The Cleveland Cavaliers swooped from nowhere to make arguably the move of the NBA offseason.
Trading for Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell has transformed their prospects for the new campaign, pushing them close to the contenders off the back of a solid campaign.
For a good chunk of 2021/22, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked to be the surprise of the season and a lock for the Play-offs. However, they slipped late on and their postseason was limited to two defeats in the Play-in tournament.
With an improved roster and a group of improving young players, the Cavs will have their sights set higher this time around.
|What||NBA Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 18th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV|
|Odds||BOS Celtics +525, GS Warriors +600, LA Clippers +700, MIL Bucks +750, BKN Nets +800|
Having spent the summer linked with a move to the New York Knicks, it was a shock when Mitchell landed in Cleveland. The Cavs went under the radar and their interest was only known once they announced the blockbuster deal.
The Cavs sent three unprotected picks to Utah alongside Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji. That's a pretty big outlay, but the fact they managed to keep together their core pieces means this move is huge.
Mitchell is an elite scorer and ball-handler, who has averaged at least 20 points-per-game since arriving in the league.
While Utah have struggled collectively in the postseason, Mitchell has averaged 28-points-per-game across his Play-off appearances at the Jazz, so he will really impact the ceiling of the Cavs.
Mitchell reportedly celebrated around a golf course when he found out about the Cavs trade. While he was set on a return to his hometown Knicks, finding out that Cleveland didn't surrender any of Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland in the deal got him quite excited.
That's the young core which lifted the Cavs as high as third in the Eastern Conference by late February, before Allen's finger injury kept him out for the remainder of the regular season.
Mitchell's offensive positives are slightly brought down by his defensive vulnerabilities, but the Jazz had Rudy Gobert to compensate for that. Finding a similarly elite defender to pair him with seemed difficult, but between Mobley and Allen, they should be covered.
Garland and Mitchell should form an impressive backcourt, while Mobley is expected to kick on after finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting last year. The 7ft forward is a threat on both ends of the floor and he's the man the Cavs will likely build around over Mitchell.
Mitchell wasn't the only move the Cavs made this summer, as they built out roster depth which allowed them to ship three players out for Mitchell. They added Raul Neto and Robin Lopez in free agency, while Ricky Rubio returned to Cleveland.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff got the best out of Rubio before a season-ending injury midway through last season, so he's perfectly placed to help the guard rehab his injury and his career.
Bickerstaff turned things around completely in Cleveland last term and now he has the depth and talent to build on a 44-win season.
The Cavs seem to be sitting just below the contender tier in the East, but leading the chase for the Play-offs behind them.
Exactly where Cleveland ranks will be made clear early on thanks to a tough opening to the new season. They open with trips to the fifth and six-placed sides from the East last year - the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls.
Following that the Cavs host the Wizards and the Magic before heading to the title favourite Boston Celtics to round out a tricky opening.
After narrowly missing out on a top-six finish last season, that should be the minimum expectation for the Cavs this time around. The fact that they are -300 to make the postseason suggests a repeat of last season would be a let-down.
A fully-fit Cavs without Mitchell would probably make it, given they lost 15 of their final 23 games of last season to slip to eighth and exit in the Play-in.
As for the Cavs' ceiling, it doesn't seem like Mitchell is a win-now move in Championship terms. The Cavs sit at +3300 for the title - level with Mitchell's ex-team-mate Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With three years on Mitchell's deal and given their roster is on the young side, a top-four seed would be a huge achievement for the Cavs this year.