CLEVELAND (AP) — When Darius Garland learned about Cleveland’s stunning trade, the Cavaliers’ All-Star point guard first promised to keep it a secret and then ran around a basketball court in Nashville screaming.
Jarrett Allen woke from an afternoon nap, groggily looked at a text on his phone that said “Donovan Mitchell” and wondered if it was a dream.
Evan Mobley was working out in Los Angeles on Sept. 1 when a stranger told him Mitchell was Cleveland-bound.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Mobley, the Cavs’ talented second-year forward, said Monday at media day. “I was like, ‘Oh, shoot.’ Then started texting people and stuff and saw who got traded and all that.”
Shock has become reality for the Cavaliers, who rocked the NBA this summer with their acquisition of Mitchell, a three-time All-Star in Utah and a player capable of moving Cleveland back among the league’s top teams.
The Cavs won 44 games last season (a 22-win jump from the previous year) and only missed the playoffs due to a rash of injuries down the stretch. Cleveland got valuable experience in the play-in tournament before being eliminated.
Mitchell’s arrival has changed things — dramatically.
Expectations are through the roof. So are goals.
“He takes us to the next level,” said veteran guard Ricky Rubio, who spent two seasons playing with Mitchell on the Jazz. “He’s that type of player all teams need to win a championship. You can give him the ball and he can give you a bucket at any time. But he knows how to play, he knows how to do it the right way.”
The Cavs believe Mitchell perfectly fits into the culture established by coach J.B. Bickerstaff, and there’s little worry about him meshing on the floor.
But while there’s external talk and pressure about making a championship run, Koby Altman, the team’s president of basketball operations who swooped in to get Mitchell when it appeared he was going to New York, is preaching patience.
“This year is not contention or bust at all,” he said. “We’ve added a really big piece and so that is going to take time. There’s going to be some failures there. This group is really excited to play with each other and I want to grow this thing over the course of a few seasons before we start talking about that (a title).
“With that said, we’re not going to put a ceiling on what this team can do currently.”
Entering his ninth season in Cleveland, Kevin Love has experienced success, failure, drama, heartbreak and a championship parade. The Cavs were able to sneak up on teams last year, but those days are over.
“We haven’t proven anything yet,” he said. “There still is that underdog type of mentality. But I don’t think really at this point we’re going to surprise teams because if you look at our lineup, we have depth, we can play a number of ways.
“We’ve got some young stars that I think are going to make a lot of noise this year.”
Judging by more well-defined biceps and thicker shoulders, it appears Mobley spent much of his offseason in the weight room.
One of the Cavs’ goals for Mobley was for him to add weight to his 7-foot frame. He’s bigger, and the team isn’t shy about what they think of his potential.
“A superstar,” Altman said.
Mobley averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his first year and finished second in rookie of the year voting to Toronto’s Scottie Barnes.
Garland believes Mobley’s ready to take his game up another level.
“He’s on a mission right now,” Garland said. “He really wants to show the world what he really can do and what they missed out on last year. So he’s coming in a lot more hungry. He’s a lot more stronger. We’re super excited to see his jump from last year to this year.”
Rubio’s 2021 season ended in December, when he tore his left ACL while driving to the basket in New Orleans. The injury was a personal setback for Rubio and threatened to derail the Cavs’ turnaround, which had been fueled in part by the popular 31-year-old.
He re-signed with Cleveland as a free agent this summer, and the Spaniard vowed to come back better than ever.
He just doesn’t know when that will be.
“Hopefully December, but who knows?” he said. “At the end of the day, I may be playing in late November or I may be playing in January or February. Don’t want to put a date. But one thing for sure when I’m back I will be 120%.”
Mitchell didn’t speak with reporters, but was jovial while posing for photos and doing broadcast interviews.
He paused during one photo session so he could change into red sneakers.
“These go on sale first,” he said with a wink.