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 Utah Jazz and Cleveland 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.
“Ochai, Lauri and Collin are exciting young players, and we’re thrilled to add them to our roster,” Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik said last September. “We believe that they fit the Jazz culture and hard-nosed, competitive brand of basketball we’ve built here in Utah. They give us versatility and athleticism on both ends of the floor as we grow toward the future. We look forward to our fans getting to know them.”
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.
After undergoing season-ending knee surgery during last season with the Cavs, Sexton has come back with a vengeance and firmly supplanted himself as a significant part of Utah’s future plans. A lightning quick guard who is Utah’s best one-on-one player, he’s 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, since moving to The Land, Mitchell has catapulted the Cavaliers to its current status as one of the best teams in the NBA – fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the league's sixth-best overall record.
The play of everyone involved in the trade and the steps forward they’ve all taken are further proof that both teams can win when making deals with one another.
That's why when Mitchell makes his much-awaited return to Vivint Arena on Tuesday night, he should be showered with cheers and applause by Jazz Nation when his name is introduced in the starting lineup.
“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,” 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.”
Traded to Utah during the 2017 draft night, Mitchell emerged as one of the best players in the history of the organization during his five years with the team. His accolades are inarguable, as he is one of only two players from his draft class to be named an All-Star in three of their first five seasons. (Boston's Jayson Tatum is the other.)
While in Utah, he averaged 23.9 points, 4.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game on 44.1% shooting from the floor and 36.1% from three-point territory. During his time with the Jazz, Mitchell collected many career accolades, including a rookie season where he won the 2018 Slam Dunk contest and was named First-Team All-Rookie. He was also named the Western Conference Player of the Month in December 2021.
Quickly climbing up the franchise record books, Mitchell ranks No. 8 in points scored (8,234), No. 4 in points per game (23.9), No. 2 in made three-pointers (958), No. 9 in minutes per game (33.7), No. 8 in assists per game (4.5), No. 9 in steals per game (1.3), and No. 2 in usage percentage (31.4).
For postseason totals, he ranks No. 4 in points (1,073), No. 7 in assists (175), and No. 9 in steals (45). He also owns the Jazz’s all-time single-season three-point record, knocking down 232 during the 2021-22 season.
Throughout his five seasons in Utah, Mitchell played in 345 regular season games (337 starts) and 39 postseason games (all starts). When Mitchell was on the team, the Jazz compiled a 218-127 record (.632 winning percentage), while advancing to the playoffs each season.
“We did a lot of great things there. … We did not accomplish our main goal,” Mitchell told reporters after Cleveland’s game in Phoenix Sunday night. “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.”
While his on-court success with the Jazz can never be diminished, what Mitchell did in communities across the country and throughout Utah is where his legacy as a Jazzman will last forever. With a heart as big as his superstar status, Mitchell has championed social justice and education, using his platform to speak out against racism and inequity.
More than anything, he backed up his words with generosity.
He pledged $12 million to Greenwich Country Day (his alma mater and the school where his mother taught for over a decade). He gave all the proceeds from sales of his Adidas basketball sneakers D.O.N. Issue #2 x Louisville (up to $200,000) to provide scholarships and academic initiatives for black students at the University of Louisville.
For his community service and philanthropic commitments, Mitchell was awarded the Offseason NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his work in summer 2020.
While Mitchell was sensational for Utah for reasons on and off the court, it’s rare for a player – especially an All-Star – to stay with a team for their entire career.
Now the Jazz not only have a team battling for a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference, but also are armed with more assets moving forward than any other team in the league. The front office has done everything possible to give new head coach Will Hardy the best chance at succeeding in the future.
"It was clear that in order to optimize our opportunity to create a team that could truly contend and establish sustained success, we needed to transition our roster,” said Jazz CEO of Basketball Danny Ainge during the summer. “In trading Rudy (Gobert) and now Donovan, it was a rare opportunity to maximize our ability to get quality talent and picks to best position us moving forward. We have a plan in place to help us assemble the championship team our fans deserve. It will take time to craft our roster. We all understand the work ahead and are committed to our vision."
While Mitchell's departure undoubtedly left a hole in the hearts of Jazz fans everywhere, his legacy has continued to live on. He'll forever be a Jazzman.
45. Spida. Donovan. Thank you. It's been an honor.