Cavaliers rout Jazz in Donovan Mitchell’s first game vs. Utah since being traded

CLEVELAND — A simple question was posed to Donovan Mitchell before his first-ever game against the Utah Jazz.

Are you happy?

“Yes, I am,” he said.

And then he led his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a rout of the ol’ gang, 122-99 at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Mitchell, who scored a team-high 23 points on Monday in just three quarters, will play the Jazz again Jan. 10 in Salt Lake City, which just happens to be the site of the NBA All-Star Game in February.

Go ahead and mark him down for two trips to Vivint Arena in the new year.

Mitchell, 26, was traded to Cleveland Sept. 1 for Lauri Markkanen,​ Collin Sexton, and rookie Ochai Agbaji, as well as unprotected first-round draft picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029 and pick swaps in 2026 and 2028. The teams will also swap their first-round drafting rights in 2026 and 2028.

Mitchell has flourished in Cleveland, off to the best start of his career with a scoring average of nearly 30 points per game, and is piloting the Cavs to the fifth-best record in the NBA and top mark at home. He is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Mitchell played five seasons and made three All-Star games in his five seasons in Utah, but organizational failures in the playoffs caused the team to change directions and trade one of the best players in its proud history. The Jazz are off to a surprisingly strong start as well, considering they traded franchise cornerstones Mitchell and Rudy Gobert — among others — over the summer.

“I look at it as a win-win,” Mitchell said. “You look at everybody’s flourishing, and sometimes new beginnings is what you need.”

Mitchell disclosed on Monday that new Jazz coach Will Hardy, who had just been hired to replace the only coach Mitchell ever played for in Utah, Quin Snyder, was at Mitchell’s home in Connecticut when news broke of the Gobert trade to Minnesota — which signaled the beginning of the end of an era on the Jazz.

“It was wild how it happened, but we were going over different things and it just happened,” Mitchell said. “It speaks to Will’s character, we had no idea what the hell was gonna go on over the summer. And he would still text me like, ‘get in shape, get in elite shape.’ You don’t have to do that for a guy, that, odds are, I’m probably not gonna be in camp.”

Hardy obviously never got the chance to coach Mitchell in Utah, though the two did work together with Team USA in 2019, when Mitchell played for the Americans at the FIBA ​​World Cup in China and Hardy was a junior member of Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff.

“I went to his house with the sole intention of spending time and talking about what was coming up and what he needed from me and what I needed from him as we were going to go into this journey together,” Hardy said. “I needed the strength of that relationship to be good for us to have any type of success. And then things changed. We have since laughed about having that moment together and just how weird that is, especially as a first-time head coach, that’s now how I saw my first four days going. But that’s the part of this business that you can never predict.”

Markkanen, 25, is on his third team in six pro seasons, but may be reaching the potential the Chicago Bulls saw in him. He’s enjoying the best year of his career and is Utah’s leading scorer and rebounder. He scored 24 for the Jazz against Cleveland in his return from him.

Sexton, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Jazz after the trade, missed the game with a hamstring injury. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft, just days before LeBron James left Cleveland for the Lakers, and was the face of the Cavs’ rebuild for three seasons.

(Photo: David Richard / USA Today)

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