Donovan Mitchell [608x342]
Donovan Mitchell [608x342] (Credit: David Richard/USA Today Sports)

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Cleveland Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman knew the risk and reward when he acquired Donovan Mitchell via trade from the Utah Jazz in September 2022.

The reward for aggressively pursuing Mitchell was an obvious one. 

For the first time since LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, Cleveland had a top-15 player on its roster, and more importantly one under contract for the next three seasons.

The 2022 trade for Mitchell also started the clock on Cleveland building a championship roster and then selling the five-time All-Star on what the future could look like long term with the Cavaliers.

Since that September deal, Cleveland has won 99 games in Mitchell's first two seasons -- the fifth most of any NBA team -- and reached the conference semifinals for the first time since James' last season with the team in 2018.

And about the risk. That arrives this coming offseason.

Cleveland on Thursday fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff, and now it is up to Altman to identify the next leader to guide this roster past the second round of the playoffs. There are no mulligans if the Cavaliers fail to do so.

Playoffs or not, Mitchell's future factors into prominent play for the next coach. Mitchell, 27, was eligible to sign a three-year extension last offseason, but he passed, saying he wants it "to be known that I still have the opportunity to sign an extension next summer. I don't think a lot of people understand that aspect."

Come July, Mitchell will be allowed to add one more season.

But what happens if Mitchell has not seen enough progress with the roster and is not sold on the new coach's vision for the Cavaliers' future? Would he elect not to sign the four-year, $208.5 million extension that will be presented to him on the first day of free agency (June 30)?

The question then centers on whether the Cavaliers risk Mitchell playing out the last year of his contract (he does have a $37.1 million player option in 2025-26) with the conviction another season could change his mind. Mitchell could earn an extra $61 million with Cleveland if he played out the 2025-26 season, but that is an option Altman and the front office cannot afford to take.

As the franchise moves forward, let's look at Cleveland's options, including how the Cavs have the upper hand -- but trading away their star guard is an option.

The case in Cleveland

The Cavaliers have two advantages no other team has in its back pocket.

The first is that the team has had the past two years to in-house recruit Mitchell and now will have the next five weeks to recruit him as if he was a free agent.

Both Cleveland and Mitchell will meet in the next month, according to sources, and when they do, it is vital for the Cavaliers to evaluate the current roster, address what changes are needed and then execute the plan. This is, of course, if Mitchell commits to sign the extension in July.

It is also important for team owner Dan Gilbert to communicate his willingness to spend even if that puts the Cavs in the luxury tax for the first time since James was on the roster. Cleveland could be in the luxury tax next season if it re-signs forward Isaac Okoro.

Evaluating the roster starts with the backcourt of Mitchell and Darius Garland. The Cavaliers went 15-4 in the regular season when Mitchell started at point guard in the absence of Garland. They had a net efficiency of plus-8.6 in the regular season when Mitchell did not play with Garland.

The second advantage is that unlike teams that need to gut their rosters to trade for Mitchell, Cleveland can use its own players in a trade -- Garland and Jarrett Allen -- for example, to strengthen its lineup. Both players are former All-Stars, under contract for at least the next two seasons and have value if Cleveland were to make them available. If the Cavaliers do make Garland available, one trade that could make sense would be a package centered around the Los Angeles Lakers' Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. Reaves' shooting skills would complement Mitchell, and Hachimura gives the Cavaliers depth in the frontcourt if they look to trade Allen.

What cannot happen for Cleveland's sake is Mitchell signs an extension in July, Cleveland trades Garland or Allen, and then Mitchell asks out one year later.

Starters under contract: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen

Reserves under contract: Craig Porter Jr., Ty Jerome, Caris LeVert, Sam Merrill, Georges Niang and Dean Wade

Free agents: Isaac Okoro (restricted), Marcus Morris, Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson

Tradable firsts: 2024 and 2031

Potential trade suitors for Mitchell

Mitchell has given no indication of his dissatisfaction in Cleveland. He recently told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski he was happy in Cleveland and has been since he arrived in 2022. "I'm not leaving this season unhappy. I'm leaving it more determined."

He also reminded that the Cavs reaching the second round should not be considered a moral victory.

If Mitchell does not sign an extension, there will be teams -- including the Lakers -- who will be ready to make an offer, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

But any team trading for Mitchell will need assurance he will commit long term.

The same $208.5 million extension that Cleveland could offer to Mitchell in July, is also available to his new team but six months after the trade is completed.

Because of his Bird rights transferring in a trade, Mitchell could also sign a five-year, $269 million contract in 2025, similar to what is available if he remains with the Cavaliers.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The future of D'Angelo Russell will play a central role in how active the Lakers will be in trade talks this offseason.

In this scenario, Russell opts-in to his $18.7 million contract or even takes less in his next contract, the Lakers are a possible first-apron team and are not allowed to take back more money in a trade.

That would mean a hypothetical Reaves-Hachimura and three first-round picks for Mitchell trade does not work. A Russell sign-and-trade to Cleveland and Reaves, for example, also does not work because it would put the Lakers over the second apron.

Teams over the second apron are not allowed to aggregate contracts sent out in a trade.

If Russell does not return or they find a third team to take back his contract if he opts-in, the Lakers would be allowed to aggregate contracts sent out. The Lakers would then be allowed to trade Reaves, Hachimura and three first-round picks (2024, 2029 and 2031) for Mitchell.

Starters under contract: Anthony Davis ($43.2M, Player 2027), Rui Hachimura ($17M, UFA 2026) and Austin Reaves ($12.9M, Player 2026)

Reserves under contract: Gabe Vincent ($11M, UFA 2026), Jarred Vanderbilt ($10.7M, UFA 2027), Jalen Hood-Schifino ($3.9M, RFA 2027) and Maxwell Lewis ($1.9M, Team 2026)

Free agents: LeBron James ($51.4M, Player), D'Angelo Russell ($18.7M, Player), Christian Wood ($3M, Player), Jaxson Hayes ($2.5M, Player), Cam Reddish ($2.5M, Player), Max Christie (Restricted), Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie

Tradable Firsts: 3 (2024, 2029 and 2031)

Firsts to swap: 2026, 2028, 2029, 2030 and 2031

BROOKLYN NETS

Unlike the 2022 offseason when Brooklyn was limited in draft assets it could have offered when Mitchell was with Utah, the Nets are flush with first-round capital.

From the Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden trades, Brooklyn has three unprotected firsts from the Suns (2025, 2027, 2029), a 2027 unprotected Dallas first and a 2028 top-8 protected first from Philadelphia. The Nets can also trade two of their own first starting in 2028.

A trade centered around Ben Simmons' expiring contract and first-round picks makes the most sense for Brooklyn, but how does that improve Cleveland on the court now?

One trade package that works and is more appealing to the Cavaliers is Cam Thomas, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dennis Schroder and three unprotected first-round picks from Phoenix.

Starters under contract: Dennis Schroder ($13M, UFA 2025), Cam Thomas ($4M, RFA 2025), Mikal Bridges ($23.3M, UFA 2026) and Cameron Johnson ($22.5M, UFA 2027)

Reserves under contract: Ben Simmons ($40.3M, UFA 2025), Dorian Finney-Smith ($14.9M, Player 2025), Day'Ron Sharpe ($4M, RFA 2025), Noah Clowney ($3.2M), Dariq Whitehead ($3.1M) and Jalen Wilson ($1.9M, RFA 2026)

Free agents: Nicolas Claxton, Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker, Trendon Watford and Keita Bates-Diop ($2.7M, Player)

Tradable Firsts: 7

Firsts to swap: 2028, 2029, 2030 or 2031

MIAMI HEAT

Unless the Heat get their finances in order, they cannot trade for Mitchell without including Jimmy Butler in the deal.

Including the $7.1 million due to Caleb Martin and unlikely bonuses (those count toward the apron) for Tyler Herro, Miami is at the second apron in 2024-25.

If Martin does not return, Miami is allowed to trade Herro, Jaime Jacquez Jr., Orlando Robinson and two future first-round picks while still remaining below the second apron.

Because of the Terry Rozier trade, Miami is limited in first-round picks to send.

They Heat owe a 2025 top-14 protected first to Oklahoma City that is unprotected in 2026 if not conveyed. Once the first is sent, the Heat will then send the Charlotte Hornets either a top-14 protected first in 2027 or an unprotected first in 2028.

The earliest Miami can trade a first is in 2029.

Starters under contract: Terry Rozier ($24.9M, UFA 2026), Tyler Herro ($29M, UFA 2027), Jimmy Butler ($48.8M, Player 2025), Jaime Jaquez Jr. ($3.7M, RFA 2028) and Bam Adebayo ($34.8M, UFA 2026)

Reserves under contract: Duncan Robinson ($19.4M, UFA 2026), Nikola Jovic ($2.4M, RFA 2027) and Orlando Robinson ($2.1M, UFA 2025)

Free agents: Caleb Martin ($7.1M, Player), Kevin Love ($4M, Player), Josh Richardson ($3.1M, Player), Thomas Bryant ($2.8M, Player), Haywood Highsmith, Delon Wright and Patty Mills

Tradable firsts: 3 (2024, 2029 and 2031)

Note: The Heat can trade their 2029 first, but only if Charlotte receives their first in 2027.

Firsts to swap: 2029, 2030 and 2031

NEW YORK KNICKS

The Knicks finished runner-up to Cleveland in 2022, but that was under different circumstances. At the time, Jalen Brunson had not ascended into a top-10 player, nor did New York have Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and OG Anunoby.

The play of Brunson and the results on court after the Anunoby trade showed New York does not need to chase the next superstar, unless of course an upper-tier player such as Giannis Antetokounmpo is available in the future.

But let's play the hypothetical game and walk through what New York could offer if it wanted to explore a Mitchell trade.

New York checks the boxes with draft assets, having 10 tradable firsts over the next seven years. The Knicks can also swap picks every season.

A trade sending Bojan Bogdanovic, DiVincenzo and three first-round picks is allowed but only if Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein take less in free agency, or New York finds a third team for Mitchell Robinson.

Starters under contract: Jalen Brunson ($24.9M, Player 2025), Donte DiVincenzo ($11.4M, UFA 2026), Julius Randle ($28.9M, Player 2025) and Mitchell Robinson ($14.3M, UFA 2026)

Reserves under contract: Miles McBride ($4.7M, UFA 2027), Josh Hart ($18.1M, Team 2027), Bojan Bogdanovic ($19M, UFA 2025) and Mamadi Diakite ($2.3M, UFA 2025)

Free agents: OG Anunoby ($19.9M, Player), Isaiah Hartenstein, Alec Burks, Shake Milton, DaQuan Jeffries ($2.5M, Team) and Jericho Sims ($2.1M, Team)

Tradable firsts: 10

Firsts to swap: 7