The Cavs’ final pitch to Donovan Mitchell begins now

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The Cavs’ final pitch to Donovan Mitchell begins now

Donovan Mitchell’s best path forward is to sign an extension with the Cavaliers this summer.

I’ve been trying to write that sentence for weeks now, but the Cavs haven’t always made it very easy to do. They’ve been wildly inconsistent this season. Sure, they’ve had injuries, but the games Mitchell missed were the perfect opportunity for guys like Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen to demonstrate there is enough here to build around and convince Mitchell to stay a little longer. They didn’t always succeed with that messaging. 

None of that matters now because this is their big chance. It’s hard to overstate what’s at stake for the Cavaliers as the playoffs begin this weekend. Another quick ouster could be devastating to the employment of a number of people at Cleveland Clinic Courts. The Cavs didn’t swing big on Mitchell just to lose in the first round in consecutive seasons. 

If the Cavs have another brief playoff life, much of the criticism nationally will fall on Mitchell. Fairly or not, Garland, Mobley and Allen will be shielded by the superstar whose teams have failed to get out of the first round four of the last five years. He’s never made a conference final. 

He is acutely aware of all of that. Another early exit this year would seem to level a huge blow to the Cavs’ odds of convincing him to sign an extension here this summer. 

Nevertheless, Mitchell has played the best basketball of his career in Cleveland. That’s indisputable. The data supports it. The Cavs have a talented core that should only keep improving. Mitchell has one guaranteed year left on his deal. It’s important to note that a four-year extension this summer (NBA extensions can only run for a total of five years including whatever is left on the current deal) does not commit him to Cleveland for the next five years. It commits him for 1-2 more years here at most. It relieves the pressure on the organization this summer and kicks the can down the road while giving the Cavs a little more time to try and get it right. 

NBA stars today are trending toward signing and getting the money upfront and worrying about a trade later — a four-year Mitchell extension could be worth more than $200 million this summer, according to The Athletic’s cap expert Danny Leroux. 

It’s what Kevin Durant did in Brooklyn when he signed an extension and was dealt to Phoenix less than two years later. It’s what Mitchell did in Utah when he signed an extension with the Jazz in 2020. Two years later, he was sent here. Both players knew when they signed those deals they were unlikely to finish out the contracts in the initial cities. 

Of course, Mitchell could inform the Cavs he won’t be signing an extension here, force a trade this summer and retain his Bird rights to sign the same extension elsewhere.  

Mitchell will have the leverage this summer. Given all of the assets they parted with to get him, the Cavs will likely listen to him on whatever changes he’d like made around here if he agrees to stay. 

Regardless of what the Cavs did or didn’t do to align this 4/5 series with Orlando, a couple of things are true. 

The Cavs haven’t won a playoff series without LeBron James on the roster since Dan Gilbert bought the team. That’s significant. It may not matter to you, but it absolutely matters to Gilbert. The Cavs’ lone playoff victory without LeBron under Gilbert was last year against the Knicks. 

This is Gilbert’s 10th season as owner without LeBron on the roster and the Cavs have won one playoff game in that time. None of that has anything to do with Mitchell, of course, but all of the factors blended together help explain why the Cavs are much happier to see the Magic this weekend rather than the Sixers when that remained a distinct possibility during the season finale last Sunday afternoon. 

The Cavs had their eye on Philadelphia for months, wondering if the loss of Joel Embiid would drop the Sixers low enough to create the type of nightmare first-round matchup that could wreak destruction here if it didn’t go the Cavs’ way.



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Regardless of what happens in the second round or after, if the Cavs can beat the Magic, Gilbert will get the series victory he has long coveted and this front office can show incremental progress year over year. 

They were a Play-In team in 2022, then swung the Mitchell trade and lost in the first round in 2023. Win a series this year? It may not sound like much, but the Cavs can at least point to tangible growth. Whether one series victory is enough to convince Mitchell to stay is entirely up to him. One series win, after all, isn’t the conference finals. 

I wrote last year after the Knicks eliminated the Cavs that all of the talk in league circles was that Mitchell wasn’t going to stay in Cleveland. This year has been much of the same. I’ve spoken to opposing players, coaches and executives who all believe these are likely Mitchell’s final days in Cleveland. 

That’s why the next few weeks are so important. This is the Cavs’ best — and perhaps final — opportunity to convince him to stay. 

Will he listen?

(Photo of Donovan Mitchell talking with coach J.B. Bickerstaff: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)