For all the speculation that’s out there — with one media personality going so far as to say last week that a source told him a trade had been agreed to — Donovan Mitchell remains on the Utah Jazz.
For now at least.
It’s still presumed that he will at some point be atop the list of biggest blockbusters in franchise history, and there’s certainly no shortage of teams with interest. I was asked in a radio spot this week on ESPN700 about Jazz fans’ general reaction to the idea of trading the guard to complete the teardown and fully commence a rebuild. It’s my feeling that while most fans understand if that’s the plan, there’s naturally going to be some heartburn about trading away a 25-year-old three-time All-Star with three seasons of team control on his contract remaining.
Those are generally the types of players teams are trying to acquire, not send away.
So, is it possible that Trader Danny Ainge intends to keep Mitchell and rebuild around him after all? Sure, it’s possible, but it also feels unlikely. That said, there’s really no indication at the moment as to whether a Donovan trade is imminent or not.
So, for now, let’s take a moment to appreciate not only the singular talent, but the personality of the man who became an unexpected star.
Mitchell is a guy who not only got tongues hanging from mouths with an incendiary Summer League performance, but who also earned a spot in fans’ hearts by showing up at a Fourth of July pool party, as well as local high school and college sporting events.
He got the basketball world talking with a certain adidas-branded hoodie featuring a dictionary-style troll job. But it’s been his own talking that I most appreciate, naturally. Though he got a bit cantankerous with the media at times this past season as things started to unravel a bit, Mitchell has mostly been an exceedingly accessible and engaging star. While he could get a bit rote at times, he could also be warm, insightful, funny, and passionate.
Some of my personal favorite interview moments with Mitchell have included his nonstop “old” jokes about Mike Conley; his diatribe about the refs after a game in Memphis; the time I asked him a question on Zoom and he stopped mid-answer so he could invoke our NL East rivalry: “Eric, you gotta stop [bleeping] on the Mets, man!” Keeping Breonna Taylor’s name in the public eye. And the raw emotion that came from discussing the death from suicide of 10-year-old Izzy Tichenor.
Still, we are talking about basketball here, so let’s also put together a quick little top-5 list of Mitchell’s top on-court moments.
5. Winning the Slam Dunk Contest
It was something he dreamed about as a kid. He’d been practicing some highlight-reel stuff since he first could dunk. And then, as he removed his Jazz jersey to reveal a Vince Carter throwback uni, and pulled off a Vinsanity tribute jam on his final attempt before repeating the iconic, “It’s over” gesture, Mitchell was officially crowned the 2018 Slam Dunk champion in front of a star-studded crowd in Los Angeles.
4. ‘You did this! This is your fault!’
Why is some random January 2019 game in Detroit on this list? Because after Mitchell and the Jazz got off to an abysmal start, he got his revenge against the fan who’d been heckling him all night. Late in the second half (in which he scored 24 of his 26 points), Donovan hit a big bucket, and as the Pistons called timeout, he was caught on camera taunting the fan, “You did this! This is your fault!”
3. That putback dunk against the Rockets
You know which one I’m talking about. The one that shook up even press row because it was so audacious. Game 2 of the 2018 playoff series vs. the Rockets: Mitchell was shooting poorly, he went into the lane, Eurostepped, tossed up a floater that came up short off the front rim … then he followed it up with a ridiculous putback slam, leading to a Jazz victory. Game, blouses.
2. Dropping 50 — twice — on the Nuggets in the bubble
After months away due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing sports shutdown, the NBA concluded the 2020 season in the bubble in Orlando. After eight final regular-season games per team, the Jazz were matched up against the Nuggets. And Mitchell made his presence felt — dropping a mind-boggling 57 points in the Game 1 loss, then coming back with 51 more in a clutch Game 4 victory.
1. Outdueling Russ in the clinching Game 6
The Jazz, featuring a rookie Donovan Mitchell, were not expected to hag with the Big 3 du jour in OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. But they did, claiming the series with a mesmerizing, back-and-forth Game 6 battle between Don and Westbrook. They combined for 59 second-half points. Don scored 22 alone in the third quarter. He hit 10 straight shots at one point. Westbrook finished the game with more points, but Mitchell made the pivotal plays when they counted.