When the Utah Jazz went into their Las Vegas training camp this past October, they believed they had done enough to shore up their status as championship contenders.
Which only makes the speed and scope of their teardown a mere 11 months later all the more staggering.
And now Donovan Michell.
The guard was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, for a haul that includes three unprotected first-round picks and two pick swaps, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The unprotected picks will come in 2025, ’27, and ’29, with the pick swaps occurring in ’2026 and ’28.
Yahoo’s Chris Haynes added that the Cavs are also sending Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji to Utah.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Sexton is coming to the Jazz via a four-year, $72 million sign-and-trade. His deal is fully guaranteed.
Sexton is a 23-year-old, 6-foot-1 combo guard who had been unable to agree with the Cavs on a long-term deal when he reached restricted free agency this offseason. He has averaged 20.0 points per game on 37.8% 3-point shooting in his four-year career thus far. However, his defensive deficiencies made him a poor backcourt fit alongside All-Star point guard Darius Garland in Cleveland.
Also, he underwent surgery this past November for a torn meniscus in his left knee, and played in only 11 games this past season.
Markannen is a 7-foot, smooth-shooting forward from Finland, who was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The 25-year-old has averaged 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds for his career, while shooting 36.4% from 3-point range. He is in the midst of a four-year, $67.5 million deal, and is under contract through 2024-25, though that final season is only guaranteed for $6 million.
And Agbaji was the No. 14 pick the most recent draft, after leading Kansas to the national championship. The 6-5, 210-pound wing improved in each of his four seasons with the Jayhawks. In his senior season, he averaged 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 40.7% on 3s. The 22-year-old is thought to have defensive switching capability.
Mitchell, meanwhile, now finds himself aligned on the Cavaliers with a familiar face, in ex-Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio, plus a player he publicly expressed admiration for this past January, in Garland.
He also reacted Thursday afternoon to Garland’s welcoming tweet.
The deal was neither sudden nor surprising when viewed through the lens of the team’s recent deconstruction process, the admission from the front office that the team’s window of contention had closed, and the corresponding declaration that no one on the team was “untouchable,” to say nothing of the subsequent months of reports that the Jazz were fielding offers for him.
But when juxtaposed against Mitchell’s surprising immediate success as a top offensive option, his early efforts to embed himself within and endear himself to the community by attending local high school and college games, his year-over-year improvement and ascension to three-time All-Star, the five-year, $163 million contract extension he agreed to in late November 2020 that marked him as a franchise tentpole, and the omnipresent vows to bring an NBA title to Utah …
Well, from that viewpoint, it remains a bit mind-boggling that it all fell apart so fast.
Mitchell was a player the team’s front office became instantly smitten with when he wowed attendees during a now-legendary predraft workout on May 27, 2017.
He cemented a spot in franchise lore with a pair of epic 50-point performances during the Jazz’s rollercoaster first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets in the Orlando bubble.
The 25-year-old has become one of the NBA’s transcendent offensive talents, ranking among just a dozen or so players to average at least 25 points and 5 assists per game over the past two seasons as a legitimate three-level threat, while boasting the seventh-highest playoff points per game average (28.33) in league history (fourth among active players).
And yet, by this summer, he had apparently become viewed by the Jazz’s front-office regime as a player not quite good enough to carry the organization to the promised land, while simultaneously far too talented not to use as the fulcrum to restock the team’s coffers with assets for a future rebuild.
Mitchell’s time in Utah was not perfect.
He and Gobert infamously had a falling out in March 2020 after they became the first and second professional athletes in North America to test positive for COVID-19, causing the NBA to immediately shut down and take a months-long hiatus, while Mitchell seethed about his teammate’s “careless” behavior.
Then came the accusations of not passing the ball to Gobert. And the public sniping through the media. In the Jazz’s first-round series against Dallas this postseason, when Mitchell not only struggled with offensive efficiency, but had his ongoing defensive deficiencies laid bare on national television, as he was exploited by Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie.
And, quite pointedly, when the Jazz were eliminated in Game 6, Mitchell waffled to reporters when asked if he wanted to return.
The Elmsford, N.Y., native was selected No. 13 overall by Nuggets in the 2017 draft, as the Jazz worked out a prearranged deal with the Nuggets to take Mitchell on their behalf, in exchange for Trey Lyles and the rights to Tyler Lydon.
It was widely expected Utah would struggle in Mitchell’s rookie season, owing to Gordon Hayward’s free-agent defection. However, Mitchell so quickly surpassed expectations that, early in the season, he supplanted Rodney Hood in the starting lineup, and the Jazz would go on to surprisingly make the playoffs.
That was a feat the team would repeat in each of Mitchell’s five seasons with the organization.
It was thought that, with him and Gobert locked into long-term extensions, the Jazz were well-positioned to chase a championship for years to come.
Instead, it all unraveled in spectacular fashion.
For his career, Mitchell has averaged 23.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, while shooting 44.1% from the field and 36.1% from 3-point range. He has seen his scoring and assist averages grow throughout his career — arguably his best season was his 2020-21 campaign, when he put up a career-high 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and shot a career-best 38.6% beyond the arc.
The Jazz earned the best record in the league during the regular season, but were undone by injuries to Mitchell and fellow guard Mike Conley.
Indeed, while the Jazz had some momentous playoff moments — their first-round defeat of the Russell Westbrook- and Paul George-led OKC Thunder in 2018 was a highlight — it was ultimately their postseason failures that spelled the end of this iteration of the team.
The blown 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Orlando bubble in 2020 was a tough result. And winning the first two games of their 2021 second-round series vs. the Clippers, only to drop four straight against an L.A. squad missing injured star Kawhi Leonard, was perhaps a blow the team never fully recovered from.
Despite being generally healthy this past season — their COVID-ravaged January to forget notwithstanding — Utah backslid to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, with a regular season marred by myriad losses in which the team squandered double-digit leads.
After the Jazz then could not exploit a Mavericks team playing without injured superstar Luka Doncic for the first three games of the series, CEO Danny Ainge — brought in by owner Ryan Smith this past January to work with GM Justin Zanik — had apparently seen enough.
Snyder resigned, citing the need for “a new voice” to lead the team. Within weeks, veteran forward Royce O’Neale was shipped off to Brooklyn in exchange for the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2023 first-round pick owed to the Nets. Not long after, Gobert was sent to Minnesota, in exchange for a package highlighted by four future first-round picks, three of them unprotected.
And though the organization fed a few national reporters the suggestion that the team intended to retool around Mitchell, that narrative never gained much public traction, and rumors about the guard’s own impending trade continued to spread.
Indeed, by the time Ainge and Zanik met with media to explain the Gobert trade, Zanik was asked if Mitchell was considered “untouchable,” and ultimately conceded he was not.
And so in the end, when Cavaliers GM Koby Altman made a blockbuster offer, the Jazz’s decision-makers opted to accept.
Now, even with the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson still to be dealt, it’s hard to view Thursday’s deal as anything other than Utah’s front office pressing the button on the final detonation of a very good but never great team.