HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Cavaliers beat writer Chris Fedor share behind-the-scenes intel on the Donovan Mitchell trade. Plus, updates on extension talks for Caris LeVert, Kevin Love’s future, whether LeBron James could return to Cleveland again, Ricky Rubio’s return, and more on the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast.
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1:30 Donovan Mitchell trade
Scotto: Let’s start by looking at this for the Cavaliers that left. Ideally, Collin Sexton’s camp wanted $20 million annually. Getting $18 million annually is a win overall for a guy that missed most of last season with a torn meniscus. From what I heard, Cleveland was not willing to go above the luxury tax or move assets like a draft pick of some kind to shed Cedi Osman’s salary theoretically to pay Sexton closer to that $18 million annual range. In the end, with Sexton prepared to take the qualifying offer for this season and unrestricted free agency looming next summer, Cleveland didn’t want to lose him for nothing. By including Sexton in the Donovan Mitchell trade, it worked out well for both slides.
Cleveland’s going to have to replace some shooting with the losses of Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji. There are a boatload of draft picks going to Utah, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal since the Cavaliers are projected to be a playoff team for years to come. Utah appears to be banking on Mitchell opting out of his deal after three seasons and not wanting to stay in Cleveland long-term, or else those unprotected draft picks and pick swaps in the years to come won’t have as much value.
Cleveland now has four potential guys in Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, that are potential All-Stars contractually locked in for a minimum of the next three years. They are still $2.5 million below the luxury tax and can comfortably sign a 15th player to a veteran minimum deal, according to our HoopsHype salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan.
Fedor: The background here is the two teams spoke at Vegas Summer League. At that time, the Cavaliers got the feeling from Utah that the price was going to be too high, and there were going to be other teams out there that could’ve met Utah’s asking price.
As the offseason progressed and New York continued to take the approach they took, Utah continued to have Mitchell on the roster, and they were fielding offers from other teams, the Cavaliers started to get the feeling that they might be in this thing.
Jazz GM Justin Zanik and Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman are close. They have a personal and working relationship. Of all the executives around the NBA, I think Koby is probably closest to Zanik. The two organizations have done multiple trades in the past. Having that foundation of working with each other in the past, I think helped this. Three weeks ago, Koby went to Justin saying, “Is there a package you like from us enough that doesn’t include Garland, Mobley, or Allen?” Build something there, and they’d see if there was a path to getting something done.
If Utah or any other teams this offseason asked for Garland, Allen, or Mobley, that was going to be a non-starter for the Cavaliers. Those are the franchise pillars they’re going to build around and have made that commitment already.
When New York made the decision to extend RJ Barrett, Altman went back to Zanik and asked if they could get something done. About 48 hours after re-engaging, it got done.
Before the Mitchell trade, we’d be saying how close are the Cavaliers to Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, and New York. Can they avoid the Play-In Tournament? Now, with Mitchell on board and the team being relatively close to what it was last year when they won 44 games, it’s more about how high up in the East they belong. Do they belong with Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Miami?
Scotto: I’m curious how it goes for Cleveland because if they’re winning over the next few years, then the question for Donovan Mitchell long-term would be whether he wants to stay in the market.
11:35 Caris LeVert extension talks
Scotto: To my understanding, there’s no rush for Cleveland to do anything right now regarding a Caris LeVert contract extension.
Fedor: I’ve been told it hasn’t been decided who’s going to start at small forward. Training camp and preseason are going to figure that out. JB Bickerstaff has to get together with all the other coaches to figure it out. I believe LeVert’s going to be in that mix. Before the Mitchell trade, LeVert was penciled in as the starting shooting guard and was going to be a high usage, 30-minute a night kind of guy. If he starts at small forward, then it’s going be less of the ball in his hands and less playmaking, and can he make a big impact on the defensive end of the floor. If it’s Isaac Okoro in the starting five, then Caris goes into a super sixth man role, and he can be the primary initiator and the primary shot creator. I think how the Cavaliers use Caris is going to depend a lot on what they decide to do with the final starting lineup spot.
If he’s the sixth man and has that view around the NBA, then he’s talking about a different kind of monetary value than if he was a starter playing 30-35 minutes a night. I think at the end of this, there’s a benefit to the Cavaliers for keeping Caris on the final year of his contract and as a trade chip if the Cavaliers don’t get what they want it to be. I think, ultimately, it’s going to be hard for both sides to get an extension done because the feeling inside the organization right now is that Caris is going to want too much, and they don’t know what his role is going to be and how he’s going to fit with Mitchell coming on board. The Cavaliers are open to whatever. If they can get him on a team-friendly deal, I definitely think they’ll consider and explore it. I just don’t see an extension coming for LeVert.
18:10 Kevin Love’s future
Scotto: Love’s Cavaliers journey has been an interesting one. He was a guy who helped Cleveland win a championship as part of the big three with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Three out of the past four seasons, he’s been hurt. You’d hear his name in trade rumblings and he didn’t seem like a fit on a rebuilding team. Now, after last season under JB Bickerstaff who he’s close with, he redefined himself becoming a more efficient player off the bench and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He seemed like more of a veteran mentor than he had been.
He’s entering the final year of his deal, and he’s got a large contract that you could theoretically use as a trade chip, but he’s been with the Cavaliers for eight seasons, and he’s been here a long time. Ricky Rubio is back, and I’m sure that brings a smile to Love’s face. I look at Love now and say to myself, even though he’s going to be 34 coming up soon, could he still be a part of this team looking ahead even on a short-term deal?
Fedor: He’s set to make $28.9 million this season. There’s inherent value to that when you’re talking about a trade. The problem is if you’re going to trade Love, you’re going to bring somebody back making the same kind of money. Chances are that guy will be making that money into the 2023-24 season or the 2024-25 season. Then, Cleveland’s salaries would get really high and crowded. Garland’s extension will kick in, and they’ll have to pay Mobley soon. All of those things the Cavaliers have to consider. I think because they took on Mitchell already, it would be hard for them to trade Love and take back a bloated salary.
As was discussed with Caris, there is a benefit with LeVert not getting an extension and being on the expiring contract. There’s a benefit to the Cavaliers to keeping Love and letting his salary come off the books and naturally clean up their salary cap sheet rather than taking on another big salary player.
Scotto: I think, ultimately, I’m in agreement with you on that. I think if you can bring him back at a relatively fair market value, I’m just curious what that’s going to be.
Fedor: Do you think the mid-level is about right?
Scotto: I think that’s fair. I say that because he’s an older guy, and a team with cap space isn’t necessarily going to break the bank for him. He’d be better on a playoff-caliber team. He’s not going to go to a rebuilding team.
Fedor: Kevin Love is beloved by his teammates. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen all love being around Kevin. If he’s going to be happy in this lesser role as he was last year, effective in that same role, and the Cavaliers are winning, he’s going to be happy too.
25:25 Could LeBron James return to Cleveland?
Fedor: I think they’d be open to it on their own terms, under the right terms. Terms that are very different from the ones he came back to in 2014. When you acquire LeBron, there are a lot of things that go with that. He wants power. He wants to help make decisions over the roster and people that are hired within the organization. He wants to be at the center of everything and have a team built around his strengths and things along those lines.
The Cavaliers would not sign up for that kind of situation. They feel good about what they have here, especially with the addition of Donovan Mitchell. Back in 2014, they needed a savior and needed LeBron to come back and take them to a different level.
28:40 Ricky Rubio’s return
Fedor: He visited with Cavaliers team doctors recently. He had been doing a lot of his rehab overseas in Barcelona at the early stages of it. He met with the Cavaliers team doctors, and I was told that everything was on the same schedule. They don’t have a specific timeline because this is a player beyond the age of 30 and his second torn ACL. They don’t feel they need to rush him back onto the court. I think the Cavaliers are going to take their time. I keep hearing 12 months. That’s the historical timeline that’s attached to a lot of guys. If you’re talking about that, we’re talking about January. I think February is probably more realistic at this point for Ricky.
From the beginning, they were looking at the Rubio signing as a guy that they view as essentially a trade acquisition midway through the season. He can give them a boost in February, March, April, and if they get to the playoffs. The other thing I continue to hear is that even though he’ll probably be back in January or February, how effective he’ll be this year over the final few months of the regular season will be hard to predict.
The Cavaliers gave him a multi-year contract because they’re looking at him in year two of his recovery as when he’ll be most effective and more like the player he was at the start of last season when the Cavaliers were 20-14 with him in the lineup, he was good next to Garland, and he was finishing games. He was integral in their rise in their surprise status in the East.
31:45 Cleveland’s open roster spot
Scotto: As I mentioned, according to our HoopsHype salary Yossi Gozlan, Cleveland still is $2.5 million below the luxury tax and can comfortably sign a guy to a veteran minimum deal. They’ve lost a little bit of shooting with Markkanen gone.
Fedor: I’d love to know from you, Mike, if you’ve heard anybody specifically that could be available via trade that could man that spot (Markkanen’s starting small forward role) besides Bojan Bogdanovic and maybe Harrison Barnes? I think that’s something the Cavaliers are open to exploring. They don’t have a lot of trade capital anymore because they used a big chunk of it to get Mitchell. If they could package future second-round picks along with, hypothetically, Caris LeVert or Cedi Osman to try and upgrade that spot, I think they’d explore that.
If they don’t like any of the trade options or guys, they can sign in free agency and just leave that spot open. The Cavaliers have historically been open to doing that and seeing what happens in training camp and what happens in the early portion of the regular season if somebody becomes available.
Scotto: I don’t think the Cavaliers have enough to get Bojan Bogdanovic. I’ve certainly heard his name at nauseam with the Lakers, which surprises me a little bit. I felt if you’re the Lakers and you’re trying to build the best team now, you’d try to look more towards a Pacers deal (for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield), but obviously, Indiana wants both of those first-round picks (2027 and 2029) as close to unprotected as possible. I touched on them wanting Talen Horton-Tucker too in trade talks before he went to Utah while seeing if they could get off Daniel Theis as well.
With Harrison Barnes, Sacramento always values their guys more than other teams around the league. I thought they would’ve done well to move Barnes a couple of years ago, but they didn’t and wanted to try to make the playoffs. They still want to try to make the playoffs now. I don’t know if Caris LeVert would make them better in their eyes, even though he’s younger.
Going back to Bogdanovic, Danny Ainge certainly wants to collect as many draft picks as possible and be the new Sam Presti to rebuild in Utah. I don’t know if having Caris LeVert would fit that mold. Given the deal they did with Donovan Mitchell, I think if something was there (for Bogdanovic), they would’ve tried to integrate it to make it an even bigger blockbuster. I don’t know how many times we see separate deals like that unless it’s towards the deadline.
I’d imagine if you’re Utah, you’re going to move those guys quicker like Mike Conley, Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson because ultimately those are guys that can help a team win. If I’m Utah, I’m trying to replace one Frenchman with another. I’m trying to replace Rudy Gobert with Victor Wembanyama.