Donovan Mitchell is a physical presence who is such a dominating scorer that he can take over a game or even an entire playoff series all by himself. He is an All-NBA caliber player who plays hard on both sides of the court, and at age 27 is just entering the prime of his career. Simply being on the floor with Mitchell affects the gravity of a defense and dictates the spacing of all of his teammates. He is also, by all credible accounts, on the trade market because the Cleveland Cavaliers believe that he wants to leave and will not resign there after next season. And according to recent betting odds, the Philadelphia 76ers have the 5th best chance at landing him.
I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Mitchell. He is a stud and if he was acquired the trio of Maxey, Mitchell, and Embiid might be unstoppable and would surely have games that would make the fanbase drool. But it would be at the expense of the team and their real chances at winning it all.
Chemistry is a delicate, hard to define thing. It can be difficult to recognize it and harder to put your finger on exactly why some teams work and others don't, because it is intangible and can't be recognized by analytics. But ask the Philadelphia Eagles or Phoenix Suns about the significance of team chemistry, because talent alone doesn't buy wins or happiness. How a team is balanced and constructed to help everyone else on the team is an art form. The Sixers right now are putting up numbers that have not been seen in the Philadelphia area in decades, and it seems like every week some new team record is set. They are playing team basketball, have the best scoring duo in the league, and everyone on the team appears to be happy. Why mess with a good thing?
National media is starting to notice as well. People are beginning to realize that the 76ers are being slept on and noting that this group is probably only one player away from really contending for a championship. But as tantalizing as it may be, that player is not Spida Mitchell.
The 76ers should avoid pursuing Donovan Mitchell
Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his MVP career, and Tyrese Maxey has exploded into a rocket powered All-Star this season and it appears to be because Nick Nurse has built a wonderful balance between those two players dominance and the role players all buying into their roles, including third wheel Tobias Harris. They need a lock down defender who can shoot threes, handle the ball, and not upset the ego applecart. Someone who can take over here and there but also is fine with disappearing on the nights when everyone else has it cooking. That player is not Mitchell.
One of the reasons that James Harden became an acceptable loss, regardless of his obvious talent, was that Maxey needed to have the ball more. Mitchell is a scorer in the Harden mold, who needs to have the ball in his hands a lot and can sometimes dribble the air out of the ball and the time off the shot clock while he breaks down his defender. Embiid is the star here and Mitchell has never been asked to be a "second fiddle" before in his collegiate or pro career. On this team he would even be a second "second fiddle", sharing that role with Maxey but to the detriment of both. It is hard to imagine that is a role that he would enjoy after spending his entire career being the man and being able to take charge down the stretch of every game.
The Sixers are a backup role player away from contention, possibly someone like an Alex Caruso. Mitchell wants to take over every game by himself and score every time he has the ball. None of this is intended to disparage Mitchell. He seems to be a good locker room guy and teammate and has never been accused of being selfish. But he has a 29% usage rate in Cleveland for a reason. He is used to having the ball and the green light all day, every day and he would not have that here. He is also not a fantastic pure shooter and needs to be able to take lots of shots in order to succeed. Despite his wondrous skills, his presence would detract from both Embiid and Maxey and lead to tensions that would impact the role players and the locker room. There are no villains here, but that is unavoidable.
It sounds crazy to say that any team would be better off without a superstar like Mitchell, but the 76ers have shown the potential to be as well-balanced as the 2001 Sixers, but now with two studs instead of one and with more depth than Iverson ever got to enjoy. If a trade for Caruso or someone like that becomes available, Daryl Morey should grab it. But Morey has done a nice job of fixing this season's team while also building for the future and Donovan Mitchell is simply a poor fit for what Nick Nurse has created with this team. Everyone loves to dream about how stars would fit here, but if the phone rings from Cleveland the 76ers should resist the tempation and move on.