The Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired Donovan Mitchell via trade with the Utah Jazz. The Cavs send 3 unprotected first round picks, 2 pick swaps, Colin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and Ochai Agbaji in exchange for Mitchell. Is it enough to make them a legitimate contender to win the Eastern Conference?
The fact that the Cavs were able to land Mitchell while also retaining their young core of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen is impressive. Sure, they did give up a significant amount of future draft capitol, but I for one am eager and excited by the fact that they are going for it. By doing so, the Cavaliers have entered my favorite NBA franchise phase as a fan.
The 5 Phases of NBA Franchises
When it comes to being an NBA fan, each and every one of us wants our favorite team to compete for, and win an NBA Championship. Thats the ultimate goal, however not all teams have a realistic chance to win it all. Each team falls into one of the following 5 phases, in order of how fun it is to be a fan at that time:
Each phase comes with a unique set of positives and negatives from a fan perspective.
The CONTENDER Phase:
This is by far the best phase to be a fan. When your favorite team is one of the top 4 teams in its conference. No longer a question of making the playoffs, now the focus becomes how far can the team go. This is the ideal time in which your favorite franchise can truly exceed expectations. A legitimate playoff team, though not yet a FAVORITE to make it to the Finals or win it all.
This is a great time because if your team does go on a deep run, it is an amazing ride. Cavs fans can relate given the run in which LeBron James carried the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals before being swept by a superior San Antonio Spurs team. It was fun, and it made even more enjoyable due to the fact that no one expected it. Expectations were exceeded.
By trading for Donovan Mitchell and retaining the young core of the roster, the Cavs have transitioned into the CONTENDER phase. This team should be competing to finish top four in the Eastern Conference, with a chance to compete for a conference title.
The FAVORITE Phase:
This phase if a true paradox of pros and cons, though ultimately the good outweighs the bad. This includes any team that is expected to make it to the Finals and contend for an NBA Championship. The Finals or bust mentality. On the surface it seems like being a favorite to win it all would be the best time, as a fan it’s not always as fun as it may seem.
The regular season becomes meaningless. Winning is portrayed as routine, expected. Which creates an over-emphasis on the losses when they happen. Losing is bad enough, but losing when you’re “expected” to win is beyond frustrating. A great playoff run immediately gets minimized and forgotten as soon as it ends without a Finals trophy. An incredible regular season suffers the same sad fate whenever it ends early.
If the FAVORITE team does win it all, expectations are met. Anything less and it’s a disappointment. So where is the fun in that?
The MISSING PIECE Phase
Includes any fringe playoff teams, and any teams unlikely to be able to go beyond the first round of the NBA playoffs. This is a pivotal point in the roster building process.
The draft, free agency, and trade are all the ways in which a “piece” can be added. Most teams in the MISSING PIECE phase find themselves drafting outside of the top 10 to 15, making it difficult to add the missing piece via draft. Also the vast majority of rookies will require a year or two of adjusting to the NBA game. This makes free agency and trade the more realistic options for these teams.
Once a move or two gets made, then things get interesting. If the new piece or pieces have a positive impact then it is possible the team will transition into the CONTENDER phase, otherwise it’s a one-way ticket right back to STINK.
The YOUNG Phase
This phase is pretty self explanatory, and typically comes after years spent in the STINK phase. The YOUNG phase is when the recent draft picks begin to play well and blossom. Not necessarily measured by wins and losses, but glimpses of what could be. This is where the Cavs found themselves at the start of last season.
Garland, Mobley and Allen began to really gel and play well together last year. By mid-season the Cavs found themselves in playoff contention, and competing on a level not many expected. The team traded for Caris LeVert in response to the Ricky Rubio injury. In the end injuries and attrition ultimately got the best of the team, losing in the play-in portion of the playoffs.
The STINK Phase
The most obvious is the fact that no fan wants their team to STINK. This includes a variety of situations that go beyond just a bad roster.
Teams like the Utah Jazz, who came up short of the ultimate goal and are now swapping talent for future draft capitol also fall into the STINK phase. No NBA fan enjoys watching the roster be deconstructed while simultaneously being sold the idea that it will all pay off in the next 3-5 years.
Another form of STINK includes anytime an NBA franchise repeatedly makes questionable personnel decisions and bad trades. The “process” of acquiring a ton of draft capitol only pays off if the players drafted with those picks actually end up having a significant impact. Otherwise it’s just delaying the next rebuild cycle.