Donovan Mitchell, who helped save the Utah Jazz from disaster in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure in 2017 and later led the team to a first-place regular season finish in 2021, is gone.
The trade that marked the end of one of the most successful eras in franchise history would be shocking if not for the months-long saga that made it feel inevitable. Long before the news broke Thursday, even before the Jazz suffered another first-round playoff defeat, Mitchell’s exit was a lock. He would be traded … to the New York Knicks.
With Mitchell now en route to Cleveland, let’s look back at what happened.
March 20 — By early spring, there were more than a few rumors casting doubt on Mitchell’s future in Utah. With the Jazz playing the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, not far from where Mitchell grew up, there was plenty of talk about the hometown hero’s connections to the city and the Knicks’ ties with Creative Artists Agency — the same agency that reps Mitchell. (Knicks president Leon Rose is a former CAA agent, and associate head coach Johnny Bryant — a former Jazz assistant and Mitchell confidant — is a CAA client.)
April 16 — Members of the Jazz were reportedly “surprised and upset” after Game 1 of their first-round series against the Mavericks, because Knicks exec William Wesley and forward Julius Randle were spotted courtside to watch Mitchell. (For what it’s worth, some in the Knicks organization said Wesley was there to get a look at Dallas guard Jalen Brunson, whom New York would later sign in free agency.)
April 28 — You might not have known the Jazz’s Game 6 defeat to the Mavericks would be Mitchell’s last game with the franchise, but his post-game interview gave even more reason to wonder.
When initially asked if he wants to be in Utah, the guard tepidly answered, “Yeah.” When subsequently asked if he could definitively refute national media speculation that he might try to force a trade elsewhere, he replied, in part, “Right now, I’m not really looking at that. … I’ll think about it in a week and go from there, but right now, I’m not really thinking about any of that. Ask me in a week.”
June 5 — In the first shocking development of the offseason, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder announced his resignation, saying he felt the team needed a new voice in the locker room. Shortly thereafter, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Mitchell felt “uneasy.”
June 30 — In perhaps the first signs that the organization felt it perhaps had given Mitchell too much influence, several of his closest teammates on the team were sent packing. Royce O’Neale was traded to Brooklyn for a future first-round pick, while Eric Paschall and Trent Forrest were not extended qualifying offers, making them unrestricted free agents.
July 1 — The Jazz began dismantling their roster by first trading franchise cornerstone Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. “Sometimes the window for winning is not always big,” the former Jazzman would say.
July 9 — When asked if the Jazz considered Mitchell “untouchable,” general manager Justin Zanik gave a circuitous answer that said that while there is “no intent” to trade him, it’s ultimately fair to say no one was untouchable.
“Change is inevitable in the NBA. I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else,” he said. “Donovan is on our roster and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. We’re trying to build a championship team. But there’s no intent there [to trade him].”
July 12 — The Jazz reportedly began listening to offers for Mitchell, with Woj reporting that “the Jazz are no longer simply dismissing calls” about the three-time All-Star. The Knicks and Heat are mentioned immediately as possible trade partners.
According to a Woj report this week, the Knicks offered RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, and three unprotected first-round picks, and the Jazz turned it down — though some have dismissed this as spin by the Knicks after the fact to placate an angry fan base wondering why New York couldn’t get a deal done.
In contrast, SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the Jazz had proposed a trade centered around Robinson and three unprotected firsts, and the Knicks turned it down, deeming the price to be too high.
July 27 — The Knicks were the presumed frontrunners, because of their apparent ability to beat any other offer with their collection of young players and amassed draft picks, but other teams were expressing interest, with at least six reported to have kicked the tires on a deal.
Aug. 16 — After an apparent pause in discussions, the Jazz and Knicks resumed talks.
Aug. 26 — SNY’s Begley reports that the Cavaliers had been discussing a Mitchell deal, but removed themselves from the talks, apparently leaving the Knicks as the only team with a substantive offer for Mitchell, albeit one that Danny Ainge apparently did not view as enough.
Aug. 29 — Then came the deadline. The Knicks reportedly set a deadline for Monday of this week to get a deal done or they would extend guard R.J. Barrett, whose contract would become a poison pill that made negotiating a deal difficult.
Sept. 1 — Woj breaks the news that the Cavs have won the Mitchell sweepstakes by committing three unprotected firsts and two pick swaps. Yahoo’s Chris Haynes quickly follows with the players the Cavs are giving up: Collin Sexton in a sign-and-trade, Lauri Markkanen, and 2022 lottery pick Ochai Agbaji. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that Sexton’s deal is a fully-guaranteed four years and $72 million.