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Windhorst: Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks could be in bidding war for Donovan Mitchell but not soon

There’s a lot of speculation that the Cavs will put Donovan Mitchell on the market. No decision on yet, says Brian Windhorst, but a bidding war is likely if they do.

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Brian Windhorst, who made his bones as a Cavaliers beat writer and who has a great record on Nets moves, said on his Hoop Collective Monday that if Cleveland makes Donovan Mitchell available, it could lead to a bidding war for the native New Yorker between the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. But ESPN’s basketball writer does not believe the Cavs front office has made that decision and may very well not yet be feeling pressure despite their team’s record and devastating injury news.

“I would say the Knicks and the Nets are riding on the line,” added Windhorst in a lively discussion that included ESPN colleagues Tim Bontemps and Tim MacMahon. “Those two teams where I think Donovan would have a chance of resigning. if they got into a bidding war, I think that could be interesting.”

Both the Nets and Knicks have excess draft picks, although the Nets haul is considered better in part because only one of the future firsts they accumulated in their superstar trades is protected. Mitchell is also believed to be close with Mikal Bridges.

Later in the podcast, Windhorst added that the Miami Heat and — “at least two other teams” in the Southwest Division — would also would have interest. Mitchell is under contract through July 2025, but as Windhorst has said in the past and Bontemps reiterated Monday, no one thinks that Mitchell will sign an extension with Cleveland.

On Tuesday, Kevin Pelton, also of ESPN, didn’t anything definite to the question of whether the Cavs would even be willing to be a seller. He did suggest, like Windhorst, that the Nets, Knicks and Heat have to be considered front-runners and made some guesstimates as to who might be headed to Cleveland.

Mitchell’s modest salary for a star ($33.2 million) means it’s unlikely another team will have to cobble together multiple contracts to match. Miami has Tyler Herro ($27 million) and Kyle Lowry ($29.7 million) in that range, New York nearly gets there with Evan Fournier’s $18.9 million salary and Brooklyn could use either Spencer Dinwiddie ($20.4 million) or Ben Simmons ($37.9 million) as the centerpiece.

Depending on the construction, it might be easier to trade with these teams now because Dinwiddie and Lowry have expiring contracts, while Fournier’s deal is effectively expiring because his $19 million base salary for 2024-25 is a team option.

Pelton also agreed with Windhorst’s suggestion that there would likely be a “bidding war” for Mitchell whenever Cleveland puts him on the market.

Of course, Cleveland was hit with back-to-back bombshells last weekend that could affect their thinking. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley will both be out with injuries probably until near the trade deadline, more bad news for a franchise that has had a lot of it and is even now barely above .500. That new has in turn fueled the already simmering MitchMania (trademark pending.)

The four-time All-Star said Sunday he’s not going to speculate on his future but will focus instead on his team’s present.

“I have to pick up the slack that’s there,” Mitchell said, quoted in an Athletic story by Joe Vardon, another veteran of Cleveland sports coverage. “That’s kind of my job. … When he (Garland) is not there, it’s my job to go out and fill that void. I can’t do everything, but like I said, we’ll do it as a collective. At the end of the day, he’s an All-Star guard. We came here and made this for us to be together, so it’s definitely not an oh, me versus him. That’s my brother, that’s my dog.

“It’s unfortunate that for two years, there’s been freak accidents that are out of his control,” Mitchell added. “I’m just going to continue to play the way I play until he gets back. The only way we make this push is if we’re together on the floor. It doesn’t happen if it’s just one of us.”

Despite that, Windhorst said that while there could be a number of suitors beyond the two New York teams and Miami — “A lot of teams are somewhere in that morass between four and 10 and looking for someway to differentiate themselves. a way to catch a rhythm, catch fire” — the real number would be discounted because there presumably are only a few the 27-year-old would consider signing with in an extension.

No matter the number of suitors, Windhorst added, the Cavaliers will likely demand that the return be as good as what they gave up to get Mitchell in September 2022: on the order of two good young players (Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen,) three unprotected first rounders and two first round pick swaps. For a variety of reasons, Windhorst doesn’t think that’s possible now and that argues against a trade at the deadline.

“It’s gotta be a trade that puts you in the same spot or gets them a chance to get them back in the same spot because they’ve mortgaged their future. It’s kinda like the Nets a little bit,” he added. “The Nets don’t control their draft position. They have picked up assets in the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant trades, but the Nets cannot tank because they don’t control their draft...

“So, it’s very hard to find that trade, especially in mid-season, So to me, it absolutely viable to them to not trade Donovan Mitchell, stick with it, ride out the storm, the restorative value of the NBA season coming back ... and just say we don’t have to make a decision ... or trade Donovan Mitchell right now. If they did that, they’d be in a somewhat advantageous position .” said Windhorst noting with the possible exception of Zach LaVine, there is no superstar player likely to be available in the middle of this season.”

And a bidding would be likely. Again, though, Windhorst reiterated that he doesn’t believe the Cavaliers have made any decision about making Mitchell available, adding that on personal level, the architect of the Cavs roster, GM Koby Altman, may not yet want to fold the tent on his dream.