The NBA’s Eastern Conference defeated the Western Conference in a head-to-head matchup during the regular season last year for just the second time in the last century. The conference was so fiercely competitive that it took a winning record to even be eligible for the play-in round. The East surprised many with its strength, and after Thursday, it should only get stronger.
Due to the three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell being traded from the Utah Jazz to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a historic deal that also included Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji, three Utah Jazz first-round picks (2025, 2027, and 2029) that aren’t protected, two pick swaps (2026 and 2028), and three Cleveland Cavaliers first-round picks, as well as three picks to Cleveland (2026 and 2028). ESPN was the original.
Mitchell, who is only 25 years old, will now partner with All-Star Darius Garland in the backcourt alongside All-Star Jarrett Allen and perhaps a future All-Star Evan Mobley. They should comprise one of the best young cores in the NBA.
Cleveland unexpectedly made the playoffs last year by matching their win total from the previous campaign. From 22 wins in 2020–21, which gave them the third overall pick and Mobley, to 44 wins in 2021–22, they saw an increase. That was enough for the eighth seed, even though they were eliminated from the playoffs after losing in the play-in tournament.
However, because all of the Cavaliers’ top players are still young, they appeared to be getting better. With Mitchell on board, they should be stronger postseason contenders and may even be able to advance to the conference’s top division, where clubs like the Bucks, Heat, Celtics, and Sixers are expected to be located. The Nets might join that club, depending on how things go with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Cavaliers need to improve more on the offensive end, and Mitchell should achieve that for them. Last year, Cleveland’s offensive rating was merely twenty, while its defensive rating was nine. Mitchell averaged 25.9 points per game last year, which was a career-high for him in effective field goal percentage (53.3). He still has three.
The defensive tandem of Garland and Mitchell, who will effectively be an undersized backcourt, may raise some questions heading into the season. Mitchell, though, played a significant role in Utah’s defense, which was throughout the years commanded by Rudy Gobert in the backcourt. He should have plenty of rim protection in Cleveland’s frontcourt between Allen and Mobley.
Mitchell had been mentioned in connection with the Wizards in trade rumors, though not much. They have repeatedly been described as being interested in Mitchell by Shams Charania of The Athletic. It has always been difficult for the Wizards to accept an offer that contains enough first round picks since those picks are protected by trade protections from 2023 through 2026, which the Jazz were.
The Knicks were thought to be the favorite to sign Mitchell, a native of New York, for a very long time. Despite having a number of first-round picks, they reportedly did not want to part with as many as the Cavaliers ultimately did. The Jazz are fully committed to rebuilding through the draft under the direction of front office mastermind Danny Ainge.
For the Knicks, Wizards, and the rest of the Eastern Conference, Mitchell will now see more action. He was finally dealt, the Cavs are clearly better, and the East will soon catch up.