Before the Donovan Mitchell trade, the Cavaliers and Jazz actually had some conversations.
Most centered on a sign-and-trade arrangement centered on Collin Sexton. Eventually, they involved Mitchell. The Cavs and Jazz really started talking during the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas in July. But those talks went nowhere early. Everyone around the league believed Mitchell would ultimately be shipped to the Knicks.
But Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman kept calling Jazz GM Justin Zanik. The two are actually pretty tight, as far as friendships between execs go. So Altman stayed in touch.
Still, the Jazz and Knicks were getting close, and the Knicks really did have a ton to offer. But the Jazz still wanted more. Knicks president Leon Rose got frustrated, signing RJ Barrett to a contract extension, which basically all but killed the talk for Mitchell.
So Altman called back. And 48 hours later, the Cavs and Jazz had a deal. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com broke it down this way on his latest podcast:
“The Cavs believed that their offer was going to be tough, that the best offer they were willing to give to the Jazz could have been beaten, and maybe even should have been beaten by the Knicks or another team,” he said.
“The Knicks were always the most likely landing spot for Mitchell because they have a horde of draft picks. So when the Cavaliers and Jazz had conversations around summer league about two months ago, that’s when they first had the conversations — the Cavs left those conversations saying, ‘Yeah, probably not happening.’ Those weren’t very productive. They wanted way too much for somebody like Donovan Mitchell, and (the Cavs said) we just can’t do it.”
But again, Altman kept monitoring the situation with the Jazz and Knicks. Clearly, he hadn’t given up the ide of Mitchell. As one rival GM told Hoops Wire, Altman is “fearless” when it comes to making trades and trying to improve the team.
“Both teams have completed multiple trades since Koby came in charge and since Justin Zanik was making decisions for the Jazz — so I think that helped with negotiations and keeping everybody in the loop, and trying to keep these conversations as private as possible, and not throwing Lauri Markkanen‘s name out in the media and Collin Sexton’s name (out there),” Fedor said. “So, you know, as the offseason progress, about two weeks ago, the Cavs finally had a feeling of, ‘Hey, we might be in this thing. We might have the pieces that Utah actually wants. And New York may not … give the Jazz everything that they could and everything that the Jazz want.’
“So that was about like two weeks ago and the Cavs thought, ‘Hey, there is a path to this thing.’ And then talks broke down again. At least, real talks about something actually transpiring broke down again. And then as you got into late last week, and early this week, and the Knicks continued to hem and haw. They wanted to keep certain pieces out of the deal. And then they agreed to the contract extension with RJ Barrett. That changed the landscape a little bit. And Koby Altman reached back out to Justin Zanik. I believe it was Tuesday morning, and said, ‘Hey, is there something that we can do here? Like what is it that you would need from us in order for this to get done?'”
“So then, you know, about 48 hours later, the Jazz said, ‘Hey, we like the package that you are offering us of all of the things that have been offered to us. We like what you have to offer us the best a combination of young talented pieces, with Ochai Agbaji, with Sexton, and the draft capital that you’re willing to give up with unprotected picks,'” Fedor said. “So in part, because the Knicks took the approach that they took, the Cavs were able to swoop in there, and they were able to give the Jazz ultimately what they thought was the best offer out there.”