Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
CLEVELAND — It just didn't work.
Moments after the Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs in April, Donovan Mitchell sat at the podium and couldn't hide his disappointment. He didn't know what the future held, but it was clear then Utah might not be part of his.
Two years of slowly building tension had finally crescendoed, leaving he, Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz organization as a whole in desperate need of fresh scenery.
"Sometimes your time just runs out," Mitchell said. "I think for me, personally, I'm happy in a different way. They seem to be that, as well. They are playing well as a group. It's good to see both sides thrive."
Mitchell's final year in Utah was grating. His relationship with Gobert was constantly under a microscope and he felt less and less accepted from the fan base. Add on to the Jazz failing to live up to expectations on the court and change didn't just appear imminent, it felt needed by all.
So when he was asked if he wanted to remain in Utah in the immediate aftermath of last season, he, honestly, couldn't say for sure. He was disappointed, frustrated, and even sorrowful. The trademark smile that captivated a fan base during his first few seasons with the Jazz was nowhere to be seen. That smile was back on Monday, though, as he met with media members ahead of his first game against his former team.
"I think it will be fun," said Mitchell, who was sent to Cleveland in exchange for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbajo and numerous future picks. "It's always good to go against your friends, your former teammates, and the coaching staff. It'll be weird. Like, it was weird seeing them on film and seeing the tendencies and stuff like that."
He's getting used to the weirdness, though. In what seems like a checklist of important moments, Mitchell has already faced Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic on their new teams. He's been back to the place of last year's playoff defeat in Dallas. He's seen Joe Ingles when the Cavs and Bucks faced off against each other.
Monday's just another one to check off.
"I've seen Joe, I've seen Bojan, I've seen Rudy, so I've gotten used to it by now," Mitchell said. "I think seeing Quin will be the weirdest, whenever I see him at some point in time."
It was an offseason of change, no doubt. But Mitchell sees the move that sent him to Clevand as a win-win for both sides.
Mitchell's taken advantage of his fresh start by putting together what has simply been his best season as a pro.
He's averaging a career-high 29.5 points per game on career-best efficiency numbers, and has helped the Cavs out to a 20-11 start. What's more is he's played a solid part of Cleveland being the No.1 defense in the league. His play has even generated some MVP buzz.
As for the Jazz, they remain one of the best stories in the NBA. Markkanen has emerged as a potential All-Star and Will Hardy has proved in a short time he belongs as an NBA head coach.
And, yes, Mitchell has been paying attention to his old squad.
"Lauri has been this good for a long time, and he's getting a chance to showcase that," Mitchell said. "Mike (Conley), is obviously the veteran, steady guard, (Jordan Clarkson) is taking another leap as a playmaker, not even just a scorer. Malik Beasley's always been a good shooter. Walker Kessler, from the games I've seen, has really taken a big step. I can keep going down the line.
"They've got guys that can really go, and that took everybody by surprise. But if you know basketball, if you know the team, what they've done, combined with what Will's done in his first year, I think it's really impressive."
But maybe the most important win — for both Mitchell and the Jazz — was being able to lift the cloud that hung over last season.
"Everyone's flourishing, doing well, happy. When I talk to the guys (his former Jazz teammates), It just seems like a fresh breath," Mitchell said.
He's felt that in Cleveland, too.
That's not to say he's not proud of what he accomplished on the court — from all the wins, to the All-Star appearances, to even bringing hope back to a frustrated fan base — during his five seasons in Utah. Or off the court, for that matter.
Yes, he wished he didn't have to speak out against what he saw as racially-charged incidents in the state during his time, but he still reflects fondly on some of the things he was able to do in the community.
"As much as we didn't get what we wanted to get done, we did a lot in our time there," Mitchell said. "A lot of good on the floor, and we did a lot of really good things off the floor. Whether it's me and Royce going to high school games, or Rudy giving $100 to everyone working in the arena, or Mike doing what he does with his charity, what we did with giving scholarships after every win last year. We did so many different little things with the community, as well, that I'm always appreciative of. I'm carrying that aspect of my career on to Cleveland."