Ochai Agbaji Breaks Silence on Short Cavaliers Career & Donovan Mitchell Trade

Donovan Mitchell Cleveland Cavaliers

Getty NBA commissioner Adam Silver (L) and Ochai Agbaji.

For the last five seasons in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made a selection in the NBA’s lottery. When LeBron James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, the Cavs wandered the league’s wilderness.

Always worse than simply treading the hamster wheel of mediocrity, the Cavs’ recent drafts have been largely successful. Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, and Isaac Okoro all feature in the team’s starting five.

And Collin Sexton and Ochai Agbaji, the Cavs’ picks in 2018 and 2022, respectively, were used to land the team Donovan Mitchell last summer.

While Agbaji, the flamethrowing shooter out of Kansas, never got much of a chance with the Cavaliers, he recently reflected on the “totally new” sensation of moving teams so early in his career.

“It was totally new for me to be traded out of nowhere, not even playing a single game for the team that drafted you,” Agbaji explained on the HoopsHype podcast recently. “In a way, I saw it as a new and good opportunity for me here in Utah. Coming here with that trade and all the new pieces that we got here, I think it’s a step forward in the right direction for this organization.”

While the Utah Jazz were expected to be firmly in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes after trading Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the team has found a way to remain competitive, lingering around the Western Conference play-in tournament for much of the season.

Darius Garland Sounds Off on Cavalier Rebuild

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have trended in the opposite direction. After an exciting season that was derailed by injuries last year, Cleveland sits as one of two franchises with a top-ten offense and defense this season.

And after clinching the franchise’s first playoff bid in five years by beating the Rockets over the weekend, Garland opened up about Cleveland’s challenging rebuild.

“It was really tough,” Garland told cleveland.com. “I’m lowkey speechless because I’ve been here for the longest and I’ve seen it from the mud. It’s great to be here now. It’s a step in the right direction. But not done yet.”

If anyone knows about the Cavs’ rebuild, it’s Garland. Drafted in 2019, Garland managed to develop into an All-Star thanks to the front office’s commitment to culture building and talent incubation.

JB Bickerstaff Calls Out Cavaliers Front Office

Much of that success lies at the feet of the Cavs’ front office. Though it missed spectacularly with the Jim Beilein hire, it’s prioritized continuity with JB Bickerstaff.

Bickerstaff went on to praise the front office for its top-down approach to culture setting.

“I think organizationally this is a big deal to come from where we came from and every year continue to take steps in the right direction,” Bickerstaff said after the game, per the Cavaliers’ official YouTube channel. “All the hard work that people in this organization have put in to help get us here should be acknowledged. This is top-down. This is something that has been done as a collective. We told the guys to enjoy this, but we ain’t done yet.”

With the playoffs in sight, the Cavaliers can celebrate something it hasn’t done since 1998: home-growing a contender without LeBron James on the roster.

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