing by bringing in Durant and Bradley Beal.
Now the Miami Heat are trying to repeat the process by pairing Jimmy Butler with Portland Trail Blazer icon Damian Lillard. Here’s the thing, it rarely if ever works. Yes, it worked for the Miami Heat, but historically, teams that try to build superteams through trades and free agency end up falling short.
This is why it was so surprising to see the Cleveland Cavaliers give away three core pieces for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell, a former member of the Utah Jazz, is likely to not even return to the team after his contract expires, making the trade for him shortsighted.
Cleveland knows they didn’t give up so much to get bounced out of the first round of the playoffs.
They gave up Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton for him; even without the draft picks or Ochai Agabji included, that’s maybe more than they should’ve given up. Now they’re relying on Max Strus to replace Markkanen, Markkanen who is arguably a Top 25 player in the NBA, and a top three or top five player at his position(s). All for what, Mitchell? A man who jacks up far too many shots for his efficiency rate?
Sure, you can win with Mitchell on a team where he isn’t the focus of the offense, but as Utah and now Cleveland have found out; he’s not that guy who can carry a team to a championship. He’s a piece of that team, sure, but he’s not the star. He’s the Kevin Durant to a team’s Steph Curry.
Knowing the failure rate of such moves, it still baffles many why Cleveland made this trade, but what’s even more baffling is the push from the NBA pundits to see the Jazz take their prospects and draft picks and try to do the same thing next season or beyond.
The Jazz have a great building block in Markkanen and potentially a Defensive Player of the Year in Walker Kessler. They have a host of draft picks to try and find another All-Star or two, and a host of rookies who have the potential to be the perfect running mate for Markkanen and Kessler.
They’re a franchise that, if they make the right moves, could have a 10-15 or even 20-year run on top; much like the San Antonio Spurs under Tim Duncan. Why risk that for a small window of success?
Think about if the Lakers had kept their core of Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball around LeBron James. Yes, they didn’t make the playoffs in year one, but could you imagine Hart and Ingram on a team with James today? They’re arguably better off in that scenario and would have kept their draft picks and further built around James, giving him a more stable, younger, and healthier squad to compete with.
Now the Lakers have one, maybe two years left before they enter a deep, long, and ugly rebuild.
The Jazz can avoid the mistakes of the Lakers, Cavs and Nets by staying the course and building a team that can compete long-past others they’ll go up against.