When the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell in early September, it sent waves of excitement through the team. The player – a three-time NBA All-Star – drew attention during his five seasons with the Utah Jazz, cementing his place as an offense star.
To get Mitchell to Cleveland, the Cavs traded Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji in a massive deal, along with a couple of future draft picks.
That deal has helped the Cavs shape up an impressive starting lineup ahead of its first game on Wednesday, Oct. 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Team members had a variety of reactions when they first heard Mitchell would be coming to Cleveland. Players and team leaders shared their excitement about Mitchell at Cavs Media Day on Monday, noting both Mitchell's athletic skills and his character off the court.
Koby Altman, Cavs president of basketball operations
“My first introduction to him was on the phone, after we traded for him. Very good conversation. I think the thing you realize with Donovan from day one is, he’s very, very genuine. When I talked to him that first day, minutes after the trade, he found out we were having a mini-camp, player-led workouts in Nashville and he said, ‘I’m there, I want to be there, I’m excited to be with my teammates.’ You think about the authenticity that he talks about — his teammates, the city, this opportunity — it’s real. We feel that.
“Since he’s been here, he’s had a lot of fun in Cleveland, whether it be showing up to a Browns game – unfortunately the Guardians have been out of town, but he’s a huge baseball fan and he hopes to frequent the Guardians games. Those are real moments and touch points, and he’s genuine in that. We’re excited. Since we’ve acquired him, he’s been genuine and excited. Obviously it’s going well with his teammates.”
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cavs head coach
“You can see it from the top down, this organization has put a high level of interest in character. All those guys back there — and I say this genuinely – there’s not one of them that I don’t like coming to work and seeing. That’s not the case for all places. So, we didn’t have to make any concessions on character over talent with Donovan, and we had that information before the deal was done. That’s why it’s a credit to Koby and Dan [Gilbert, Cavs majority owner] from the top down. We’re not sacrificing people and the quality of people to just jump into something where we can be uncomfortable just for a win. We got fortunate that the guys we have are extreme talent, but even better people.
“He already had relationships with some of our guys, so we’re confident that we’ll make it work. The on-court stuff is going to take some time; guys have to play together to build that, but from a people standpoint, personalities, we’re in a really good place.
“We watched him when they were playing pickup and you could hear his voice. ... We kind of have a quiet group of guys who chose their words very wisely. But he was there, he was vocal, he was communicating, and I think that’s just something that’s going to bring it out of the other guys, so I think immediately he has an impact there.”
Ricky Rubio, Cavs player
“He’s a really hard worker. We were talking with Koby when he signed me. He had the option to really go after him. I said to go for it, because I think at the end of the day, he takes us to the next level. He’s that type of player all teams need to win a championship, a player like him. You can give him the ball and he can give it back at any time but at the end of the day he knows how to play, he knows how to do [it] the right way, and I think he learned a lot in Utah with Quin Snyder, under his wing, how to play the right basketball. I think it fits perfect with him — not just on the court, but off the court as well — and I think you need both to really go far.”
Kevin Love, Cavs player
“[After the deal,] I texted him and then within five minutes we were on a FaceTime. He was golfing at the time. He was in the middle of the fairway, took time out, we had a conversation. Super excited.
“Having continuity within our lineup is going to be huge for us. Health is the biggest thing. Obviously after last year with so many missed games with so many guys, that’s what really hurt us.”
Evan Mobley, Cavs player
“I was in the gym working out and some person in the gym randomly shouted out that we got Donovan Mitchell, and I was like, ‘What?’ and then I was like, ‘Oh, shoot,’ and started texting people and stuff, and saw who got traded. I was excited when it happened and I think it’s going to be a great year.”
Caris LeVert, Cavs player
“Everyone on the team can say, just being surrounded by elite talent is fun. Playing with great players is fun. It makes your job a lot easier and it makes it more competitive. When you’re going against those guys, it brings out the best in you. I think we’ve seen that the past couple of weeks, and as we’ve competed and as we will compete in the next couple of weeks.”
Jarrett Allen, Cavs player
“I was taking a nap, and I woke up with a text, just saying ‘Donovan Mitchell.’ I was like, ‘Oh okay.’ I figured something was going to happen. I didn’t know it was going to be us, but I wasn’t surprised it was us. Koby’s always making moves that surprise literally everybody. I was excited; obviously I was sad to see our guys go that I’d made a bond with, but at the end of the day I’m excited to see a guy like Donovan come back in.”