After nearly two months of reported trade discussions between the Jazz and Knicks over Donovan Mitchell, the Cavaliers swooped in and acquired the coveted guard. They will be sending back the Jazz a haul featuring three unprotected first-round picks, two pick swaps, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and Ochai Agbaji, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The acquisition of Mitchell, along with the expected continual development of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, should elevate the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
Below is a breakdown of the trade and how it impacts the Cavaliers and Jazz going forward.
How this impacts the Cavaliers
To help match salaries for Mitchell, the Cavaliers are signing Sexton to a four-year $72 million deal and trading him to the Jazz, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Assuming his deal has no incentives and has 5 percent maximum raises, his first-year salary could start as low as $16.7 million. His first-year salary will be more than a 20 percent raise from his salary from last season, subjecting his outgoing salary is subjected to Base Year Compensation.
Mitchell has a 15 percent trade bonus but it will be capped at the $30.9 million maximum salary for this season. This raises his salary for this year and the next two seasons by $561,970 each. The Cavaliers will generate a $3.9 million trade exception and now stand $2.5 million below the luxury tax with 14 players with standard contracts. They still have enough room below the tax to sign one more player to a veteran minimum contract, but they could also keep that roster spot open heading into the season.
While Cleveland should have plenty to be excited about now that the Cavaliers are set to be really good for the foreseeable future, they are just about all out of flexibility going forward. Outside of their foundational trio, they traded almost every other positive value asset they could possibly offer to the Jazz, including unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027, and 2029. This was the maximum amount of first-rounders they could trade under the Stepien rule. They also included pick swaps in 2026 and 2028.
The Cavaliers still have some question marks on their roster, particularly with their lack of versatile 3-and-D wing players. It’ll be tough for them to make improvements via trade in the short term, though they do have up to 9 second-round picks they can play with. The Cavaliers owe the Pacers a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick that is likely to convey now, so the soonest they can trade a first-round pick will be their 2024 first-rounder after the selection is made.
Prior to this deal, the Cavaliers were projected to generate $25 million in 2023 cap space provided they don’t add any more long-term salaries. Now that option is likely gone with their commitments to Garland, Allen, and now Mitchell. Now they could look to extend some of their extension-eligible players during the season, such as Caris LeVert, Kevin Love, and Cedi Osman. Mitchell will become extension-eligible in the 2023 offseason, but it’s worth noting that he will not be able to sign a supermax with the Cavaliers even if he meets the criteria since he was only able to with the Jazz.
One other ramification from acquiring Mitchell is that the Cavaliers won’t be able to sign Mobley to a five-year maximum rookie-scale extension when he’s extension-eligible in 2024. This is because the Cavaliers now have two Designated Rookies on their roster through at least 2025 in Mitchell and Garland. Teams are limited to two Designated Rookies at a time, but the Cavaliers can get around this by allowing Mobley to hit restricted free agency in 2025 and re-signing him to a five-year maximum contract then.
How this impacts the Jazz
The Jazz followed up the haul they received for Rudy Gobert by getting more-or-less equivalent value from the Cavaliers for Mitchell. Utah now have 13 first-round picks in the next 7 drafts, including 6 of their own, 4 from the Timberwolves, and 3 from the Cavaliers. They will bottom out for the foreseeable future with a focus on drafting and acquiring young players they could develop for the next great Jazz team.
Assuming Sexton’s salary for 2022-23 is $16.7 million, the Jazz are would sit just $1.7 million below the luxury tax with 17 players on guaranteed contracts. They will likely look to move off some of their veterans via trade to acquire more draft equity while also clearing roster spots and creating more flexibility under the tax. They are also now hard-capped having acquired Sexton via sign-and-trade, but that shouldn’t affect them.
Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Malik Beasley, Jordan Clarkson, and Rudy Gay are some of the veterans who are logical candidates to be available for trade. It’s possible Sexton and Markkanen aren’t untouchable, but the former can’t be traded until January 15 and the latter can’t be aggregated with other salaries for two months. They also have several trade exceptions to help facilitate trades, including ones worth $9.8 million, $9.6 million, and $2.7 million.
The Knicks seemed like the inevitable suitors for Mitchell but that changed once they extended R.J. Barrett. According to Wojnarowski, the Knicks’ offered Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, two unprotected first-round picks, the Bucks 2025 first-round pick, two pick swaps, and two second-round picks for Mitchell. While that offer is certainly quantitatively in the same range as Cleveland’s offer, perhaps the Jazz preferred the quality of the Cavaliers’ players they were receiving while also having a more favorable outlook of where their future first-round picks will land.
One other team this impacts is the Lakers. They were reportedly in discussions with the Jazz and Knicks as the third team in a framework that would’ve sent Russell Westbrook and draft picks to Utah for a combination of their veterans. While a two-team trade between the Lakers and Jazz involving Westbrook isn’t out of the question, it gets a lot trickier now given Utah’s proximity to the luxury tax.
The Jazz also keep their 2023 flexibility open despite taking on Sexton and Markkanen. They are projected to generate somewhere between $20-25 million in cap space, but that would require them waiving Conley’s partially guaranteed deal and declining Beasley’s team option. Trading Conley and players with player options for next year like Clarkson and Gay could significantly boost their 2023 cap space.
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