The question about whether the Cleveland Cavaliers got better by trading all those players and all those draft picks for Donovan Mitchell won’t be known for a few years. That’s regardless of what you read on all these sites. The real question is what Cleveland fans will do with all the time they used to spend obsessing over draft picks. Draft Day has been the biggest day of the year for Cleveland fans for a long time. Now it won’t be the same.
It’s not just the Donovan Mitchell trade. Cleveland Browns fans will also need something to fill their time because they won’t have any first-round picks for the next few years. Unless you are from Cleveland, you have no idea what a shock to the system this will be.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are taking a different approach despite the city’s sports history.
Cleveland invented tanking before the rest of the world even knew what the word meant. The Cavs used the greatest tank of all time to draft LeBron James, and the Browns have been so bad most years that their fans pay more attention in April than in November or December.
The Cleveland Cavaliers also did the worst tank job of all time when Ted Stepien (the inspiration for the Stepien Rule) traded all of his draft picks for guys like Mike Bratz and Richard Washington. Stepien did half of the tanking right by filling his roster with lousy players. But when you trade your picks to get those guys, you kind of miss the point.
If you want to go back to the first recorded tank job, in 1899, the owners of the Cleveland Spiders traded the meat of their roster to St. Louis, which they also owned, on the premise that one decent team would be more profitable than two mediocre ones. The result was a 20–134 season for Cleveland. Sadly, there was no draft that season, so the Spiders were ahead of their time by about 65 years.
Stockpiling draft picks is pretty much all we do in Cleveland. Just four years ago, in LeBron James’ final year in Cleveland, Cavs GM Koby Altman elected to keep a lottery pick in the upcoming draft rather than trade it to reinforce a roster that was headed for the NBA Finals. That lottery pick became Collin Sexton, who became part of the Mitchell trade.
How big is the draft in Cleveland? When Hollywood decided to make a movie about sports in Cleveland, they called it Draft Day!
So now, instead of our phones buzzing every time a new mock draft comes out, Cleveland fans can focus on the actual games. It will take some getting used to. Oh, and the Mitchell trade: It should help, but before the Cleveland Cavaliers reach the heights suggested by a trade of this magnitude, they still have work to do.
They need at least one wing who can sink a decent percentage of the open jump shots that will result from having two creators as talented as Mitchell and Darius Garland, and they need to construct a defense that can cover for two small guards.
For the Cavs to realize their full potential, Evan Mobley will have to become their best player. A common thread of NBA champions and finalists over the years has been a generational talent playing at a peak level. As good as Mitchell, Garland, and Jarrett Allen can be, Mobley is the guy who can reach that level. If he does, this could be a fun ride.