NBA: Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell returns to Utah for first time since trade
With the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting Utah on Tuesday night, there will be a lot of attention surrounding a former Jazz guard, one who was quite popular with the fans.
This refers to Raul Neto? Ricky Rubio? Not exactly.
Ready or not, Jazz fans. Donovan Mitchell is returning to town for the first time since he was traded away last summer. Considering recent remarks he has made about enjoying Cleveland more than Salt Lake City, it seems some Shakespearian sports drama may accompany Mitchell’s visit.
The question for some Jazz fans my be: To boo, or not to boo?
Outwardly, Jazz owner Ryan Smith and CEO Danny Ainge say they eagerly await his return and continue to root for the All-Star, whom they dealt for a treasure trove of players and draft picks when they decided to break up the Mitchell-Rudy Gobert pairing.
“I think everyone should celebrate,” Smith told 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone radio. “We forget quickly that this is a kid that came out and pumped life into this franchise and gave everyone all these memories.”
Ainge concurs about Mitchell, who averaged 23.9 points during his first five NBA seasons in Utah. Mitchell is having his best year yet with Cleveland, scoring a career-high 28.8 points per game on 48.8% shooting.
“It’s a great story, he’s continuing to get better. I remain a great, great fan of Donovan’s,” Ainge told KSL-TV. “I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope that people receive him with great enthusiasm and energy, and he deserves that.”
Cleveland comes into Utah having won four of its last five games, including two wins over the Phoenix Suns. Jan. 2 proved a historic night for Mitchell, who sparked the Cavaliers to an overtime win over Chicago by scoring 71 points, with 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Mitchell scored 23 points and sat out the fourth quarter of a 122-99 win over Utah in his first game against former team in Cleveland on Dec. 19.
“It was weird,” he said at the time about playing against the Jazz. “But it was fun.”
It wasn’t so fun for the Jazz, who have won only three times since that game. Utah has lost nine of 12, including back-to-back games road games vs. Chicago (126-118) and Memphis (123-118) over the weekend.
“They kicked our ass,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said about the first Cleveland game. “They shot the ball unbelievably well from all three levels of the court. They play with great tempo. They bothered us with their physicality in the first half, which is what got us behind the eight ball.”
As for Mitchell’s reception on Tuesday, new teammate Darius Garland believes it will be positive.
“It should be a standing ovation,” Garland told Cleveland.com. “All the work he put in out there and all the things he did for the city — playoff appearances, All-Star appearances, many wins — I expect the best ovation. Hopefully.”
And Mitchell’s expectations?
“I don’t know what the response will be. I hope it’s cheers,” Mitchell said after his team’s 112-98 win at Phoenix on Sunday. “We did a lot of great things there. Obviously, we didn’t accomplish our end goal. But I had a lot of positives despite not winning a championship. That’s not easy. Only one team does it. We had five cracks at it, and we missed.”
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