In what's sure to be the story of the NBA on Tuesday night, former Jazzman Donovan Mitchell returns to the snow-capped mountains of Salt Lake City when Utah hosts Cleveland at Vivint Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.
"Once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman. We honor the amazing five seasons Donovan gave the Jazz and the incredible contributions he made to the Utah community," Jazz owner Ryan Smith said. "He will always be part of the Jazz's legacy, even when he is wearing another jersey as our competitor. I look forward to seeing every fan join me in a standing ovation as Donovan returns to Utah for the first time of many over the course of his career."
It's a rarity in the NBA that a trade between two teams ends up being a win-win scenario for both organizations.
However, the Jazz and Cavaliers have proven that it's possible.
In a trade that sent three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland in exchange for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and Ochai Agbaji (as well as future first-round picks and future first-round draft swaps), the Jazz and Cavaliers have maintained a vibrant confidence and positive outlook for how it turned out.
While the draft picks and assets moving forward have given Utah a massive boost for the future, the front office is thrilled with the immediate return they've received.
In a few short months since attaining official status as a Jazzman, Markkanen has emerged as a bonafide All-Star and is having a career season with the Jazz.
Markkanen is averaging 24.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. He's one of two players in the league to be averaging 20+ points per game on 50% shooting from the floor (53%), and 40% shooting from three (41.6%) — Steph Curry is the other.
"Lauri's done such a good job of continuing to work on different ways he can impact the game offensively," head coach Will Hardy said last week. "Obviously he's shown the ability to shoot the ball. … But the physicality he's been able to play with, to drive the ball and as a screener, has given him the opportunity to score in a variety of ways."
After undergoing season-ending knee surgery last season with the Cavs, Sexton returned with a vengeance and firmly supplanted himself as a significant part of Utah's future plans. A lightning-quick guard, Utah's best one-on-one player, is third on the team with 14.1 points and 2.9 assists in 24.1 minutes per game.
Lastly, Agbaji has emerged over the past week with back-to-back career games against Houston and Chicago. After putting up 11 points against the Rockets, Agbaji dropped 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting (4-of-4 from deep) against the Bulls.
Meanwhile, Mitchell is having a breakout season in The Land and has emerged as a dark horse MVP candidate. Following his 71-point/11-assist outing a few weeks ago, he's averaging 28.8 points on 48.8% from the floor, 40.5% from deep, and 87.4% from the free throw line — all career highs.
When speaking with reporters on Sunday night in Phoenix, Mitchell acknowledged that he loved his time in Utah even if they came up short of their ultimate goal of winning a title.
"We did a lot of great things there. … We did not accomplish our main goal," Mitchell told reporters. "I don't know what the response is going to be, and I am hopeful there will be cheers. Like I said, I had a lot of positives despite not winning a championship. …That is not easy and only one team does it. At the end of the day, we played well, and we had great groups of coaches."
Utah (20-23, 12-7 home / No. 11 Western Conference)
*117.6 Points Per Game (No. 3 in NBA)
*116.0 Offensive Rating (No. 3 in NBA)
*116.9 Points Per Game (No. 24 in NBA)
*115.1 Defensive Rating (No. 27 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 24.5 points | 8.3 rebounds | 1.9 assists | 41.6% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.4 points | 4.5 assists | 3.8 rebounds | 35.6% 3P-shooting
*Malik Beasley: 14.0 points | 3.5 rebounds | 36.6% 3P-shooting
*Mike Conley: 10.0 points | 7.6 assists | 35.7% 3P-shooting
Cleveland (26-15, 8-11 away home / No. 4 Eastern Conference)
*111.5 Points Per Game (No. 25 in NBA)
*113.9 Offensive Rating (No. 10 in NBA)
*106.6 Points Per Game (No. 1 in NBA)
*109.0 Defensive Rating (No. 1 in NBA)
*Donovan Mitchell: 28.8 points | 4.8 assists | 3.9 rebounds | 40.5% 3P-shooting
*Darius Garland: 21.4 points | 7.8 assists | 39.3% 3P-shooting
*Evan Mobley: 14.2 points | 8.9 rebounds | 1.3 blocks | 55.0% shooting
*Jarrett Allen: 13.6 points | 10.1 rebounds | 1.2 blocks | 61.9% shooting
*Lauri Markkanen vs. Donovan Mitchell
— While they may not go head-to-head much on Tuesday night, all eyes will be on Markkanen and Mitchell — two key players in the September trade. They’re both having career seasons and are on the verge of accomplishing first-time goals; Markkanen as an All-Star and Mitchell for All-NBA. While the reception should be warm for Mitchell in his return, the ovation should be louder for Markkanen if he can lead the Jazz to a victory.
AVAILABLE | Johnny Juzang (G League - Two-Way)
AVAILABLE | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Leandro Bolmaro (illness)
OUT | Talen Horton-Tucker (right ankle sprain)
OUT | Kelly Olynyk (left ankle sprain)
OUT | Collin Sexton (right hamstring injury maintenance)
OUT | Udoka Azubuike (health & safety protocols)
OUT | Isaiah Mobley (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Ricky Rubio (left knee ACL surgery)
OUT | Dean Wade (left shoulder sprain)
OUT | Dylan Windler (right ankle sprain)
Time: 7:00 p.m. MT
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network