Blockbuster Mitchell trade puts immense pressure on Bulls

Donovan Mitchell, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

In what has become without a doubt one of the most shocking decisions of the NBA offseason, the Utah Jazz are peddling star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to retool for the future. As an unintended consequence, the Chicago Bulls are caught in the crossfire here as the Eastern Conference only continues to improve this summer.

We saw all too clearly last year that the Bulls are a good team, but not a great one that can go the distance as currently constructed. The Celtics, Bucks, 76ers, and Heat all hold the high ground in the East and will be incredibly difficult to usurp. Meanwhile, the Raptors and Nets still appear dangerous and an additional three teams have all made big moves to acquire a star player in Atlanta (Dejounte Murray), Washington (Kristaps Porzingis), and now Cleveland (Donovan Mitchell).

Although I’ve been a huge advocate for the forward-thinking decision-making Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have displayed up to this point, the front office’s long-term plan for this team moving forward is looking more and more unclear by the week.

Several other teams have made it a priority to collect as much draft capital as possible before propping up a star core with young players and draft picks, but the Bulls have been put in a position where they somehow must contend without a true superstar or a lot of young talent. It’s hard to envision this team pulling off a well-timed all-in push of the chips like Cleveland just did, simply because Chicago doesn’t have the chips to push in the first place.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania was first to report the full details of this game-changing exchange.

With Donovan Mitchell now on his way to Cleveland, the Eastern Conference continues to improve while the Chicago Bulls tread water.

By swapping out Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and a truckload of future assets, the Cavaliers are signaling a belief that their team as currently constructed is good enough to contend for a championship. It’s hard to blame them, as Cleveland still managed to win 44 games — just two less than the Bulls — even after Sexton, Rubio, and Allen missed a combined 141 games and were each absent for the play-in tournament.

It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where a team as deep as Cleveland wins in excess of 50 games, perhaps even passing up Chicago in the process. The Cavs are essentially taking that 44-win team from last season, adding Allen and Rubio back into the fold, and upgrading from Sexton to Mitchell.

It should come as no surprise then, that some members of the media are already rushing to anoint the Cavaliers as contenders for the 2022-23 season.

Ironically, I recently wrote about how Bulls fans shouldn’t worry about the possibility of a potential Mitchell trade. At that time, Mitchell was assumed to be going to either New York, Brooklyn, or Miami with Cleveland serving as little more than a third party to leverage Mitchell’s value even higher.

Now, Mitchell joining the Cavaliers has the makings of a worst-case scenario for Chicago. Ascending the East looks much more difficult than it did just three months ago, and even then it felt like an impossible task. This upcoming season will make or break these Chicago Bulls, all the way down from the players on the court up to the front office running the show.

NBA execs don't believe Bulls can win East. dark. Next